Slade Renfrow, the son of Tracy and Lauren Renfrow, signed a national letter of intent recently to continue his baseball career and education at Allen Community College in Iola, Kansas. It’s the culmination of an interesting journey, which started in Louisiana where he played his freshman and sophomore years.
“I was a catcher actually,” he related. “My coach in Louisiana, he was always like, ‘No, I want you to be a catcher. I don’t want you to do two way.’ Because I was always asking to pitch. I was like, ‘Coach, I used to pitch when I was little. Let me pitch.’ But I never really got the chance.
“So, whenever I moved to Bryant, I was thinking, ‘You know, I’m going to start pitching. Nobody knows what I played. Nobody knows anything about me so I’m just going to go for it,’” he continued.
“He came in during the summer, so he actually got an extra summer of Legion compared to high school baseball,” noted Bryant Hornets head coach Travis Queck.
“When he came in after sophomore year, he was just so raw,” related Darren Hurt, the head coach of the Bryant Black Sox American Legion program. “He came from a different program, coaching was different. So, he had to learn so much.
“We were trying him at so many different positions that first summer,” he added. “We were moving him everywhere, trying to find a home for him. Then we got him on the mound. He showed promise on the mound, he was just so inconsistent over the top.”
“I played my first summer with D-Train (Hurt),” Renfrow said. “I wasn’t very consistent. I was having arm problems.
“I watched (teammate) Coby Greiner throw sub (submarine-style) all summer and we were in the pen one day and I was like, ‘I want to try this,’” he said. “I really thought I could do it. I was like, ‘I’m not helping this team at all throwing overhand.’
“So, I tried it in the pen one day,” Renfrow continued. “It was me, Dylan Hurt, D-Train, and Ozzie Hurt. I’m pretty sure Dylan was catching me, and I was like, ‘D-Train, let me just try this.’ I threw one pitch and it had good movement. Then, we went to off-speed pitches like a slider. I threw a slider and it broke like crazy. I had never thrown a ball that moved that much. From that day forward, D-Train was like, ‘Yep, you’re going to throw sidearm.’ I was like, ‘Awesome.’
Hurt said, “Once he dropped down — the first time that we really saw that, that we thought it was going to work was at the Junior State tournament two summers ago when he came in and had a really good outing there.
“That was actually, the first time I threw sidearm in a game,” Renfrow related. “I was playing on the Junior team. It was a State game. It was our last State game and we were playing Texarkana. I came in the last two innings and I don’t think I gave up a hit. I did really well throwing sub.
“It was kind of weird how it happened because D-Train has to submit the roster for (the Senior Regional in) New Orleans like weeks or months ahead,” he said. “After that game, he was like, ‘Slade, I really wish I knew that you could throw line this sub because I would be taking you to New Orleans with us.’ I was like, ‘Man, why did you have to tell me that?’”
Said Queck, “I remember Darren calling and saying, ‘Hey, this guy’s got a live arm. It’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out.’
“The key to Slade’s success is getting him to be bought into blue-collar Bryant baseball,” said the Hornets’ coach. “And, you know, he did.
“He did very well for us,” he continued. “If you ask him, he thought he could’ve done better, and I believe he could have too. Last year, we had a bunch of arms and, this year, we were kind of using him as our bellcow to finish games.
“I know he had a lot of success last summer, went to a lot of camps and I actually got a lot of feedback from coaches about him; a dynamic, loose, wiry, athletic pitcher who drops down,” Queck said. “He got up to about 85 (miles per hour), which is a lethal combination with the movement that he has and his arsenal of pitches, a fastball, a sinker. He’s a sinker-slider guy that’s really, really been focusing on getting a change-up, so he’d have something that breaks in; a slider that goes in on a lefty and a change-up that drops straight down.
“His game is not strikeouts. His game is going to be ground balls and flyouts and let your defense play.”
Last summer, however, there were times that when Renfrow’s pitches looked like the old classic whiffle ball movement. Good hitters would flail at the ball, look bad at times.
