BY MATT LaWELL
SAN ANTONIO | After a little more than a month of games, Nate Freiman leads the Texas League in home runs. This is not news, at least not in certain parts of the country. Freiman has all sorts of power, after all, and he tends to hit majestic home runs high over outfield walls. He also hits line drive home runs that sneak inside foul poles. He hits home runs clean off the sweet spot and he hits home runs off the end of his bat, the kinds of shots that would be fly outs for most players. He hits home runs at home, inside the friendly lines of Wolff Stadium. This season, he hits more home runs on the road.
He also has no idea how many home runs he actually hits, even though he minored in math at Duke.
“I like statistics,” Freiman says. “During the season, I don’t look at that stuff. It’s too long of a season to be worried about your numbers every day.”
Freiman might be one of the more interesting players in the Texas League, maybe even in all of the minors. He has that tantalizing power, of course — 58 homers and 108 doubles in 376 minor league games, including 11 homers and eight doubles in 30 games this season for the Double-A San Antonio Missions — and a degree in history from Duke. He stands 6-foot-8, taller than all but one of his teammates. He calculates advanced baseball statistics. He works as a math tutor in Phoenix high schools during the offseason.
“There were times when I tried to hit the ball as far as I could, try to be Bryce Harper. I never did actually hit a ball 600 feet.” — San Antonio first baseman Nate Freiman
Oh, and in a little less than eight months, he’s set to marry his college sweetheart, Amanda Blumenherst. Nothing too interesting there, other than the fact that Blumenherst is a three-time national college golfer of the year and a pro on the LPGA Tour. With a driver in her hand, she might have even more power than Freiman.
“He caddies for her in the offseason,” Missions manager John Gibbons says. “Tallest caddy on the course.”
Freiman didn’t always have so much power. As a teenager at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, he pitched — and he pitched well. He struck out 91 over 64 innings his senior year, landed in the pages of The Boston Globe as its Division 2 player of the year in 2005 and received scholarship offers from colleges all over the country.
“But I really wanted to hit,” Freiman says.
Good thing Duke really wanted him to hit, too.
Freiman signed with the Blue Devils and played a key role offensively for three years. He batted .357, hit 23 home runs and 36 doubles combined as a freshman, sophomore and junior, even stole seven bases. Good statistics, especially in the ACC — though when Freiman looks at a page of baseball numbers, he seldom pays attention to counting statistics like runs scored and RBI. “I would see averages there,” he says. “Means, most common numbers, median sample sizes.”
Freiman separated himself from the rest of his team and much of the rest of one of the top college baseball conferences in the country during his last year in Durham. In 59 games as a senior, he hit 20 homers and drove in more than a run every game. He slugged .703 and walked more often than he struck out. “There were times when I tried to hit the ball as far as I could, try to be Bryce Harper,” he says. “I never did actually hit a ball 600 feet.”
The Padres drafted him in the eighth round and sent him to Oregon, where he hit 11 homers and 22 doubles in half a season for the Low-A Eugene Emeralds. He hit 14 homers and 43 doubles the next season for the Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps. Last season, he jumped to 22 homers and 35 doubles for the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm of the homer-happy California League.
And now, this season, he’s one of the top hitters in the Texas League — 10th in doubles, fifth in average and runs scored, third in OPS, tied for first in RBI and, yes, all by himself at the top with 11 homers.
“He’s a better player than I thought he was,” Gibbons says. “We’ve gotten off to a slow start as a team, and there’s no telling where we’d be without him.”
When he watches Freiman at the plate, Gibbons compares him to Mike Marshall, a 6-foot-5 slugger who hit 137 home runs for the Dodgers in the 1980s. Another member of the Missions front office compares Freiman to Richie Sexson, still another tall slugger, who hit 306 home runs over a dozen seasons with the Indians, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Yankees. Either way, legitimate Major League comparisons.
“He’s a good hitter,” Gibbons says. “He’s not a slugger who goes up there swinging and it’s a home run or a strikeout. He’s got a good idea of how to hit. He’s able to hit breaking balls — the curveballs and sliders — which a lot of young guys can’t do. Even experienced guys can’t do that. Definitely makes a difference.”
Like most developing hitters, Freiman has developed a schedule and he tends to stick to it during the season. He arrives at the stadium around 1 p.m. for a 7:05 first pitch, eats lunch, then hits by himself in the batting cage, 20 or 30 swings, often off a tee. He hits again during batting practice, normally around 4:15, with flips from hitting coach Tom Tornincasa mixed in afterward back in the cages. Then the game.
“When you play 140 games, you need your routine, or else you’ll probably lose your mind,” Freiman says. “Honestly, you probably will. We just need our schedules to orient ourselves.”
Freiman breaks down hitting like he does math. There are formulas, values and variables, and though there tends to be only one correct answer, there are plenty of ways to arrive at the bottom line.
Just not during the season.
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