By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Freddie Freeman was invited to a lot of showcase events in his final months as a high school baseball player in Orange, California.
There’s one in particular that the 27-year-old still remembers, though the memory is a lot funnier now than it was when he was looking to the 2007 draft, where he was eventually selected in the second round by the Atlanta Braves organization, the same one with which he has spent the last seven seasons in the majors and is a two-time all-star first baseman.
“It was in Fayetteville,” Freeman said. “My dad [Fredrick] obviously did all the plane flights, and we were midair when I realized that the flight was a lot longer than we had anticipated. Then we realized that we were going to North Carolina instead of Arkansas [where the showcase was].
“Back then, there were phones on the plane that you had to use credit cards for, so my dad swiped and started calling. Before we even landed, we had a flight booked to Fayetteville, Arkansas, but it was a little bit of a detour and I was late and I missed the first day.”
Hailing from southern California and boasting a toolbox full of talent, losing one day certainly didn’t seem to affect Freeman in the grand scheme of things.
“I had done a lot of Perfect Game events, but that was actually one of the bigger ones,” the 6-foot-5, 220-pound infielder said. “There were a lot of us there, but I didn’t miss too much. I just missed a batting practice, and [when they measured] how hard you throw in the infield, and I had already done that a lot. It’s a funny story now, but not at the time. My dad wasn’t too thrilled.”
Joining Team Canada for the first time on Monday at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, for the squad’s first practice as it heads into the World Baseball Classic, Freeman – representing both his Canadian born-and-raised father and late mother Rosemary – is beginning to find some perspective on how different his baseball journey has been from some of his new teammates.
North of the border, plenty of talent seeps down into showcases like the one that he almost missed, but invites are much harder to come by and missed days could be lost opportunities. Embracing the Canadian culture and camaraderie of the team that Freeman met Monday morning for the first time, the lefty-hitting Braves first baseman understands that his path is the one less travelled among the Canadian crowd.
“I don’t know exactly what it takes [to get to this level out of Canada],” Freeman said. “But for us in southern California, with the weather how it is, you can play year-round and that helped me a lot. I got to play every single season with travel ball or the regular season [at El Modena High School], so growing up there is just a little bit different than people growing up in Canada. People probably don’t get to play year-round up there.”
Coming into the temporary Canuck clubhouse in Dunedin – the team hosted by the Blue Jays until they set up camp at Marlins Park for the first round of the event – Freeman and his enthusiastic sense of Canadian patriotism were welcomed with open arms and he quickly felt relaxed in his new environment.
“I talked to Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, beforehand] and he told me it was going to be a lot of fun,” Freeman said. “Obviously it’s exciting for me to able to represent my mom and dad’s country, and obviously it means a lot to me to honour my mother [who passed away of melanoma skin cancer when Freeman was just 10 years old].
“Ernie [Whitt, team manager] in the meeting this morning just said to have fun and play the game the right way, and that’s what we’re going to do. This is obviously a lot of fun, and this is the first time I’ve even ever worn shorts in practice, so it’s definitely a little bit different for me, but a great time.”
Heading into exhibition games against the Blue Jays and Yankees before Canada opens against the Dominican Republic on Thursday, Freeman is still learning his new team, but is looking forward to what the experience holds.
“We’ve got great veteran guys with [Justin] Morneau and Pete Orr, and [Ryan] Dempster and those kinds of guys,” he said. “I’ve always played against those guys, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about a lot of guys on this team. I hit with [power-hitting Padres prospect] Josh Naylor today and I had heard about him. I got to see what they were all talking about and it was exactly what I had heard. This was just the first practice and I’m still getting used to the guys but it’s been a good time.”