“I’ve seen him at times be absolutely dominant,” Hurt said. “He had outings where he was just — one in particular up in Fayetteville against Sandlot out of Oklahoma, probably one of the top offenses that we faced all summer. I think he pitched five innings of no-hit baseball. We brought him in the third and he didn’t give up anything.
“He’s shown a lot of that,” he continued. “We really relied on him last summer. He was one of our guys.
“We started him more as a reliever. The summer before, we had just dropped him down. He hadn’t been throwing sidearm that long. It was something that he started working on and he has really kind of figured it out.
“We really needed him to be that number two starter, once (current Arkansas Razorback Will) McEntire wasn’t going to be able to go for us,” Hurt said. “So, we had to have him step up as a starter and he did. He was really big time for us in that role.”
Renfrow wound up 6-2, throwing a team high 58 and 2/3 innings with an earned run average of 1.31. He allowed just 35 hits in those innings and struck out 65. The Sox went 30-11, won the Senior State championship and made it to the finals of the Regional, a step away from the American Legion World Series. Renfrow was named the State tourney’s top pitcher.
Hurt reflected, “One thing that we committed to do last summer — and we have that luxury — we play a whole lot of games in the summer and we threw him out there in some starts when he didn’t really start off very well and he had to sit out there and figure it out. I think that was good for him because he had to start getting himself out of jams. As a starter, that’s what you’ve got to do.
“I mean we can’t be going to the pen in the first inning,” he continued. “He was really consistent for us toward the end of the summer and I think it was him just finally getting comfortable with being a starter and being able to get himself out of jams. He still had times when he’d hit a couple of guys. You’d be over there gritting your teeth but, what he figured out was that he could calm himself down and he competed.
“I think, for him, it was just learning the release point, getting comfortable with it,” Hurt added. “It was just like the light came on and he really started trusting it. When he could trust it and really just let it go, he’s really good, gets a lot of movement.”
Renfrow related, “It was a good learning experience for me. I wasn’t a pitcher before I moved. I never really threw in very many games. I think I threw one (varsity) inning my junior year in high school. I went into Legion ball and D-Train just put me on the mound and said, ‘You know what you’ve got.’
It took a lot of mental practice for me, just getting used to doing it,” he continued. “I struggled with some things. I hit a lot of people when I first started throwing sub. It started to get better throughout the summer. But, to this day, that’s one thing that I work on. I would say, ‘Don’t hit anybody this game.’ I had to change my positioning on the rubber and things like that to help me get there. It’s getting better.”
Unfortunately, like the rest of the seniors at Bryant, this spring’s high school season was cancelled five games in due to the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we won’t know what they might’ve accomplished.
“We’ve spent so much time together since September,” Queck said. “Slade did a good job of attacking the weight room and trying to be a guy that everybody could rally around, a guy that would be an example of what the coach wants.
“We did not get our season and I hate it for all the seniors but there’s trials and tribulations along the way and there were times when he stood out and stepped up and was a leader,” the coach concluded.
Regarding recruiting, Renfrow said, “There was a period of time where I decided for myself that I didn’t necessarily want to play JUCO baseball. Then all this happened with the quarantine and everything, and I realized that maybe this is a place that I need to be.
“By chance, Coach (Chris) Mileham (an assistant at Allen) — I hadn’t talked to him for about five or six months — he texted me and was like, ‘Man, I want you to come play here. I know circumstances have changed for everybody, so I just want to get your second opinion.’ For me, that was a blessing because, you know, for me to get to a big D-I school, JUCO is the way for me to do that. I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’”
“They’re getting someone who’s still pretty raw,” Hurt said. “But the potential is through the roof. His upside is unbelievable.”
Renfrow expressed his gratitude to his Legion coach, saying, “I’ve never had a coach like D-Train. He’s really one of those people that, he’s all about the kids. He’s all about working and teaching and getting the best team he can possibly make. That kind of makes people gravitate to him.”