Freese yet to skip a beat with Emeralds

EUGENE- Following his senior season at the University of South Alabama in which he hit a team-leading .414 with 99 hits, 12 homeruns and 73 RBIs, the awards poured in for the San Diego Padres' ninth round selection in 2006.

He was awarded the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and was named to the All-Sun Belt First Team, Collegiate Baseball All-American Second Team, and the ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I All-American first team.

So who could have been surprised when Freese, a 23-year-old third baseman, hit an eye-popping .438 with two homeruns, seven RBIs and one double while scoring five runs in a five-game, season-opening series against the Boise Hawks (Chicago Cubs).

"Wow. What didn't you see?" first-year Emeralds' manager Doug Dascenzo remarked when asked what he saw from David Freese in the five-game series. "I mean, my goodness, he's a nice looking player. I'm anxious to see how he's going to look in three or four weeks from now. But, I like what I see."

Through Monday, Freese, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, ranked among the Northwest League leaders in batting average, homeruns, RBIs and slugging percentage.

The transition to professional ball has certainly been a smooth one for Freese so far.

"You know, it's still baseball. I try to stay focused, keep doing what I did in college and just find some holes," Freese said also noting that the use of wood bats has been the toughest transition to the professional league from the aluminum world of college. "You've just got to stay confident. Baseball is a funny game. It's easier when you are confident and things are going well, but when things aren't going good, you've got to stay focused."

That confidence and focus has caught the attention of the coaching staff.

"Obviously, he can do a lot with the bat. He's got a good idea at the plate. He's got a lot of power, and he's a mature kid," hitting coach Matt Howe said of Freese. "He's just got a good overall approach. He stays short, and he's got a good stroke. It's a good combination of things working for him. And he's an intelligent kid. He's got a good idea of the strike zone and what pitches are his strengths and he attacks them."

Freese attributes much of his early professional success to his time spent at South Alabama, a program that has produced big-leaguers such as Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jon Lieber of the Philadelphia Phillies, Marlon Anderson of the Washington Nationals and Juan Pierre of the Chicago Cubs.

"I had a good career at South," Freese said. "The coaches helped me out a lot. They helped me become a better ball player. Coach Reinstetle, our new assistant coach, did a lot with the hitters on our team."

Freese will split time this season at third base with Matt Antonelli, the Padres' first round selection in the latest draft. In the three games Freese has not played at third, he's served as the designated hitter and one game as a pinch hitter.

"Playing third, DHing, it doesn't really matter," Freese admitted. "Everyone loves to hit. That's the fun part about it. But, it doesn't really matter as long as I'm in the lineup to help my team win."

Helping his team win is exactly what Freese has been able to do. The Emeralds won four of five in Boise and are off to a 5-3 start. Freese was hitting .714 with runners in scoring position following the season-opening series, something he attributes to his patience and discipline at the plate.

"My job, especially in the four or five hole, is to drive in runs and if you swing at pitches you can't handle, you are not going to do the job," Freese said. "So I just try and wait for a pitch I can drive and go after it."

Despite the hot start, Freese understands that the Boise series will soon become a distance memory and in the "what have you done for me lately" world of baseball, the coaches will be looking for similar performances consistently in the 74-game season.

"That's what we are trying to get out of these kids is consistency," Howe said. "That's really what's going to get you to the next level is being able to do it day in and day out and not just showing flashes of it and going back to what you've been doing. You've just got to keep it up."

Dascenzo said the key to consistency is forgetting the past, whether good or bad.

"Yesterday is gone, today's a new day. And what have you done for the team today?" Dascenzo replied. "Obviously when you walk to the ball park, you haven't done anything. So, you have to squash it down to a day-to-day routine and a day-to-day basis. So now you don't go ‘hey, I'm 20-for-35, I'm off to a good start.' All that stuff is in the past."

Realistically, posting the types of numbers Freese did in Boise for an entire season is a difficult if not improbable task for any player, even in the shortened Class A season. And that became evident in the home-opening series against Spokane.

Freese cooled off in the first three games of a five-game series against the Indians, hitting 1-for-4 with a double in the opener and 0-for-3 with an RBI in the second game. He struck out with a runner on third in his only plate appearance of the third game Monday.

Yet, through all the slumps and streaks a season tends to bring, don't expect Freese to loose any confidence. Credit that in part to his naturally mild-mannered personality and partly to his approach to the season.

When asked about his goals for the year, Freese simply stated he "really didn't have any" – he just wanted to play baseball.

"I just came in here with an open mind, trying to play the best I can, trying to help the team win," Freese said.

A winner – that's one fitting way to describe David Freese.

"One thing that really impresses me a lot not only is his ability to play the game of baseball and obviously swing the bat, but I like the way he carries himself around the field. I really do," Dascenzo said.

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