with Michael Betteridge
There Is Something Special Happening on Sabillasville Road
It’s not like Catoctin Baseball Coach Mike Franklin has never been mentioned here on these pages before. Coach Franklin is in his 24th season coaching Catoctin baseball. He was honored here in the Banner as Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year in 2017. His teaching peers honored him in 2019 as Frederick County “Teacher of the Year.” He has two state baseball championships in the display case, one in 2013 and another in 2021.
Coach Franklin finished his baseball career as a player at Salisbury State. He began substitute teaching at Frederick High School in the mid-90s, where he met his mentor, Frederick baseball coach Frank Rhodes. Franklin joined Coach Rhodes’ staff as an assistant. His first year coaching, the Cadets made it all the way to the State championship, an experience that would give him an appetite for winning.
There is no way to begin talking about Catoctin Cougars baseball without laying out the very foundation of the program, Coach Franklin. His smile and his attitude are infectious. He elevates his players. One of his former pitchers, Mason Albright, made it all the way from a humble start on the Sabillasville Road practice field to the “Big Leagues,” where he received the largest signing bonus ever for a 12th-round Major League Baseball draft pick with the Los Angeles Angels: $1.25 million dollars in 2021 at age 18.
Good coaching builds for the future and that’s why good coaches seem to enjoy success over and over again. And that is what is unfolding in 2023 for the Catoctin Cougars baseball team. History is repeating itself, going all the way back to 1996.
Coach Franklin’s teams always produce great pitching. Sophomore pitcher Joey McMannis pitched this team to a 2021 state championship, and he will take the mound this season as an experienced senior, with 20-30 Major League teams interested in him and a fastball above 90 mph. McMannis was an integral part of that incredible “Cindarella” story two years ago. They finished the 2021 regular season as the No. 4 seed in the 1A West and traveled to Clear Spring to face the No. 1 Blazers, whom they defeated. Then, back on the road again, after winning the regional title at Clear Spring, still an underdog, they make the short trip over the mountain to Smithsburg for another amazing win! But now the short trips were over. They had to pack up the team bus and head all the way across the state to Bel Air to face a powerful Patterson Mill team. Once again, they pulled off the impossible upset. If that weren’t enough, now they had to come home, regroup, pack and travel 130 miles to McHenry to face Northern Garrett, the No. 1 seed in the 1A. That afternoon when they arrived, the playing field was surrounded by a 20-foot-high chain link fence. Cougars fans who had made the difficult drive had to peer through the chains in the fence to see the game. It was a very uninviting venue for baseball. It was more like a ball field for the county jail. There was a cold, swirling wind blowing off Deep Creek Lake across the playing field, and it felt like March, not June. But, once again, the Cougars pulled off the impossible, crushing Northern 13-5 on a rally off the bat of Joey McMannis, who boomed a two-run shot over the massive fence, deep into left center. On the road again, their last game was equally far, but the excitement and anticipation were different this time. They were so excited and pumped up that the trip seemed like minutes rather than hours as the bus pulled up to the beautiful Regency Stadium in Waldorf, where they captured the 2021 Maryland 1A State baseball title!
All in all, the Cougars pulled off the impossible, with a grueling 500 miles of travel over the course of 10 days, producing five underdog wins to bring the trophy home to Thurmont for the second time in Coach Franklin’s tenure.
One of my favorite side stories involving that championship game began with a phone call from some avid Cougars fans who offered to pay the outrageous $300 live stream fee that the state charges businesses for permission to broadcast the video. WTHU had been providing video throughout the no-fee regular season and these fans were willing to cover the state’s playoff fee, just so they could watch the game from their lawn chairs on a big screen TV in Ocean City. Vacations don’t stop real fans from seeing their favorite team play in the big game. During the game, they posted pictures all over Facebook of the tailgate and game parties and what a blast they had. That game is still on the WTHU YouTube page, with 390 views!
Last year was a very successful year, but unfortunately, the Cougars ran into a familiar face early in the playoffs, the Clear Spring Blazers. This is how rivalries are formed. Remember in 2021, Catoctin knocked Clear Spring out of the playoffs early on their own field and went on to win it all. Well, in 2022, Clear Spring returned the favor by knocking Catoctin out of the playoffs in Thurmont. The Blazers went on to Waldorf, just like Catoctin had, and brought the 1A trophy home. Hey, if you are going to lose, it makes it easier when you lose to someone in your division (1A West) who goes on to win it all. Somehow, it takes the sting out of the loss when you lose to the eventual state champion, at least it did for all of us looking for “silver linings.” I am not good at predictions, but here is one I’ll make with confidence: Catoctin will play Clear Spring in the playoffs and the winner will go deep into the playoffs this year.
So, here we are in 2023! This team couldn’t look better! They have arguably one of the deepest pitching rotations in Frederick County, with two ace pitchers in McMannis and Castelow. Speaking of the Castelows, this team features two Castelow brothers who are tough, baseball-savvy kids who have both come back from substantial injuries last year. The brothers, Peyton and Keiten, are 100 percent ready and anxious to get back on the field. They have a great defense and don’t forget their offense. This is the team that invented “Mountain Ball,” also known as “death by a thousand cuts.”
Of course, coaching, as I mentioned earlier, is also a team strength. This group of assistant coaches is very special. Led by Tyler Ausherman, Will Delawter, Nick Huff, William Warram, and Ken Mcivor, I had a chance to catch up with Coach Delawter recently. Will played for Catoctin and Coach Franklin in 2004. Like Coach Franklin, Will had a passion for teaching, too. After graduating from college, Will Delawter took his first assignment teaching in the Washington County school system, but it was way too far to drive to teach and coach at Catoctin. So, when he landed his dream job at Whittier Elementary in Frederick seven years ago teaching fifth grade, he contacted Coach Franklin and was immediately brought on to the Cougars team. Coach Delawter coaches outfield and hitting, and at games, you’ll see him parked on the first base line. His job as the first base coach is a sort of traffic cop for base runners.
Coach Delawter is married with two boys: seven-year-old Liam, and three-year-old Max, who was born in February 2020 and diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. I asked him what was the secret to his success, wearing four hats in one day: teacher; coaching in two leagues, Little League and High School; and father, and his simple answer was “time management” and the ability to shift gears from one role to the next. When I asked him what challenges he faced raising Max, Will said: “Max is such a joyful young boy and his enthusiasm and energy are infectious. He’s always in the middle of everything, fist bumping and encouraging us and making us smile all the time. He doesn’t challenge us, he makes us better.”
Catoctin has eight home games on the schedule this season. It’s not just baseball. It is fun! From the campy “Curtain Call” medallion given at home plate to the player who hits a home run to the silly stuffed dog in the baseball helmet mascot that goes everywhere with his guys, this team knows how to have fun and win!
If you really want to see some exciting high school baseball and be a part it, come on over to Catoctin High School to check out this Cougars baseball team! And if you can’t make it to the games, there is always the wthuradio.com audiovault archive of the games. Just click on the high school baseball tab.