Jesuit Alums Keeping Baseball Dream Alive
Kraus, Sunnafrank to continue playing ball
WHEELING–Every young boy in America has spent time in his backyard with a ball and glove imagining that he is in the big leagues.
For some, that dream fades away as life goes on, but for two Wheeling Jesuit alumni, the dream remains strong.
Jordan Kraus and Dillon Sunnafrank both played their college ball at Wheeling Jesuit University and are continuing their careers in the Frontier League and Independent League.
Kraus graduated from Jesuit in 2013 where he led the team with a .360 batting average, 25 runs, 12 doubles, along with 45 hits, 26 RBI and four home runs in his senior campaign.
Kraus was also the Cardinals’ top pitcher with a 3.57 E.R.A. and two complete games.
“Wheeling was a stepping stone in my career,” Kraus said. “I enjoyed my time playing there and it was a great experience.”
Now, Kraus is pitching for the first-place Florence Freedom in the Frontier League, where he is dominating the competition. But it wasn’t an easy ride for the right-hander.
“When I graduated from Jesuit, I wanted to keep playing baseball,” Kraus said. “So, I went to the Frontier League tryouts and I got signed but I didn’t make it out of spring training.
“I ended up playing a month in the Pecos League in New Mexico and it was a great experience. Then, I went back and played for the Frontier Greys for a full year.”
After becoming a free agent, Kraus signed with the Frontier League’s Lake Erie Crushers in 2016 before heading to the Freedom shortly after, where he has flourished.
He is tied for second in the league with nine wins and a 2.96 E.R.A, which is the sixth best in the league, in 16 starts. He has hurled one shutout and fanned 91 opposing hitters in the process.
The Freedom are atop the West Division with a 54-31 record and are holding a seven-game lead on second-place Evansville.
“This is my first time being in a playoff hunt,” Kraus said. “We have three weeks left in the season and we are trying to finish strong. It is brand new for me but going to the playoffs could be very exciting.”
In the East Division, a team that Kraus knows very well is also in contention. The Washington Wild Things are sitting in third place and the two could very easily face off for the Frontier League title.
“We played the Wild Things a few times this year and it was really cool,” Kraus said. “One year when I was at Jesuit, our field was underwater, so we played at Wild Things Park.
“It was familiar to me and it was nice to go back and a lot of local people came out to watch.”
Sunnafrank is also making strides to keep the dream alive as he sports a 4.65 E.R.A. and 17 strikeouts in 19 innings of action for the Salina Stockade, a travel team in the American Association of the Independent League.
The Stockade are located in Salina, Kan., but they play all of their games on the road, which could make for a long season. Sunnafrank has traveled to places such as Texas, Minnesota and Indiana.
“I like the bus trips,” Sunnafrank said. “Getting to hang out with the team and bonding as a team is always fun.”
It hasn’t been an easy season for the Stockade on the field, but Sunnafrank is taking it all in and learning from his teammates.
“Some of the guys at this level are ex-minor league and ex-major league players,” Sunnafrank said. “They are much better hitters at this level so I have learned to be more effective with my pitches.
“It has been a great experience to meet new people but it has been tough to make different adjustments at a higher level compared to college. But the guys have taught me to just never give up on the dream. Some of the older guys have been there and done that and are still playing the game because they love it.”
In his senior season at Jesuit, Sunnafrank hit at a .276 clip with 24 hits, nine doubles, 13 RBI and a home run. He also fired 26 strikeouts in 19 innings.
“I had a great experience at Wheeling Jesuit,” Sunnafrank, also a Cambridge grad, said. “I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys. Everyone always had each other’s backs.”
Sunnafrank is back at Wheeling Jesuit pursuing his business degree but after that, it is back to the diamond.
“After this year I will have a degree to fall back on but I will keep pursuing baseball to get to a higher level,” he said. “I just want to get better every day.”
Many different pieces must fall into place to make it to the major leagues but Kraus and Sunnafrank have both the talent and the determination to possibly make that dream a reality.