Freeland answers the bell

Photo: Alex Freeland (Perfect Game)

Jeff Dahn
Published: Saturday, July 13, 2019

 FORT MYERS, Fla. – Quarterfinal-round games in the Championship Bracket playoffs at the Perfect Game 17u BCS National Championship were set to begin promptly at 8 a.m. at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex, which meant the joint was already jumping by 7:30.

Dozens of players crowded around the two open batting cages and dozens more filled the dugouts and warmed-up out on one of the four fields. Baseball games at 8 o’clock on a mid-July Saturday morning? Ask any of these guys, and they’ll simply shrug and say, “So, what else is new?”

“I love this,” elite 2020 switch-hitting shortstop Alex Freeland said about a half-hour before he and his Team Elite Scout Team teammates took the field for their quarterfinal contest. “It’s the game of baseball; you’ve got to love it.”

This was old-hat for Freeland, as it most likely was for just about every other kid who swarmed the jetBlue complex Saturday morning. The only difference is that Freeland had probably done this more often than anybody else in attendance, considering he has participated in nearly 50 PG events since June 2014.

And, it should be noted, there are several more ahead, including a real big one that will take place a little less than a month from now. It was announced this week that Freeland, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound infielder from nearby Cape Coral, had been selected to take part in the Perfect Game All-American Classic to be played Sunday, Aug. 11 at Petco Park in downtown San Diego.

Freeland is also one of many of this year’s All-Americans who played in the inaugural PG 14u Select Baseball Festival at jetBlue Park over the Labor Day Weekend in 2016. Now having secured invitations to two of the most high-profile “all-star” games on  PG’s schedule, he kind of feels like his PG career has become full-circle.

“I’ve been playing this game for a while and I’ve been around these kind of guys,” Freeland told PG on Saturday. “We’ve all grown up playing against each other, playing with each other. It’s kind of cool to see that we’re all coming to the same events, especially some of the  guys that were in the 14u (Select Festival).

“Now a lot of those guys are getting to play in the PG All-American Classic, the one that we’ve all dreamed about playing in.”

Freeland is the son of Bobby and Amy Freeland of Cape Coral, an island city just across a bridge from Fort Myers. Bobby Freeland’s fulltime job is with the Lee County School District working in safety and security but he also works part-tine for PG at various events in the summer and into the fall.

He is perhaps best-known for being able to throw BP for hours on end, but for the past several weeks he’s been supervising play out at the Lee County Player Development 5-Plex during the long run of BCS National Championship tournaments.

Bobby told PG on Saturday that it’s been a “pleasure” watching his how his son has matured with his game in the three years between the 2016 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival and the upcoming 2019 PG All-American Classic.

He had been watching Alex grow and develop for all those years leading up to the Select Fest but when you’re around someone every day, some of the subtleties of that development can get overlooked.

“Seeing (that) maturity develop … has just been an incredible experience,” Bobby said. “Obviously, he works hard every day and he puts in the extra time, like all of the other kids are doing; he’s not any different than any of the others. But to show the dedication of getting that first invite and not just resting on it, that’s what impresses me.”

Alex Freeland is playing with the talented Team Elite 17u Scout Team at the 17u BCS National Championship, although he didn’t join the team until it played its first playoff game on Friday (he hit a two-run home in a 12-4 Team Elite victory).

The TE 17u Scout Team finished 5-1-0 in pool-play and earned the No. 4 seed in the top-tier Championship Bracket. They then beat the Tampa Terror in the playoffs’ second round on Friday and the Elite Squad 17u American in Saturday morning’s quarterfinals and took a 7-1-0 record into Saturday’s semifinal-round game against the top-seeded Florida Burn 2020 Platinum.

“It’s an honor being out here because I get to play with the best kids in the country,” Alex said. “This is where it all happens. Even like here (17u BCS) a lot of good players come through here and I get to play with them. And then at some of the big events like the Junior National, the PG National (showcases), it’s just a lot of fun; it’s fun to be around all those guys.”

The TE 17u ST roster is packed with highly ranked prospects and a bevy of D-I recruits with guys like Kellum Clark (No. 84, Mississippi State), Vince Smith (No. 206, Louisiana State), Fernando Gonzalez (No. 328, Georgia) and Garrett Spikes (No. 375, Georgia).

