All American Game | Story | 7/21/2016

Freeman, Classic a great fit

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MESA, Ariz. – Theirs is a roster as deep and talented as any other at the 24-team 17u Perfect Game World Series that began its five day run at the Cubs Park Riverview spring training complex Thursday, but even among all the prized recruits that are wearing CBA Marucci uniforms this weekend, there are a couple names that jump out, begging for attention.

One is that of Jeremiah Estrada, a 2017 right-handed pitcher and UCLA recruit from Indio, Calif., who Perfect Game ranks the No. 39 overall prospect in the nation and who, in about three weeks, will be toeing the rubber at Petco Park in San Diego as a member of the West Team at the 14th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic.

The other is Tyler Freeman, a 6-foot, 175-pound shortstop and Texas Christian University commit from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who PG ranks as the No. 48 2017 prospect in all the land, and who will also be suiting up for the West Team at next month’s PG A-A Classic in San Diego.

Freeman has maybe – although not really – flown under the radar ever so slightly because there is another CBA Marucci standout shortstop and Southern California University commit from San Diego who PG ranks No. 20 nationally.

But Nick Allen, the third CBA West Team PG All-American, was not able to be at the 17u PG World Series this weekend which means Freeman will have free reign up the middle of the CBA infield. And Freeman’s fine with that, knowing that all three CBA players will be reunited in San Diego next month. He’s just sincerely overwhelmed to have been extended the PG A-A Classic invitation in the first place.

“It’s not a small accomplishment, and it’s just a blessing, really,” Freeman said Thursday morning before taking the field for CBA Marucci’s 17u PGWS opener. “Anyone would die to be in this position to be able to play in the Perfect Game All-American (Classic). It really is just a true blessing.”

Freeman said he grew up watching the game on television from his Southern California home, and his grandparents would always tell him, jokingly perhaps, that they expected to see him playing in the game when his time came. Now that that is a reality, his confidence is at an all-time high.

“It’s definitely a beginning,” he said when asked if being named to the PG All-American Classic West roster was vindication for all the hard work he’s put in to this point. “Not all of (the hard work) is showing through but it’s a beginning to where it really is going to start showing pretty soon.”

Interestingly enough, Freeman didn’t have to be here in the desert this weekend. He was invited to take part in the USA Baseball 17u National Team Development Program in Chicago, which kicked-off on Monday (July 18) and concludes on Friday (July 22), but chose to be at the 17u PG World Series instead. He said he simply felt being here with his CBA Marucci teammates was much more important than being at an individual event in Chicago. That sort of thinking does not surprise CBA founder/director/head coach Jon Paino at all.

“Tyler is probably the most selfless player we have in the organization, and what I mean by that is he’s the consummate teammate,” he said. “Tyler is the type of kid who will put his own success on the back-burner to help his team, to help his teammates personally, to do whatever is necessary.

“We’ve talked about it inside our organization for a long time that those personal traits that he has are going to allow him to play the game for a long time.”

Some other top CBA Marucci class of 2017 prospects joining Freeman and Estrada here this weekend include No. 123 third baseman Tyler Hardman (a U. of Oklahoma recruit), No. 124 outfielder Sean Ross (Arizona) and No. 211 right-hander Johnny Kuhn Jr. (Long Beach State). The team has 10 prospects on its roster that are ranked in the top-400 nationally and 14 who have committed to NCAA Division I schools, including three each to both San Diego State and Long Beach State.

“We feed off each other’s energy and there are a lot of guys with a lot of energy on this team; that passes down to everyone,” Freeman said.

The Maruccis had to rally for three runs in the sixth inning and a single run in the seventh to erase a 4-2 deficit and escape with a 6-4 victory over Baseball Northwest out of Aumsville, Ore. In their opener Thursday afternoon. Freeman doubled and tripled, drove in two runs and scored another one to lift CBA to the win.

