By Jeff Keeling
A summer playing baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization didn’t change Clint Freeman the person much – nor did it throw cold water on Freeman’s desire to pursue his dream of a professional baseball career that includes the major leagues.
“I just want to play hard and succeed wherever they put me,” Freeman said Thursday during a short interview at East Tennessee State University’s Thomas Stadium. “It doesn’t really matter to me if they put me in short season low-A, A ball or high A. I know the Lord’s got a plan with it.
“I hit over .300 my first year; wherever you go, you’ve just got to produce and play hard and you’ll be fine.”
The former ETSU and David Crockett High School hitting machine, as is his custom, talked about other people as much as he did about himself. The next day, he caught a flight to Arizona and the next stop on his journey – the Dodgers’ minor league camp, located adjacent to the facility where the big team began its spring season a couple of weeks before.
If this pro season is as fun as his shortened one last year, Freeman will be having a ball and bringing his deeply faith-based approach to baseball and life.
“I just try to put so much trust in the Lord that you’re just going to have fun with whatever you do, and I still just felt like I was a little kid, honestly,” Freeman said of his roughly two-month stint in Glendale, Ariz. last July and August.
While he was learning more about the importance of staying ahead of fastballs, Freeman was also building relationships. For instance, the devout Christian struck up a close friendship with Jared Walker, a third baseman just out of high school who had endured the death of both parents and a brother.
“I became close with him, because while that was going on, my cousin lost his wife to cancer,” Freeman said. “That was tough on him, but I spent a lot of time with him, mostly because, you’ve got to figure out who you want to be as a person.”
Freeman, who said he also became friends with Tyler Wampler, a shortstop out of Indiana State, got his hitting instruction from former first baseman Aaron Bates. Bates stressed the importance of making an early decision at the plate.
“There was a lot of stress on hitting the fastball,” Freeman said. “They always talked about how it’s a lot better to be early than to be late. You can be early and pull the ball, and that hurts you a lot less than being late and popping it up or missing it.”
Freeman hit .305 in the rookie level Arizona League last summer, and stepping to the plate for the first time in Dodger Blue on June 21. The first baseman finished the season with five doubles, three triples, two home runs and 20 RBIs in 95 at bats. He walked seven times for a .346 on base percentage, and finished with a .484 slugging percentage.
Freeman spent his offseason helping his dad around the family farm off of Cherokee Road, giving some hitting lessons and putting on about 20 pounds of extra muscle. He said coaches in the organization are typically mum on which direction a player may be headed, so he has no idea whether he may be headed for Low A Ogden, the Class A Great Lakes Loons, or the High A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
“I was one of the only ones that hit over .300 (at Glendale), but all that’s out the window.”
Along with his rock solid faith, Freeman said he has one area of certainty as he heads to camp, something he learned quickly last year: “We got there and one of the first things we did was watch bloopers of the Giants (arch rival San Francisco). It’s embedded in you from the start that you don’t like the Giants.”