“That’s why you gear your game toward the bigger events – you want to surround him with just as good or better players because that will drive him to the next step,” Bobby said, referring to Alex. “But he’s a kid who’s going to fit in with a team like the Team Elite Scout Team that has 10 or 15 ranked players just as well as he’s going to fit in with a local SWFL team that he plays with on the weekends.”

Freeland has excelled while performing in unique PG showcase environments. He was included on the prestigious Rawlings Top Prospect List at both the 2017 and 2018 Junior National showcases in Fort Myers and Emerson, Ga., respectively, the 2018 Underclass All-American Games in San Diego and most recently at the 2019 Florida Pre-Draft, held at jetBlue Park.

“I like those showcases just because I get to meet new people and I get to play with good people,” he said.

It appears, however, that it is in the tournament environment where Freeland really excels. He has been named to 20 PG all-tournament teams during his career and will have several more opportunities to add to that total as the summer winds down, heading into the fall. His next stop is the PG 17u WWBA Elite Championship in Hoover, Ala., July 18-21.

Freeland, a UCF commit, is ranked the No. 31 overall prospect in the class of 2020 and the No. 7 shortstop prospect. Bobby remembered that when Alex first entered the national rankings as a high school freshman, his son immediately took the attitude of, OK, I’ve got a ranking, now what am I going to get a higher ranking?

“He’s always been that kid that would say, ‘I had a good day, I can have a better day,’” Bobby said. “Watching him not only physically mature, but for his game to mature to where it is today has been really special. … To be a dad and to be his hitting coach – or whatever you want to call it – for so long, it’s been a fun journey.”

When asked how many hours of BP he’s thrown to Alex over the years, Bobby smiled and thought for a minute before saying, hours-wise, it had to be in the thousands. How many actual baseballs thrown his son’s way? Probably in the millions, he guessed.

“He started off at 3 (years old),” Bobby recalled. “By 4 years old we were signing off on releases to get him to play with 7- and 8-year-olds. … I’ve never been one that pushes or says let’s go do this or let’s go do that, I always let my kids come to me.”

There is another factor here to figure in when talking BP. Remember that Alex Freeland is a switch-hitter so the sessions usually take twice as long as they might if he hit from only one side.

“His BP is quite a bit more lengthy than a normal, single-side hitter,” Bobby said with a hint of resignation in his voice. “So yeah, I’d say my arm is tired.”

When asked about the BP hours, Alex just kind of shook his head: “Countless … way too many to count,” he said, “but (Bobby is) always willing to throw to me whenever I want to hit.”

It’s not known if Bobby Freeland might have the opportunity to throw BP to his son out in San Diego, and if that opportunity doesn’t present itself, that’s just fine. Bobby said he’d just sit up in the stands and watch Alex and the others perform and he’d be happy doing it.

Alex Freeland has two older brothers, Jacob and Adam. Jacob Freeland graduated from high school in 2015 and just graduated from Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., where he was a member of the baseball team; he continues to play Independent League baseball up in Ohio.

“My dad, he played in college, and my oldest brother is still playing right now,” Alex said. “Growing up, we’ve always been around it, it’s always been in the family; sports have always been a big thing in my family.”

Bobby Freeland told PG that the biggest thing he and Amy have tried to do with Alex is to help him stay grounded and help him stay humble but at the same time make sure he stays hungry. Fortunately, Bobby said, Alex is type of kid where they really don’t have to remind him of that very often.

This remarkable baseball journey has been stressful at times, but the Freelands wouldn’t change a thing. They’ve logged a lot of miles traveling coast-to-coast and Bobby said it’s worth every mile traveled when he sees the look on Alex’s face at the conclusion of a national event at which his son performed well.

“It’s been a fun journey and I hate to see this part of it end, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m happy for (Alex) and I’m excited to see what happens going forward but this part of it, I’m sad to see it end to a certain extent.”

And when it comes to getting up at 6 o’clock on a Saturday morning in mid-July to play yet another 8 a.m. ballgame, Bobby Freeland believes that is something that has become second-nature to the kids who play at such a high level. It’s their competitiveness that drives them and a lot of them may be starting to see a little bit of what their future may look like.

“I really think it’s that competitive fire that gets them ready to play an 8 o’clock game in mid-July,” he said. “It has nothing to do with, hey, somebody might see me today or anything like that, it’s just pure competitiveness. …

“To (Alex), it’s always been ‘I’m doing this because I’m getting the chance to play against the best,” Bobby concluded. “If I can play against the best I can find something to get better at during that event.”

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