Clint Freeman thought a summer trip to Alaska, of all places, could make him a better baseball player. He now has no doubts that it did.
East Tennessee State’s junior first baseman returned home last week after almost two months in “the last frontier.” Freeman led the Alaska Baseball League in batting average, hits and doubles through a 40-game season.
“The main thing was getting more swings against good competition,” he said Wednesday. “I projected that 12 guys would get drafted off my team. We had guys from West Virginia, Washington State, Washington, Ole Miss, Mississippi State. A lot of them were the best players from their colleges.
“I was just glad to get my name out there.”
Swinging a wood bat, Freeman certainly gave scouts a name to remember as he hit .379 for the Matsu Miners, one of six teams in the league. He played left field most of the season but also spent some time at first base and designated hitter. The left-hander from Jonesborough even pitched a few innings.
Freeman said he wanted to wipe the slate clean after an outstanding sophomore season at ETSU, where he led the team with a .365 average.
“The main thing I knew I had to do once our season was over was press the restart button,” he said. “I had a good year, and it could have been better, but I had to start over. Everything was zero-zero when I went up north.”
Freeman lived just outside Palmer, Alaska, a small town with its own special set of concerns.
“Counting inmates, it’s a town of about 5,000,” he said. “Two people got eaten by grizzly bears while I was up there. I didn’t go outside too much.
“I lived with the manager in a nice cul-de-sac about two miles from Palmer, and there was another guy named Bill Cullen from VCU. He hit behind me in the 4-spot, probably 5-8 and 170 pounds, and he led the entire league in home runs.”
Several of the Miners took part in a glacier hike, said Freeman, and the team would venture into town regularly to mingle with potential fans.
“We’d go downtown to different stores and hand out stuff to get people to come to the games,” he said. “We had anywhere from 600 to 800 at the games, which was pretty good since some days it was 35 degrees with a 30-mile-an-hour wind blowing. They were pretty good fans.”
Freeman was one of Northeast Tennessee’s top pitchers coming out of high school at David Crockett. But hitting is where he’s making his mark these days.
His batting average last season was 58 points higher than anyone else on ETSU’s team, and he also led the Bucs in RBIs (50) and doubles (14).
“It’s funny because in high school I was mostly looked at as a pitcher,” he said. “I hit 90 (mph) some and was left-handed. But I always knew I could hit in college if given the opportunity.”
The key, says Freeman, is to keep building on good experiences. That’s why he’s anxious for fall practice to begin at ETSU.
“We’ll get going again on Aug. 30, and I have to press that restart button again,” he said. “A lot of people have a good year — and you see this a lot with young guys — and they don’t want to work anymore. It’s important for me to stay focused on the task at hand and keep trying to get better.”
ETSU will introduce its new director of track and field today at a reception at One 12 Downtown.
The program hasn’t had a change at the top in quite some time. Dave Walker retired in the spring after 50 years at the university.
A banquet to honor Walker is set for Friday night at the Millennium Center.
The women’s soccer team won its first exhibition game of the fall Tuesday night at VMI when newcomer Megan Wynne knocked home a late goal.
The freshman from St. Albans, England snapped a scoreless tie by connecting on the Lady Bucs’ 21st shot on goal. The Keydets managed just four shots.
“I thought we did very well defensively from a team standpoint,” said coach Adam Sayers, calling the match a “physical encounter.”
ETSU plays its final exhibition Sunday night at 7 when Appalachian State visits Summer-Taylor Stadium. The season opener is at Tennessee Tech on Aug. 17.
More than 600 regular-season and championship events in the Atlantic Sun Conference will be available at no charge to television viewers during the new school year.
ASun.TV has moved from a subscription service to a free one, offering a variety of action from more than half of the league’s 19 sponsored sports.
“Providing equal access to everyone will enable us to grow our audience and to more effectively feature the accomplishments of our student-athletes,” said A-Sun commissioner Ted Gumbart. “Plus, growing our audience can only help stimulate interest and exhibit the value of partnership with the A-Sun among potential sponsors.”
Viewers will still be required to set up and use log-in information, and current subscribers will be receiving directions on how to create and activate new log-ins.