Two weeks ago, it would have been easy to understand if the Potomac Cannons' Brad Freeman was a little nervous. The shortstop's job appeared to be in danger after phenom Jack Wilson was called up from mid-level Class A Peoria.
So Freeman gradually stopped taking so many balls at short during infield drills and slid 20 feet to the right--to third base. So far, it looks like it might have been the best move of his career.
"No one really told me to move," Freeman said. "I just started going over there because I knew that Jack would be our starting shortstop."
Freeman has blossomed in his stint at third base, cutting off shallow grounders, fielding bunts and throwing several times across the diamond after making a diving stop. Cannons Manager Joe Cunningham said the move to third might be a smart one for Freeman.
"I think in the long run, it's going to be better for him," Cunningham said. "He's got good hands, but I think his range is better suited for third."
Freeman said he likes third base even better than shortstop.
"It's all reaction time over there," he said. "You never have to think about it."
The fact that Freeman is even playing professional baseball is odd. Everything in his life placed him on a track to pro football. His dad, Steve, played 12 seasons as a defensive back for the Buffalo Bills and one with the Minnesota Vikings, and Freeman was offered a free ride to play quarterback at Mississippi State out of Oxford (Miss.) High School.
Freeman chose the baseball route instead, at least until his senior year. He had maintained a good relationship with the football coach and as a senior was offered a scholarship to be the Bulldogs' backup punter.
His baseball coach didn't mind because it freed up baseball scholarship money, and the risk of injury was low considering the starting punter was an all-Southeastern Conference performer.
"All I had to do was high-five him, and I got all the free stuff," Freeman said. "It was great."
Freeman also has been impressive at the plate since starting at the hot corner. Through Friday, he had hit safely in 13 of 15 games, batting over .400 during that stretch.
Freeman was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and played his first year of pro ball last year for the New Jersey Cardinals in the short-season New York-Penn League.
The Cardinals organization made a pair of seemingly surprise moves Wednesday, promoting catcher Chris Martine and infielder Alex Eckelman to Double-A Arkansas of the Texas League. Eckelman was hitting only .193 in 47 games this season with the Cannons, and Martine was hitting .206 in 42 games behind the plate.
Eckelman, however, is the prototype utility infielder; at Potomac, he played 20 games at third, 17 at second and nine at shortstop. Martine threw out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal in his two years with Potomac.
Eckelman and Martine will join relief pitcher Corey Avrard at Arkansas. Avrard was promoted July 3.
CAPTION: Infielder Brad Freeman recently moved from shortstop to third base.