CLEVELAND – Jokes in baseball are as common as scratching and spitting.
Guardians infielder Tyler Freeman made his MLB debut Wednesday afternoon in a 7-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Progressive Field one day after being the subject of a prank.
Freeman was playing for the Guardians' Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers, Tuesday night when manager Andy Tracy had a little fun with him during the minor league game with the Rochester Red Wings.
“I got a base hit to right field and the right fielder made a bad throw, so I get to second,” Freeman said Wednesday with a smile before the game. “Long story short, I come back in and Andy Tracy is like, ‘I was kind of thinking, you weren’t running hard enough. We’re gonna have to pull you from the game.’
“In the back of my mind I’m like, ‘I got to second, like, I know if I wasn’t running hard I would’ve stayed at first base.’ I never told him that. Never would. But I was like, ‘You know, I respect your decision. It is what it is.’ And he goes, ‘All right, take a seat on the bench and think about how you’re gonna get to Cleveland tonight because you’re getting called up.’ I didn’t believe it at first. I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ And now I’m here.”
Freeman, 23, was a second-round selection by Cleveland in the 2017 MLB Draft out of Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He is ranked the No. 84th best prospect in baseball by MLB.Com Pipeline and the sixth best in the Guardians organization.
Freeman, wearing No. 2, started at third base Wednesday and batted seventh in the lineup. He walked in his first plate appearance in the second inning, grounded out in the fourth, hit a single in the sixth and flied out in the eighth.
“I got goosebumps right away," Freeman said after the game regarding his first hit. "I mean, it was surreal, especially on the video board, seeing my family and everyone standing up. Little emotional, but it was awesome. My family being here means the world to me.”
To make room on the roster, the Guards optioned Ernie Clement to Columbus.
Tracy’s comments Tuesday initially made Freeman nervous.
“My mind is rushing with emotions like, is he joking?” Freeman said. “It was real. My next thing was I got to call my parents. Get into the clubhouse, called my parents. I probably took – I was supposed to leave as soon as possible. I was there until the game ended. And I probably lasted 30 to 45 minutes on the phone calls.
“... My dad, I could hear him tearing up a little bit. I called my dad first and he was right next to my mom, tearing up, for sure. But it was like family, friends after that.”
Freeman said about 15 to 20 people, including his parents, brother, best friend, aunt, uncle, high school coach and cousins took a red-eye flight to get to Cleveland before Wednesday’s game. Tyler's brother, Cody Freeman, is a minor league player in the Texas Rangers organization.
“It was tough to fall asleep last night, I’m not gonna lie,” Freeman said. “My heart was just pounding. I’m like, is this real or am I dreaming? I got in probably at 12:45 from Columbus and, yeah, probably went to bed around like 1, 1:30.”
Tyler is two years older than Cody. They played wiffle ball together in the backyard and were high school baseball teammates.
"My junior and senior year, he was a freshman and sophomore," Tyler Freeman said. "We won a [state] championship together [at Dodger Stadium]. He played second base. I played shortstop. We turned a lot of double plays together.”
Freeman is the 12th Guardians player to make his major league debut in 2022. The other 11 are Steven Kwan, Richie Palacios, Gabriel Arias, Konnor Pilkington, Bryan Lavastida, Oscar Gonzalez, Nolan Jones, Kirk McCarty, Tanner Tully, Alex Call and Will Benson.
Freeman was hitting .279 in Columbus with 83 hits, seven doubles, six home runs, 44 RBI and 51 runs scored since beginning his season on April 29.
His 2021 season was cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery.
“He got off to a delayed start because of the injuries,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said of Freeman. “We wanted to make sure he had enough at-bats under his belt. When you put a younger guy in that role, it can be a little challenging anyway, so you want to make sure they've got some gas in the tank.
“But we'll probably move him around a bit. Think this will be good for Ernie to play. Ernie went through a period where he swung the bat pretty good, didn't get many hits and then, like a lot of guys, you try to do a little too much and you get yourself in trouble. So, with Franmil [Reyes] not here [and in Columbus], we’ll move our DH around and we’ll probably see guys playing all over the place, see [Will] Benson in right, maybe a little in center, probably a little bit at first. ... We're going to have some flexibility.”
Freeman started at second base, shortstop, third base and as the DH for Columbus. Since July 15, he compiled a .438 batting average with 21 hits, two home runs, seven RBI and 11 runs.
“He's been at spring training with us where the first couple of years he'd come over as an extra guy, and this year he was on the roster but he was hurt,” Francona said. “I think we know him pretty good. Certainly get to know him better. But, yeah, I think he has a little presence about him for a young kid.”
Freeman felt right at home in the Guardians clubhouse with former teammates in Columbus.
“It’s the faces I had FaceTime calls with about a week ago,” Freeman said. “I mean, friends that I’ve played with growing up through the minor league system and it definitely makes it a lot more comfortable. And then to see the veterans – you got [Shane] Bieber and José Ramírez in the clubhouse. That makes it even better.
“... We’re playing a kid's game. It might be different people out there – maybe a little older group – but it’s still the same game. And that’s what Nolan has told me. Kwan has told me that, as well. Like I said, it’s a kid’s game; you got to have fun out there more than anything.”
Freeman is also friendly with Josh Naylor after they both rehabbed injuries together. Freeman was recovering from a second shoulder injury.
“It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions during that rehab process,” Freeman said. “You have doubts. Everyone goes through it. And just the fact that I’m sitting here and healthy and I produced in the minor leagues this year, it’s a blessing really that I’m here.”
Amed Rosario, Oscar Gonzalez hit home runs
Freeman's first game with the Guardians also featured home runs by Amed Rosario and Oscar Gonzalez.
Rosario smacked a three-run homer in the fifth that cleared the center field fence and measured 450 feet.
"That was big boy territory," Francona said.
Added Gonzalez: "I get to see him every day in practice and I know he has that power, so really, it doesn't surprise me."
Gonzalez roped a 402-foot solo homer in the sixth.
Terry Francona reflects on passing of Vin Scully
Legendary radio and television broadcaster Vin Scully died at the age of 94 on Tuesday.
Scully was well respected across baseball and served as a Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster for 67 seasons from 1950 to 2016. He also called World Series games, and was a voice for all-star games, NFL games and The Masters.
Scully was well respected across baseball and served as a Dodgers broadcaster for 67 seasons from 1950 to 2016. He also called World Series games, and was a voice for all-star games, NFL games and The Masters.
“I'm going to go out on a limb and say every single person that gets quoted today is going to use the word 'fond' or 'respectful' or 'the best,'” Francona said.
“Somehow my dad had gotten to know him pretty well. There was a couple year span where I think he did a guest appearance on a game show or something. … He said hello to me and my sister. We were little kids. I know when we go to LA he would always say hello. I remember thinking, man, he came all the way down here. He kind of embodied so much of what's good about our game. He was so good at his craft, but he was also just such a gentleman.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Beaven on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Tyler Freeman makes MLB debut with Cleveland Guardians