CBA Marucci has four pool-play games remaining against traditionally successful programs like Norcal Baseball, 2015 17u PGWS champions Orlando Scorpions Prime, Southern California Bombers and Houston Banditos. It’s a tough lineup but that’s what keeps Paino coming back to the desert year after year.

“This event is one of the highlights of our summer,” he said. “You look around, standing right here in this quad, there are college and pro guys everywhere, and our goal for our guys is to play at the next level, be it in college or professional baseball. If you’re going to do that and truly help your kids, this is an event that you go to.”

The Maruccis won the 2015 17u PG WWBA National Championship in Atlanta and looked like they were on their way to a repeat of that title two weeks ago after starting out 7-0-0. But they dropped a 2-1 decision to the East Cobb Astros in the second round of the playoffs and returned to California with a little bit of a hitch in their giddy-up. This event offers CBA a chance to climb back on the national stage, one that is open to only 24 of the best 17u teams in the country.

“I think we’re going to compete; I think our pitching is pretty strong,” Paino said. “In Georgia, our bats kind of went silent a little bit but that didn’t mean our guys didn’t fight or didn’t give it their all any less. So, yes, I would say this a typical, hard-nosed, quiet CBA baseball team.”

Freeman said being a part of the CBA organization is like being a part of one big extended family – he calls it a “brotherhood” – and considers it an honor to pull on the CBA jersey; that’s why he’s here and not in Chicago.

He smiled and shook his head when asked to name the people or person who have had the biggest impact on his baseball-playing life, simply saying there have been too many to name. But after a moment he caught himself and acknowledged that his father, Greg, has motivated him more than any other. Greg Freeman is a detective with the Pomona (Calif.) Police Department, and the elder Freeman’s work ethic has had a big effect on his son.

“I’m never really pleased because you always have to strive to reach an even higher point,” Tyler Freeman said of his development as a baseball player. “It’s great how things are happening right now but I’m still going to keep working my tail-end off just to get higher than I’ve ever been before.”

When asked about Freeman, Paino described a very respectful young man who is very disciplined and very mentally tough, traits that become apparent when he’s playing the game and when he finds himself in tight situations. “With Tyler Freeman, I don’t think there is any situation that is too big,” he said.

“We’ve tried to pick him apart. We’ve tried to look at his flaws just to help him out a little bit,” Paino continued, wearing a grin on his face. “But his parents have done a phenomenal job of raising him and he’s truly an outstanding young man that we’re just so proud of.”

The Perfect Game All-American Classic will be the 15th PG event Freeman has attended, and that includes an appearance at the PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in mid-June; he stood out at the National with a 6.77-second 60-yard dash and by throwing 91 mph across the infield. He really is a complete package.

He has been named to five PG all-tournament teams playing with CBA, including last year’s 17u PG World Series and PG WWBA World Championship, and at the 2016 17u PG WWBA National Championship. He earned the Most Valuable Player Award wearing a CBA Marucci uniform at the 2015 PG/EvoShield Underclass National Championship played here in the Valley of the Sun, over in Goodyear.

Freeman has committed to national college baseball power TCU in Fort Worth, noting that he has family in Texas and has always been enamored with the state. He travels to the Lone Star State with his parents every Christmas has long told them he wanted to go to attend a college somewhere in Texas. When TCU expressed interest in him, Freeman said, “This is the place; this is where I want to go.”

With his extensive experience, Freeman has already learned what it’s like to play with or against other young prospects from all across the country, Puerto Rico and Canada. He shouldn’t be surprised by anything he encounters at TCU or in the professional ranks or even during the next four days at the 17u PG World Series.

“It would be great to win this tournament, obviously, but I really just want to have fun,” he said. “If you can have fun playing the game you love you’re going to play to the best of your ability.”

And, he certainly shouldn’t be surprised by anything he sees at next month’s PG All-American Classic. “I bet Tyler Freeman winds up making some lifelong friends at that game,” Paino said. “That’s just the type of guys he is.”

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