Clint Freeman could hit and pitch with the best of them during his days at David Crockett High School and East Tennessee State University.
These days he is still splitting his time attempting to get hits at the plate and trying to prevent them on the mound.
Freeman is among a select few guys in professional baseball who can call themselves true two-way players as he’s a relief pitcher and first baseman for the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks.
“I know there’s less than five [pros] that actually do it,” Freeman said. “In general, it’s a blessing, but when you’re struggling a little bit with both, it can make it twice as frustrating.”
Does it make him recall his time at Crockett and ETSU?
“It does, it does. It’s a little different now because I’m either in the bullpen or playing first and not doing both on the same day,” Freeman said. “It’s fun to see the reactions of hitters the day after I pitch and I’m playing the field and they ask, ‘How in the world do you do that?’ ”
It requires a lot of work.
“On the preparation side of it, I get to the field an hour early, hit off the tee a little, go back inside and relax,” Freeman said. “Then I get my pitching glove and go stretch and throw. After that I take batting practice with the team and field some groundballs. Day-to-day sometimes my extra work, I’ll shorten it or not do it. You gotta listen to your body and what you feel.”
Freeman is hitting .235 with one homer and three RBIs with the bat in his hand, while compiling a 7.59 ERA in 10 games on the mound.
Those numbers have come while competing in the best independent league in the United States.
“The Atlantic League is All-Star Triple-A level,” Freeman said. “Sixteen of the 24 guys on our roster played in the majors. And they aren’t washed up; they are here because they put good numbers up. … Every [former] major league guy here is really nice and most of them have good habits. There are also a lot of guys that you could look at that have not made to the major leagues that should be. There are no bad players in indy ball.”
The manager of the Ducks is Wally Backman, a catalyst for the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets. Backman has managed in pro ball since 1997 (he was the skipper for the Class AA Birmingham Barons in 2002 when former Castlewood High School and Virginia Tech ace Denny Wagner pitched for the Chicago White Sox farm team) and has a reputation as an intense competitor.
“Wally is a guy you want to play hard for,” Freeman said. “He’s old-school and believes in doing things right. They don’t make many like him anymore. … Wally is scared of snakes. Our pitching coach [Rick Tomlin] hides fake snakes in the shower or on the bus. Needless to say, we have a lot of fun and that’s what you need in a 140-game season.”
Freeman spent two seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization – one as a hitter and another as a pitcher – before playing from 2016-2018 with the River City Rascals of the independent Frontier League where he did both.
He began the 2019 season as a coach with the Rascals, but caught on with the Long Island Ducks and is still pulling double duty.
Freeman is indeed having fun as the country boy from Northeast Tennessee adapts to life in one of the most densely populated localities in the country.
“Long Island is a nice place, but I’d never live here permanently,” Freeman said. “I love home too much.”
Chase the Ace
Chase Cunningham is not only the ace pitcher of the Southern Illinois Miners, he also happens to be one of the top hurlers in the entire Frontier League.
The former Tennessee High standout is 9-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) and has racked up 113 strikeouts in 116 innings of work.
In his most recent outing – against the Florence Freedom on Aug. 14 – Cunningham allowed one run over eight superb innings.
As of Friday, he led the independent league in wins and innings pitched, while his 113 strikeouts were second in the league to the 114 Ks of Lake Erie’s Jared Koenig.
Grimm does good
The results continue to be good for Justin Grimm.
The Virginia High graduate is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA in 10 appearances for the Class AAA Louisville Bats since the Cincinnati Reds organization acquired him in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers last month.
Opponents are hitting just .130 against the right-hander as he’s pitched 15 2/3 mostly dominant innings.
Success for Stratton
Hunter Stratton (Sullivan East) is 5-4 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 appearances for the Bradenton Marauders, the High-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He pitched three scoreless innings against Dunedin on Aug. 11 and four days later spun two shutout innings against the Florida Fire Frogs.
Craig the crusher
Will Craig (Science Hill) was batting .251 with 21 home runs and 66 RBIs through Friday for the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians, the top farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 21 homers are a career-high for the first baseman, eclipsing the 20 he blasted last year for Class AA Altoona.
His 66 RBIs are the most for an Indianapolis player since Matthew Hague drove in 66 runs for the Indians in 2014.
More on Micah
Former East Tennessee State University pitcher Micah Kaczor is 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA in four starts for the Boise Hawks, the short-season advanced affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
He collected his first victory for the team on Aug. 9 against Eugene as he allowed three runs over five innings, while striking out five and issuing zero walks.
Kaczor began the summer with the River City Rascals of the independent Frontier League.
Lee has been lights out
Andrew Lee (Morristown West) has pitched to the tune of a 2.43 ERA in eight games for the Harrisburg Senators, the Class AA farm team of the Washington Nationals.
He was promoted from High-A Potomac to Harrisburg on July 1 and has held Eastern League hitters to a .188 batting average.
Right-handed pitcher Will Carter (Science Hill) was assigned to the Class AA Trenton Thunder on Saturday by the New York Yankees.
Carter has spent time with Trenton and the Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders this season and is a combined 2-3 with two saves and a 5.34 ERA between the two teams.
Ex-East Tennessee State University slugger Hagen Owenby has compiled a .312 batting average with one home run and nine RBIs in 27 games split between the Low-A Rome Braves and High-A Florida Fire Frogs in the Atlanta Braves farm system.
He recently returned to the field after spending nearly two months on the injured list.
Local legend dies
Ernie Ferrell Bowman, a star athlete at Science Hill High School who played three seasons in the major leagues as a utility infielder, died on Aug. 4 at the age of 84.
Bowman hit .190 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 165 regular-season games with the San Francisco Giants from 1961-63 and spent time at shortstop, second base and third base.
His only MLB homer came on Aug. 23, 1962 against Al Jackson of the New York Mets at the Polo Grounds. He drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning that day too as the Giants prevailed by a 2-1 count thanks to the heroics of the kid from Northeast Tennessee.
Bowman played in two games in the 1962 World Series for the Giants, who lost in seven games to the New York Yankees. He was inserted as a pinch-runner and scored on a seventh-inning grand slam by Chuck Hiller in San Francisco’s 7-3 triumph in Game 4.
A moment of silence was held for Bowman prior to San Francisco’s game with the Washington Nationals on Aug. 6.
Martin to honor Seaver
“Joey Seaves” will be stitched on the back of Texas Rangers rookie pitcher Brett Martin’s jersey during MLB Players Weekend on Aug. 23-25.
With big-league players getting an opportunity once again to select monikers to display on their uniforms, Martin is using the occasion to honor Joey Seaver.
Seaver was a Volunteer High School graduate who had stints as a pitching coach at Carson-Newman University, Walters State Community College and with the Appalachian League’s Bristol Pirates.
Seaver, who died on Dec. 3, 2018 of a heart attack, mentored many pitchers throughout the years.
Martin, a former Morristown East High School standout, was among them.
“He was like a father figure to me,” Martin told MLB.com in April. “He taught me a lot about life and a little bit about baseball. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.”
A 6-foot-4, 190-pound left-hander, Martin is 1-2 with a 4.99 ERA in his first MLB season.
Today in History
> Chilhowie, Virginia, native Nick Cullop pitched a complete-game three-hitter on Aug. 18, 1914 in leading the Kansas City Packers to a 4-1 win over the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in the first game of a Federal League doubleheader.
> Ed Whitson (Unicoi County) allowed three runs over eight solid innings in a no-decision for the San Diego Padres on Aug. 18, 1988.
He struck out eight and walked two against the Montreal Expos in a game San Diego won by a 5-4 score.