Eric Fruechtemeyer and Jason Anderegg played baseball at Belmont University and already had experience in coaching the college game when the idea hit in 2002 to start a youth program. Just as Nashville has found favor with a growing population base and economy, baseball has also taken off in the region – Vanderbilt is the preseason NCAA No. 1 team, and the Knights cast a shadow in their world as well.
Anchored by the Next Level Instructional Baseball facility, the Knights now feature 26 teams from ages 11-18, along with a home-school squad at the high-school level. And to kick off 2019 on the right foot, the Knights added five softball teams to the fold, giving them seven overall.
Fruechtemeyer and Anderegg swung through the offices at Triple Crown in late January and answered a few questions.
Q: What’s behind the move into softball?
Eric: I have a daughter, and that’s how we got in the game. I was driving all over for the team she was on, and I said, why? We have a facility, and we can run this the way we run the baseball side. We started with one team, added another, and just the other day five more from a current organization now under our umbrella. We’re excited to grow it; we’re learning, and the people we’ve brought in will help us get accustomed.
Q: What were your motivations to start a youth program in 2002?
Jason: We were both coaching in college then, so (the academy) was a way to coach during the summer. As we grew and got more into the facility and giving lessons, there was some looking back at the things we didn’t have when we were younger, and what we could offer kids now. Things are growing, and people in Nashville are becoming baseball-orientated. I enjoy the lesson part because it was something that I didn’t have a whole lot of; I grew up in a farm town where you just went out and played and hoped. Teaching kids at a younger age and getting them on the right track is rewarding, to see it click in their heads.
Eric: We learned fast that if we were going to get in the team game, we needed a place for our players to come and train. We had a few teams and a vision to grow; we wanted them to train and be around each other. It’ll be even better now with softball, so we will have people in there all the time.
Q: What do players and families have to understand about playing for the Knights?
Jason: The biggest thing with younger kids, and this is very hard with the parents, is trying to teach everyone that it’s about getting better. Getting reps, playing games, getting into environments that push the kids … not about winning trophies every weekend, like most people want to do. At 13s and 14s, it’s about preparing for high school, and in high school it becomes about the recruiting process. Getting them in front of the right coaches, to the right tournaments so they can go to the next level, if they choose.
Eric: It’s not for everybody. Parents have to educate themselves and learn if the program is right for the kid and family. When we sit down with a player and a family … look, the Knights are different. They’re going to work hard, you’ll be put in the right tournaments, right environment and right coaches. You’ll have every opportunity to succeed if you put in the work.
Q: The Knights have always seemed to ensure small colleges get to see your players; you don’t just try to attach yourselves to D-I options.
Jason: It’s huge in our organization, as we have multiple teams at each age. We understand that once you get to age 16, 17, that’s about 45 kids, and not all of them are going to play D-I. When we go to tournaments or showcases, we make sure D-I, D-II, D-III, JUCO, NAIA, they are all represented. We have guys who play at those different levels, and Eric makes sure to meet with players and tell them what’s (realistic).
Eric: It’s education in that regard, too. In Tennessee, we have a lot of Division I schools and junior colleges, and three D-III schools that play baseball, two of which take it seriously. Not every kid is going to play D-I baseball. We have to educate, because they don’t know what D-III baseball looks like, and there are D-III options in the East, further South, in the Midwest … you should know what’s out there.
Q: What’s next for the Knights?
Eric: A goal for us, is we’d love to have fields for our kids to have access. We don’t have to be stuck inside all the time in Nashville. That will only help the players, to give them more resources.
Jason: I’d like to just continue the brand. In our business, teams come and go, but we’ve been pretty steady for 17 years. As we begin softball, to make sure we keep trending up with a good brand everybody knows. We’d like to get to the point where the kids we started with, their kids are starting to come through the program. That would be pretty exciting.