Veteran leadership is a quality that nearly every high school baseball coach values, especially at the catcher position.
Parkview coach Chan Brown was able to check of both boxes with senior Jonathan French this spring, and the 2019 Daily Post Player of the Year lived up to his coach’s expectations.
“I think as a (coaching) staff, we went into the season knowing that for us to be the team that we wanted to be, he had to have a great year for us,” Brown said of his 6-foot, 200-pound senior catcher. “That’s what he did. You can’t ask for any more than what the kid did. … So from that standpoint, … no matter what game it was, it seemed like he always came up in the big situations.”
Indeed, as good as French was throughout the season — hitting .472 with 13 home runs, a Gwinnett County-leading (and Parkview school record, breaking Jeff Francoeur’s 18-year-old mark) 62 RBIs, 12 doubles, four triples and a 1.626 OPS — he was even more valuable during the team’s run through the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
The six home runs and more than 20 RBIs he had at the plate in 10 postseason games alone would have made him a major force.
But it was also when he had his biggest moments that made him such an indispensable contributor to the Panthers’ (36-4) second straight Class AAAAAAA state championship, and the program’s eighth overall state title.
It started with drawing a key walk from Peachtree Ridge ace Jack Rasmussen to spark a rally that led to Parkview’s only two runs in a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the opening round of the state playoffs, and continued throughout the playoffs.
Two rounds later, his RBI double in the bottom of the first helped the Panthers answer Walton’s three-run first inning in the opener, and a two-run homer later in the game helped cement that win and set the tone for their quarterfinal sweep of the Raiders. He had a couple of similarly timed hits and RBIs in the semifinal sweep of North Gwinnett.
In the state championship series against Hillgrove at SunTrust Park that French really came up clutch for the Panthers.
His two-run single in the bottom of the third gave Parkview a lead it would not relinquish in what would become a 4-1 victory in Game 1.
Then, with the Panthers and Hawks battling through a scoreless tie though five innings in the nightcap, French came up with his most clutch hit of the year with an RBI triple off the wall in left-center that broke the tie, and the Panthers broke the game open in the seventh with eight more runs and closed out their title.
“The postseason is the time to step up,” French said of coming up big in the key moments. “Once it hit, I realized that I had to do something bigger than what I was doing in the regular season in order for us to go further.”
As Brown points, out French’s contributions in the big moments were just as important behind the plate as their were at the plate.
He gunned down would-be base stealers in both games of the title series to blunt Hillgrove’s attempt at a rally and threw out another in the semifinal series against North.
“I can probably count on one hand the passed balls he had this year,” Brown said. “In the championship series, He threw the two (baserunners) out. Those were big moments for us. He just kind of had a knack for coming through any time we need it.”
He was more important in helping guide junior starting pitchers Miles Garrett (8-0) and Xander Stephens (10-1) through and keeping them calm during their first extended postseason experience.
“The other thing is, behind the plate, he took two kids who had high expectations — but really weren’t experienced on the varsity level — and he took them underneath his wing and really helped them feel comfortable on the mound with whatever they needed to throw,” Brown said. “From the standpoint of the locker room and the dugout, he was just the biggest leader he could possibly be for us. He held himself accountable to be the best he could for his teammates, and he expected the same thing out of them.”
Given his propensity for performing well on the big stage, it should come as no surprise if he ever makes it to baseball’s biggest stage.
While he was selected in last week’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, his 30th-round selection by the Cleveland Indians was below most pre-draft projections, perhaps spurred by signability issues.
However, French is more than content to take his talents to the college level at Clemson in the fall. After playing on a major league field like SunTrust Park in the state finals, he will further his work to make himself ready for prime time.
“I feel like it’s just going to help me prepare more for college, playing on a bigger field that’s a lot bigger than our field,” French said. “It’s just going to prepare me for ballparks in the future.”
However, his final season of high school baseball has left him with memories he will never forget and that he would never trade for anything.
“Just the camaraderie and the bonds we built throughout the season with all the players and coaches,” French said when asked what he will remember most this season. “And certainly winning a state championship is (high) up on the list.”