Monday, August 05, 2013

Freitas Brings His Own Cheering Section

There’s quite a crowd of people around the Sacramento River Cats’ dugout after their home games these days. That’s because the family and friends of David Freitas stand at the fence waiting for the former Elk Grove High School and Cosumnes River College star to put away his catching gear and bats and walk up the dugout steps to greet everyone.

About ten to fifteen minutes of hugs and handshakes follow – former high school teammates, friends and relatives taking quick photos to share on Facebook. The whole time Freitas assures Raley Field security, it’s fine, “they’re my family.” 
River Cats catcher David Freitas signs autograph for a
pair of fans following Saturday's game at Raley Field

With a month to go in the regular season for the River Cats, the crew of Raley Field will have to get used to it. It’s happened after every home game since July 25 when Frietas was called up from Double-A Midland to replace Stephen Vogt who was recalled by the parent major league franchise, the Oakland A’s.

It’s not too often this kind of thing happens to pro baseball players. There aren’t many offered the chance to play so near to home.

Freitas is living his boyhood dream, playing professionally for the A’s organization. It all became a reality when about a year ago Oakland traded starting major league catcher Kirk Suzuki to the Washington Nationals for Freitas.

The scenario was then set. Now he’s one step, one injury, one decision away from the American League.

Freitas grew up in Wilton, about 20 miles away from Raley Field. He played youth baseball for Cosumnes Little League, and later, Elk Grove Cal Ripken. Unlike his River Cat teammates, he gets to go home, his real home, after every game.

“Got to love that home cookin’,” he chuckled.

With the Saturday night fireworks exploding in the skies, he finishes his final greetings. There’s one last hug for his mother, Cheryl, a wave to younger brother, Kyle, and a kiss for fiancé, Kacee Taylor, and he’s walking towards the River Cats’ clubhouse, a spacious facility just beyond the left field fence.

“That’s awesome,” he says as he’s toting his equipment bag. “They didn’t always get to see my games (when he played out-of-state). But, now that I’m here they are always here.”
 
The centerfield scoreboard at Raley Field announcing
Freitas is at bat.

He stops to autograph every baseball and program offered to him by young boys hanging over the fence along the third base line. Freitas is starting to build a posse of fans, most of who probably never saw him stroking home runs and throwing out base runners for the Thundering Herd or the Hawks. He grinned as he briefly talked about his high school days winning three consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championships between 2005 and 2007.

“I have to say, ‘congrats (to the 2013 Herd that won the Section title)’,” Freitas remarked. “(Herd head coach Jeff) Carlson always has a good club and I’m always pulling for them.”

Now six years later, in his fourth professional season, the 6-3 Freitas has grown into a rock-solid 230 pounds, very much the size of most major league catchers.

He was the River Cats’ opening day catcher and played the first five games for Sacramento. The A’s had a chance to obtain Vogt, another promising catcher, from Tampa Bay so Vogt came to Sacramento and Freitas was shipped to Midland. He played there at the end of the 2012 season after the trade from the Nationals. 
Freitas walks with River Cats' starting pitcher Sonny Gray
to the bullpen to start warm-ups prior to Saturday's game.
Pitching coach Rick Rodriguez walks alongside.

“You doing what you’re doing, and you don’t change anything because of the level. It’s all baseball,” he said of this season’s movement between Triple-A, Double-A and back to Triple-A ball.

“When I first came (to Sacramento) I expected to play here,” he said. “They signed Vogt which kind of knocked me down one. I understood that, so I told myself I’m going to go to Midland and play my butt off and hopefully get back here by the end of the season.”

He played 61 games for the Rock Hounds, batted .214, but since he returned to Triple-A he’s seen his average balloon to well over .300.

“I feel good,” Freitas said. “I’m seeing the ball good.”

In his two series back in a Sacramento uniform he hit .389 with a homer and four doubles. He’s getting most of the starts behind the plate because Luke Montz has been on the disabled list. Ryan Ortiz, who started the year with the Stockton Ports, is also on the River Cats’ roster.

Much of the reason that Freitas has seen so much playing time could be two-fold. He played for Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone last year in Midland where the River Cats’ skipper was assigned in 2011 and 2012.

“(Scarsone) is awesome,” Freitas said. “He was awesome last year and he’s awesome this year. I love playing for him.”

River Cats' catcher David Freitas returning to the dugout
after Saturday's 5-3 win over Round Rock
Plus, Freitas has spent much of the past two weeks, plus earlier this year during spring training, getting to know all the River Cats’ pitchers.

“I knew I had to get to know them quick,” he said. “I try to get out early and catch as many of them as I can. When you go from one team to another there’s a whole new staff and as a catcher you have to handle all of them.”

Freitas is calling all the pitches when he’s catching, only getting defensive signs from Scarsone.

“Mostly I ask questions, ’What do you feel your strength is? What do you like to do in certain situations?’, he explained. “I do that instead of just going out there catching them. I want to know how they feel.”

Saturday night he directed the A’s top draft pick in 2011, Sonny Gray, through six and 1/3rd solid innings against a Round Rock Express team that included Manny Ramirez, the former All-Star, now working his way back to the majors through the Texas Rangers’ system.

“It was pretty cool to have Manny right there in the box me,” Freitas admitted.

He said the two briefly exchanged pleasantries with each other prior to Ramirez’ first at-bat.

“I told him, ‘Hi, good luck’ and he told me ‘good luck.’” Freitas said. “After that it was all business and baseball.”

There’s a little less than a month remaining in the season for the River Cats and they are currently fighting it out with Las Vegas for first place in the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern Division. Sacramento has won the last six division championships.

“It’s always the goal to win,” he said.

But, there could another month of baseball for Freitas if he gets a call from Oakland to join the parent club in September.

“That’s obviously the ultimate goal,” he said. “To go up there and continue doing what I’ve been doing and hope things go well.”


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