FOR AN UPDATE ON FRIDAY'S GAME.
When he was a young child growing up in Wellesley, Mass., in the early 1990s, Nathan Freiman went with his father and brother to watch several Boston Red Sox players at his beloved Fenway Park.
One of them was first baseman Phil Plantier, who is currently the interim manager of the Lake Elsinore Storm.
As fate would have it, nearly 20 years later Freiman is playing for one of the former players he grew up watching.
Plantier and his slugging first baseman Freiman will be key tonight as they play the third and deciding game in the first round of the California League playoffs tonight at 7 p.m. at The Diamond.
The Inland Empire 66ers won the first game, 4-3, Wednesday night. The Storm bounced back with a 2-1 victory Thursday night. The winner of this series takes on the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes for the Cal League Southern Division title Saturday.
Freiman, an eighth-round pick by the San Diego Padres in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, hit .288 with a team-leading 22 home runs during the regular season.
Learning from one of his favorite players has helped his game tremendously, Freiman said.
“I was a huge Red Sox fan,” Freiman said. “I watched Phil play, we had season tickets. That’s cool to be able to play for him. He was a great player … I really enjoyed playing for (former manager) Carlos Lezcano and I enjoy playing for Phil. They both have a ton of experience playing professional baseball.”
Like Plantier did in his playing days, Freiman is putting up the numbers necessary to get him noticed, if not called up to Double-A San Antonio either this season or next year. The slugger who normally hits fifth in the lineup is the Storm’s current active home run leader this season, after the July 4 promotion of third baseman Jedd Gyorko to Double-A.
“He’s learned you don’t always have to get hits in order to drive runs,” Plantier said. “If you get quality outs, that gets runners in. This early in the season, with this many RBIs, you’re doing something right.”
Freiman gives a lot of credit to his teammates for his ability to drive people home.
“Knocking people in is nice,” Freiman said. “But it’s also because of the guys in our lineup, Jeudy Valdez, Jedd Gyorko, (leadoff hitter) Reymond Fuentes, Jason Hagerty. I get to come to bat with people on base.”
This bit of advice has made Freiman a better hitter this season.
“We all work hard every day,” Freiman said. “Everyone’s here to get better. I try to use it (my size), stay short with my swing and put the barrel on the ball squarely and let it take care of itself.”
His fielding coach David Newhan threw him some praise as well. Newhan is another former big league infielder who played for the San Diego Padres in 1999-2000 and most recently for the Houston Astros in 2008.
“I think he’s getting more comfortable,” Newhan said of the 6-foot-7 Freiman. “It’s nice having a big target. He’s been good. the biggest battle is getting that agility and footwork to continue to progress. He’s definitely getting better.”
Freiman has learned plenty of new things at Lake Elsinore, coming from Duke University, where he owns the Blue Devils’ career home run record with 43 and graduated with an American History major and a minor in mathematics. He was also the second Duke player ever to hit more than 20 homers in a single season.
“You learn how to play every day, as opposed to three times a week,” Freiman said. “You learn how to let things go, how to deal with success and failure. You can’t let the day before influence the present day.”
Freiman was also a Midwest League All-Star while playing at Fort Wayne, where he hit .294 with 14 homers and 84 RBIs.
“I was confident that I belonged, but I didn’t have any delusions that I had arrived as a hitter,” Freiman said. “I knew I was just getting started in terms of development. I started from Day One trying to get better.”
Freiman said playing for Duke was “unbelievable.” He led Duke with a .381 average, 11 home runs, 46 RBI and a .671 slugging percentage despite playing in just 39 games. He was also tabbed an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District III First Team selection and appeared on the All-ACC Academic Baseball Team. He had a .989 fielding percentage with only four errors.
“It couldn’t have been any better,” Freiman said. “It taught me how to be responsible and accountable, how to manage my time well. Playing in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) was great.”
Freiman was also a pitcher and was clocked at throwing 90 miles an hour, until he injured his throwing arm playing as a Duke freshman. In 2008, as a junior, Freiman was drafted by The Texas Rangers in the 28th round of the MLB Draft.