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St. Louis Park’s Ryan Froom and Cooper’s Nehwon Norkeh
Ryan Froom and Nehwon Norkeh met at a Crystal-area bus stop when they were 5 years old, and the pair played plenty of Wiffle ball in the back yard together in those days. They played for years at Crystal Little League together.
Froom ended up at St. Louis Park High School, Norkeh at Cooper, but they remained best friends and closely followed each other’s baseball achievements. They have amassed more than 7,000 miles driving together, visiting camps and showcases with their families during their college baseball recruitment.
Now, with their high school careers winding down as seniors, the duo will square off Wednesday for what could be the last time as St. Louis Park is host to Cooper.
Froom is a senior pitcher and shortstop for the Orioles and Norkeh is a power-hitting outfielder for the Hawks.
“It’s going to be ... I don’t know. Maybe bring some tears because we’ll probably never play again with each other together,” Norkeh said.
As children, they lived a few houses from each other, but they signed letters of intent that will put their college careers several states apart. Norkeh will attend Angelo State, in San Angelo, Texas, where he was noticed by the school’s coaches during a camp. Froom says he would have liked to play with his childhood buddy but preferred to stay closer to home and instead will pitch for South Dakota State.
Froom said he has faced his friend plenty of times since family moves meant they’d attend different schools. He knows from experience to avoid throwing a fastball over the plate, which he says Norkeh could turn into a home run.
Neither played with local elite teams growing up. Attending a two-day showcase in Milwaukee last June started a cascade of camps and exhibitions that got each player more exposure and ultimately a chance to play baseball in college.
Each player said his development went hand-in-hand with a growth spurt. Norkeh, at 6 feet and 215 pounds, looks like a football player. Froom, 1?½ inches taller and weighing 190, throws 87 miles per hour, he said.
“I really improved a ton from my sophomore to junior year,” Froom said. “So by the time I was a junior I really wanted to go play college baseball.”
Norkeh said the bevy of college recruiting camps and showcases isn’t for everyone, but he feels they helped.
“I was really nervous because I usually watch a lot of baseball videos and I usually see people at younger ages are usually at those camps. So I feel like they’ve gotten a lot more exposure than I have,” Norkeh said. “So I felt like I was kind of late in the game.”
On the trip that would earn Norkeh an athletic scholarship, the two drove 18 hours to San Angelo in central Texas. Within two hours of arriving, Froom was throwing a bullpen session and Norkeh was taking cuts in batting practice for the coaches of Angelo State, an NCAA Division II school.
The Rams staff was impressed enough with Norkeh from that and other showcases that they offered him a spot on their roster next year and a chance to earn a place in their outfield.
“I can’t really express how I felt,” Norkeh said. “It’s been my dream for the longest time and I was just given the opportunity to do it. So I don’t know, just a feeling you can’t really describe.”
But each will focus first on finishing the North Suburban Conference season strong before turning an eye toward college. Froom, who also received a partial scholarship, said it will be strange pitching against his best friend.
“It’s a weird feeling because you’re normally so against the opposite team. You know him and he’s your friend, and you still want to get him out,” Froom said.
****Froom and Norkeh were both named to the 20-player Metro West All-Star team and Norkeh went 5-7 with a game-winning two run home run in one of the three games. Froom had three hits and started all three games at third base and pitched once over the weekend.
Derek Wetmore is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.