By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Sean Freeman was never the most emotional player ever to step on the diamond. It wasn’t because he didn’t care. He was just a bit... preoccupied might be the word to describe it.
“Looking back, people would I say I didn’t play with a lot of emotion. I wasn’t a high-low guy. I was focused on the task at hand. As long as I was playing, I wanted to play hard enough to get recognized at the end. I can only be grateful for the journey.”
Freeman, the son of Paul and Evelyn Freeman, did get recognized in the end. He was inducted in the Kent State University Hall of Fame in September.
“You realize when you get this kind of an honor that you must have done something special,” Freeman said. “You see the names of Lou Holtz, Jack Lambert, Josh Cribbs and Thurman Munson and to be included in a group like that is a humbling experience.”
Freeman helped the Golden Flashes’ baseball team to three Mid-American Conference championships between 1991 and ’94 and went on to play four years in the Detoit Tigers’ organization in earning HOF honors.
“That’s a good question,” Freeman said. “I don’t know the basis for it. I don’t know if I don’t get drafted and don’t play four years professionally, if I do or don’t (get into the Hall of Fame).
“Somebody looked back and said I had a pretty darn good career.”
While he was playing, Freeman wasn’t focused on whether he was putting together a Hall-of-Fame career or not.
“While you’re playing, you really don’t know,” Freeman said. “I was more focused on the task at hand and getting better. My goal at that time was to play professionally. I knew at that point my offense was pretty darn good and from a defensive standpoint, I knew I had the God-given ability to be something special.
“Years later, I hear that my coach is doing clinics across the country and he’s telling people I was one of the best he saw. To even be mentioned in the same sentence (as those guys in the Hall of Fame) is enough for me. I feel pretty humbled.”
Freeman, known as a key member of the Kent State teams that laid the groundwork for the last 20 years of success, was inducted into the Hall of Fame just months after the Golden Flashes made an exciting, and historic, run to the College World Series.
“I thought about that,” Freeman said. “I got the call from (Kent State manager) Scott (Strickland) in the early spring, before they made their run. I’ve stayed in contact with Scott, we’ve been close over the years. They honored the ’92 team that they say was the start of the run.
“Kent baseball has done more in the last 20 years than most Division I sports programs. It’s quite amazing. What they’ve done in the MAC is amazing.”
It was fitting that the Golden Flashes took another step forward just as Freeman was being remembered for his contributions to the program.
“They’ve won 15 championships. I was lucky enough to be part of three. My coach, Danny Hall, is also a Hall of Famer and Rich Remblack was around the professional level. He taught me a lot about being a defensive first baseman.
“Scott was a player on that team that set the tone. I told him winning the MAC has become an expected thing, they’ve got to get beyond the regional and you saw them get to that next level. Who knows if they will ever get back? It’s not easy an easy thing to do. It’s become a wonderful program.”
A lot happened during Freeman’s career in Kent. What he remembers most is just how difficult winning a championship was.
“It wasn’t easy,” Freeman said. “At that point, our mentality in baseball, as it should be with any sport, was to go out and fight for every inch. We were playing to win championships. You don’t win championships by accident. The three years we won, I remember it being a grind. It was a mental grind. I remember being mentally exhausted after winning the championship and all the drama that was involved.
“The drama was similar to the World Series run. What I remember most is it was a grind. It wasn’t easy. Looking back, the hard work and time we put in was special. I don’t look back at my stats. I say, ‘Heck, we won three championships.’ They like to say, with what we did, we were the start of everything. I’m humbled by where the cycle of life has taken me.”
That cycle is pretty impressive.
Freeman grew up a fan of the Boston Red Sox. His career may have spawned from one of the team’s most heart-breaking moments.
“My dad is from Massachusetts and is a die-hard Red Sox fan,” Freeman said. “I like the Indians, but I’m a fan of the Red Sox myself. I was in high school in 1986 and at that time they were still under the Curse of the Bambino.
“They hadn’t won a title since 1918. I was sitting on the floor watching them against the Mets (in the World Series), thinking they were going to win. I was watching Clemens pitch. Then came Game 6 and the ground ball to Buckner and it got by him. I remember them losing and sitting on the floor crying. I remember sitting on the floor thinking I didn’t want that to be me. I think that put some mojo in my step. I would make sure I fielded the ball. I wouldn’t be in that situation.”
Taking that story a step further, Freeman’s roommate in the minors was the catalyst for bringing that very team he rooted for as a kid its first championship in 84 years.
“I was drafted and in ’95 and I got to face Clemens,” Freeman said. “It came full circle. I got to do something I was dreaming about doing as a kid 10 years earlier. After we won the championship in ’94 at Kent, I was drafted. My roommate for three years was Dave Roberts.
“He grew up in Southern California as a Padres fan and we would make cracks back and forth. He would make fun of the fact I was a Red Sox fan. Lo and behold, he got the steal (for the Red Sox) that led to a big comeback and their first title (since 1918).”
Freeman is now one of the examples the youngsters of Andover aspire to be.
“(Being a Hall of Famer) sets the example,” Freeman said. “To get something like (the Hall of Fame), you have to have a lot of luck, a great work ethic and a little God-given talent. You have to have a lot of drive. It’s not an easy track. I didn’t get there without luck, drive and some natural talent. If there’s a sport you can get by on less natural talent, it’s baseball. In football and basketball, you have to have some natural talent. You have to be of a certain size.
“In baseball, for instance, I played with guys like Dave Roberts and Frank Catalonatto. Those guys went out and played hard all the time. They took advantage of every chance they could get. Whether it’s sport or anything else, what you have to do is have the drive to do what you want. You have to have the drive to get there.”
Paul and Evelyn Freeman had the opportunity to experience everything right along with their son.
“I think they were happy (I got into the Hall of Fame),” Freeman said. “I think they enjoyed the ride while it was happening. They spent a lot of time seeing a lot of games. They were there for every championship.”
Now, Freeman is a fan of the Golden Flashes. He’s currently enjoying the fact that the football team is ranked 25th in the country — the first time in 40 years the team has received that honor.
“It was a long time coming,” Freeman said. “Sportswise, the universities programs, other than football, have been wonderful. The golf program is extraordinary. The basketball team has made some great runs.
“The football team is making a name for itself. I got to watch them play when I was inducted and they looked incredible. They looked good. It’s been a great year for Kent sports.”
And when the spring rolls around, Freeman expects his old teammate to have the team playing at a championship level once again.
“I think Scott will have them ready to play,” Freeman said. “There’s no doubt about that.
“It’s funny, at my induction, he was recruiting a first baseman. It’s the first true left-handed first baseman he would have since I was there. He usually converts a third baseman over or something like that. He was pretty excited. I don’t know if he landed the kid or not. Scott will have them ready to go. They have some good kids back, but they have some big holes to fill.
“Scott will do what he has to in order to win.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.
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