KANSAS CITY — He couldn’t get anyone out. At least, that’s what the numbers would say, ugly stats that suggested a future in the 9-to-5 world of cubicles, or perhaps coaching – or some other profession tangential to the game of baseball.
But a major-league reliever? Generally, these are guys that can manage better than a 8.53 ERA in 31 2/3 innings while playing for a college team that finishes 30-27. Most times, these are guys that have better than a one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio in their only season in Division I baseball.
Normally, of course, they don’t look like Sam Freeman, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound left-hander who spent the 2008 season at Kansas. Freeman, a junior-college transfer who arrived at KU after a short detour to Marshall, made just 13 appearances for the Jayhawks during his only semester on campus.
“I didn’t really pitch too well,” Freeman says, “so that was a little depressing.”
And yet, here is Freeman at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday morning, a member of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, preparing for another day in the big leagues just 45 miles from his final college home.
Since making his major-league debut against the New York Mets on June 1, Freeman has posted a 5.40 ERA in 8 1/3 innings over nine appearances, including a scoreless inning against the Royals in the Cardinals’ 11-4 victory on Friday.
Growing up in Carrollton, Texas, near the north edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Freeman was always a two-way player. He hit. He pitched. He put up solid numbers.
But after playing at North Central Texas junior college — and being selected by St. Louis in 2007 — Freeman was searching for a school where he could simply focus on pitching. Kansas, he says, was one of the schools willing to give him that chance.
“I was a two-way (player), but I just wanted to pitch,” Freeman said. “… And multiple other schools had contacted me about doing both, and Kansas just wanted me to pitch.”
Once again drafted by St. Louis in the 32nd round in 2008, Freeman faced some seriously long odds to move through the system. But Freeman says those odds never bothered him much, even after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 before splitting time at high-Class A and Class AA in 2011.
This season, he recorded a 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Class AA Springfield before being promoted to Class AAA Memphis. Six appearances — and six innings — later, the Cardinals called on Freeman to help bolster a bullpen that was in desperate need of left-handed arms.
“As far as like the round and stuff, I never really paid attention,” said Freeman, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on Sunday. “I never looked at it like, ‘I can’t make it because I was a late-round pick’. That never really made sense.
“I just had the mindset, either way, you have to show you can play.”