Former Duke baseball standout Nate Freiman was at a restaurant in Florida in late March when he got a call from Jonathan Schuerholz, the assistant director of player development for the Atlanta Braves.
“I was sitting in a Panera in Orlando. I was eating lunch and got the call that I had been traded,” said the first baseman, who was dealt from the Braves to the Washington Nationals.
Freiman, the all-time Duke home run leader with 43, had just signed with the Braves as a free agent on Dec. 13, 2015. He has now been part of five major league organizations but the March 27 deal was the first time he had been traded.
“It was absolutely a surprise. I really was not expecting it,” said Freiman, 29, standing in the dugout of Triple-A Syracuse before a recent game against Lehigh Valley, the top farm team of the Phillies. “A lot of these transactions are surprises. The Braves gave me a really nice opportunity” in spring training.
After the initial shock of the trade Freiman, who hit .256 with nine home runs in 116 games with Oakland from 2013-14, realized he had the chance to come full circle with Washington.
Freiman was born on New Year’s Eve in 1986 in the nation’s capitas. As a young boy the family moved to Wellesley, Mass., in 1991, though he still has an aunt, uncle and two cousins who live in Northern Virginia.
But his tenure with Washington didn’t go well – or last very long.
He was hitting .154 (4 for 26) with no homers and no RBIs with the Syracuse Chiefs when he was released April 21. He had two hits in three trips to the plate in his last game with Syracuse, on April 20.
“This is an organization that is first class. They run things professionally. I am happy to be here,” he said of the Nationals before his release. “I have gotten some really good instruction.”
Mark Scialabba, the director of player development for the Nationals, declined comment April 25 on the release of Freiman, as per team policy when players are released. Freiman could not be reached for comment after his release.
Growing up in suburban Boston, Freiman followed the Red Sox and one of their players: Brian Daubach, who played for the team from 1999-2002 and in 2004.
And who should be in their first season as the Syracuse hitting coach but Daubach, who played in 30 regular-season games for the Red Sox the season they won the World Series in 2004.
“I watched him growing up and it is cool for me to be with him,” Freiman said.
“He is a huge target for the infielders, that is for sure,” Daubach said of the 6-foot-8 Freiman.
Frieiman was splitting time at first with Matt Skole, 26, the 24th-best prospect in the Washington system prior to 2015 according to Baseball America.
Off the field Freiman enjoyed good-natured ribbing with Syracuse shortstop and N.C. State product Trea Turner, one of the top prospects in the minor leagues. Though they never played against each other in the ACC, the two have enjoyed talking smack as ACC rivals.
“He is one of the most impressive young players I have been around. I don’t want to throw too much praise on him since he went to N.C. State,” said Freiman, with a smile. “If I was starting a team I would have him right there at shortstop. It has been really fun to watch him.”
Turner, who made his big league debut last August with Washington, was hitting .364 through April 24 with Syracuse. “I feel good so far; it has been fun,” Turner said. “It is good to get off to a good start.”
Also doing well with Syracuse is Rocky Mount, N.C. product Brian Godwin, an outfielder who hit .370 in his first 16 games this year.
Turner could end up back with the Nationals at some point this year. That won’t be the case for Freiman, who is looking at his next step.
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer who can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com
THE NATE FREIMAN FILE
Position: First base
Born: Dec. 31, 1986 in Washington, D.C.
High school: Wellesley, Mass.
Drafted: Out of Duke by the San Diego Padres in the eighth round in 2009
Major league debut: April 3, 2013 with Oakland against Seattle
Did you know? He hit .274 in 80 games with Oakland in 2013 and .218 in 36 games with the A’s in 2014 … he hit .220 in 79 games at Triple-A in the Oakland system last season … he is married to Amanda Blumenherst, a former Duke golf standout who played professionally … both of his parents have law degrees and he was an academic All-American at Duke.