An At-Bat with James Free II
Duluth, Minn -- "Leading off the bottom of the second, the catcher, James Free II" bellowed throughout Wade Municipal Stadium's speakers as the Huskies' played host to the visiting LaCrosse Loggers. What followed was the Duluth's introduction to one of the most versatile players on the Huskies' 2019 roster.
The first pitch missed the zone high and outside. 1-0.
"I have always loved playing the game. Most guys think about baseball as a job, I see it as a pleasure."
The Walnut, California native comes to Duluth as a rising senior from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, almost six hours North of his hometown. At Pacific, James has been a starter since the day he arrived on campus, compiling a .320 batting average and 29 home runs in his three years. James has been able to hone his baseball skills while also embracing the challenge of life as a student-athlete. "It's a grind for sure, but to know that I have been successful on and off the field at Pacific has been empowering for me as I look to pursue a career in professional baseball."
A two-seam fastball bounces in the dirt. 2-0.
James is a business finance major at Pacific, whose passions derive from reading sci-fi and watching anime. "I like the narrative structure of sci-fi novels, they're compelling and I have found that I can read sci-fi at a decent pace without finding it to be a burden. It has become a way for me to relax, which is huge in a game of continual struggle. I need to be able to relax at the plate during a game to succeed. That starts outside of the stadium, off the field, finding hobbies that inspire me in a relaxing manner."
Four-Seamer on the outside corner. 2-1.
"When I was 13, I told a travel coach that I could see out of my right eye better than my left. I had only hit from the right side at that point and had been quite successful. That coach challenged me to try hitting from the left side. Ever since, I have embraced that challenge. Honestly, it makes the game more fun for me."
What James did not realize was the abundance of new material he had to study now that he had to swing from both sides of the plate. "My right-handed swing was entirely based off of Mark McGwire's because he was the best at what he did. Since that is my goal, I then chose Barry Bonds' swing to emulate on the left side. It made life easier since I frequently watched Giants' games on tv. It not only made me a better player, but my love of studying the game was derived from attempting to emulate those all-timers' swings."
Another fastball misses the zone. 3-1.
"I do not necessarily watch baseball in my free time, I don't have a favorite team or anything of that sort," he paused, searching for the right words, "I analyze baseball on my free time. Growing up in California, I tried to watch Buster Posey as much as I could. But then I would watch any Yadier Molina film I could find. Yadi's throw to second-his game knowledge is truly exceptional. It isn't even just the big names. Tyler Flowers is amazing at receiving the ball, Austin Barnes too. It really is about studying these catchers who have already made it to the highest level and implementing what makes them successful into my own game."
A fastball on the inner-half of the plate is driven by James Free II from the left-handed batter's box into left-center field for a single.
"I saw the ball well, he came inside 3-1 with a heater and I ripped it. Once I got that first one out of the way, everything is totally different. Now I can focus on getting better and helping the team be as successful as possible."
He has been a huge help thus far for the Huskies, happily representing his family during his time in Duluth. "I take real pride in having my father's name. It brings a smile to my face each time I am able to hear 'James Free II' over the speakers when I come to bat, it provides a dose of comfort that is unlike anything else."
The Huskies face the LaCrosse Loggers tonight at Copeland Park with first pitch set for 6:35 CST with live game coverage on 92.1 The fan and twinportssportshub.com beginning at 6:25 CST.
Be sure to follow the Duluth Huskies on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat all season long and check out duluthhuskies.com for tickets to upcoming games. For more in-depth news on the Huskies, be sure to follow @XtraInningsWithRyne and @JoeChatzHuskies on Facebook.
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