Clint Freeman is catching on quickly with the Dodgers. Photo contributed / Lara Byerley
Dry eyes, dust storms and crowded dugouts haven’t kept Clint Freeman from seeing the baseball.
The former East Tennessee State player has begun his pro career hitting .321 for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Arizona League affiliate in Glendale.
Freeman is 9-for-28 with two doubles and two RBIs, but he’s hardly overwhelmed by his start, especially in the hitter-friendly desert air.
“I’ve hit two doubles pretty hard,” Freeman said Tuesday afternoon. “These balls, if you square them up and back-spin them, they’ll go. The ball goes a lot farther off the bat out here. ... We had a big dust storm about three days ago and then after the dust storm it rained for the first time in about 125 days.”
Freeman sounded like many Appalachian League batters have through the years while discussing the pitching and umpiring. Pitchers with live arms and erratic control and umpires learning the strike zone make the already-difficult task of hitting even more of a chore.
“The biggest thing in this league is young guys that throw the ball really hard but don’t really know where it’s going a lot of times,” Freeman said. “I’ve seen a lot of 95 and 96 (mph). And then you’ve got rookie umpires too, and they’ll give so much off the plate and you don’t know what they’re gonna call. I mean, you don’t; it’s a moving strike zone. ... But it’s the same for everybody. You’ve gotta stay with it and keep playing defense.”
The David Crockett alumnus is playing first base. The Dodgers’ outfield is crowded, as are most other spots in their farm system. Consequently, Freeman has played in seven of 15 games for the Dodgers (8-7).
“Obviously, the Dodgers have a really good organization,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good minor-league teams, too. There are a lot of guys in Double-A that’d be in the major leagues if they weren’t playing for the Dodgers.”
Sporadic at-bats haven’t taken a toll on Freeman’s average.
“Well, I’ve swung and missed a couple of times too many,” he said. “I can’t say I’m 100 percent comfortable right now, which is a good thing — if you’re hitting .321 and you’re not comfortable, that’s good. But it’s just getting more at-bats, seeing more pitches. ... You’ve gotta have a little bit of rhythm.”
Freeman’s team doesn’t play in Los Angeles’ Spring Training stadium, but some of its Arizona League opponents play in their parent organization’s Spring Training ballparks.
“We played last night at the Rangers’ Spring Training field and we’ve played in the Brewers’ facility, too,” Freeman said. “But the Reds, Cleveland and White Sox — they all play on one of the side fields, which they’re nice, too.”
Opposing players have included the familiar face of former North Florida starting pitcher David Trexler (White Sox) and the vaguely familiar face of former Tennessee first baseman Rodney Scott Price (Giants).
“He said ‘hello’ to me when I got to first base and I had no idea who he was for a second,” Freeman said. “And then he started talking about Tennessee and I’m like, ‘That’s Price.’ For a second I didn’t recognize him because he’s growing a little bit of a beard. He looked like he’d put on a little weight, too. He said since he’d gotten done with Tennessee he hadn’t been running as much. ...
“It’s a lot more simple than ETSU, and I like that. The college guys are the hardest guys to hit, as far as this league goes. Those college guys can spot up and they know if they’ve got umpires that’ll give them (strikes) off the plate.”
Freeman spent the summer of 2012 in Alaska and played last summer in New England in the Cape Cod League. Arizona has completed quite the continental crisscross.
His hotel home is across from the Arizona Cardinals’ and Phoenix Coyotes’ facilities. Despite the absence of sweet tea and his mother Renee’s biscuits and gravy, Freeman enjoys rooming with fellow first baseman Scott De Jong and pitcher Bubby Rossman.
His girlfriend, Lara, has visited, but his airplane-wary parents might not make it out.
“I told my dad, ‘You’re gonna have to get on a plane to watch some games eventually.’ He’s like, ‘Well, if you make it to the (Chattanooga) Lookouts, we’ll be there,’” Freeman said with a chuckle. “That may not happen … and if it did, it could be five years down the road.”
Wherever the road leads, rest assured, Freeman will enjoy every minute of it.
“I’d definitely say the Lord’s blessed me with people easy to meet and be around,” he said. “It’s a good group of guys. And you don’t take anything for granted, as far as playing for the Dodgers organization.”comments powered by Disqus