The academy is the Nationals’ signature philanthropic effort, and it uses baseball and softball to promote healthy character and community development for youth from underserved communities in the city. The team wanted an academy member to throw a first pitch in the World Series — as itdid during last year’s All-Star Game and on a past Opening Day — and the academy chose Freeman.
Tal Alter, chief executive officer of the Dream Foundation, met Freeman five years ago, when she applied to the academy, and watched her grow and mature into a young leader as the captain of her team, Hustle Softball.
“She’s really embraced the opportunity that she’s been given,” he said. “[She] has the awareness at her age to think about what responsibilities that gives her.”
The eighth grader is from Ward 7, where the academy is, and has been attending the academy since the third grade. She didn’t like softball at first — she cried at the first practice two years ago — but she watched and listened as coaches explained nuances of the game. Now, she pitches and plays shortstop, and she just bought a new, gray baseball glove because she wore out the laces on her old one.
Freeman prepared for the moment by practicing throwing with Gaby Elvina, a former Georgetown softball catcher who now coaches at the academy. She got familiar with a mound. She knew there would be familiar faces cheering her on from behind the plate: her mother, Keyonna Bennett; her grandmother, Stephanie Royal; her best friend and fellow academy member, Jayla Hines; and Elvina. Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett walked her to the mound and infielder Adrian Sanchez caught it.
On the field Saturday night, she grinned while talking about her softball team. She wanted to throw a strike. She fidgeted with the strap on her glove.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “And kind of nervous.”
But she remembered what her coaches had said: “Stay focused, try my best and just be me.”