Rachel Studley, a free-lance sports journalist, a St. Scholastica Academy and Southeastern grad, highlights former St. Tammany Parish student-athletes, featuring their achievements. Rachel takes a look at LSU senior second baseman Cole Freeman, a Lakeshore Titans’ graduate.
Proving Them Wrong: For LSU’s Cole Freeman, it comes naturally
For LSU baseball, the number 8 jersey is not simply given.
A player must instead be chosen by a departing member of the team, similar to jersey number 18 in football.
Detroit Tigers outfielder Mikie Mahtook began the tradition in 2011, when he presented his jersey to first baseman Mason Katz. It was then passed down to star shortstop Alex Bregman for two seasons, before Jake Fraley inherited the number in 2016.
The jersey has since become synonymous with high moral integrity, dedication to the team, and chiefly, veteran leadership.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that second baseman and Mandeville native Cole Freeman was awarded the honor this season.
“He has [such] a love of the game,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “I love being around guys who are passionate about what they do, and that defines Cole.”
What fuels Cole’s desire to succeed is an unmatched confidence that took time to develop.
It began when he was an All-District point guard for the basketball team at Lakeshore High School in Mandeville. By the end of his senior year, he led the school in career assists and steals.
Even with his outstanding defensive talent on the court, he was often overlooked because of his height.
“[I was] a kid who was always told he wasn’t going to be strong enough,” Cole recalled. “I loved to go out there and compete with people.”
So came his ultimate goal: Make people notice him.
And he certainly knew he could do that on the baseball diamond, too.
In 317 plate appearances, he only struck out 16 times, posting a .344 batting average and stealing 51 bases. When he was a junior, he garnered All-State recognition for his work with the glove.
Those kinds of numbers should have alerted college recruiters throughout the country, but Cole received just one scholarship offer ─ from Spring Hill College, located in Mobile, Alabama.
“It was very disappointing,” said his mother, Kellie Freeman. “He couldn’t understand why, but it made him work harder.”
Delgado head coach Joe Scheuermann certainly observed Cole’s work ethic. Simply put, the kid didn’t belong at a Division II school.
Scheuermann probably saw it this way. Since Cole was a true student of the game, he could easily be instructed. His energy and dynamic personality could fire up any unenthusiastic dugout.
Not to mention his speed on the base paths, which made him a legitimate threat to opposing pitchers. He could generate instant offense with his quick hands and his consistency at the plate.
So, Scheuermann presented him with a chance to play at the junior college level.
As a sophomore at Delgado, Cole was named an NJCAA All-American. At second base, his .988 fielding percentage earned him the Gold Glove that year, as well.
Cole refused to let a scouting report ─ one that might say “too small” or “doesn’t have enough power” ─ define him.
Instead, he created a phrase: Heart has no limit.
“I was always told how much heart I played the game with,” Cole explained. “No matter how big or strong you are, if you give anything all your heart, you can achieve whatever you want to.”
Cole eventually caught the eye of Paul Mainieri, who convinced the versatile infielder to join the Tigers for the 2016 season. He absolutely seized the opportunity, starting all 66 games. He also collected eleven extra-base hits and plated 27 runs, on the way to becoming the team’s leading hitter, with a .329 average.
Cole’s success was enough for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who selected him in the 18th round of the MLB Draft this past summer.
But Cole wasn’t about to give up everything he had worked so hard for ─ not with that much uncertainty.
“Last year was about as good as it got for me,” he said. “This is my dream right here, and one year didn’t seem like enough. I’m ready for my last ride and I’m going to
leave it all on the field with my team.”
He took that attitude into the esteemed Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer. Playing for the Wareham Gateman, he was once again named an All-Star.
Something else he could add to an already impressive résumé: batting champion.
For Cole, his .374 season average answered an important question that he heard often on the Cape.
“Were [opposing pitchers] going to be able to knock the bat out of my hand?” he remembered with a laugh, before expressing his gratitude to those who made it happen. “When I won [the trophy], I was tremendously grateful because it speaks to the coaches I’ve had, and how much I’ve been able to build off of it.”
When Cole came back to the Tigers for his senior season, he seemingly picked up right where he left off. Originally placed in the leadoff spot, he once reached base in 28 consecutive games. He has also registered 18 multiple-hit games, which ranks second on the team.
This is just the beginning for the player who teammates and fans affectionally call “Drank,” using a nickname bestowed by his father Sean.
Regardless of where his road ends, Cole’s family and friends in Mandeville will always see the same dedicated kid who never stopped pushing toward his dream of playing baseball at LSU.
“He’s humble, always hardworking, and honest,” high school friend Emily Lockhart said. “He knows where his hometown is.”
Cole’s motivation is in full force during games, as he continues to defy expectations on the field.
According to LSU outfielder Greg Deichmann, it is a natural ability.
“[Cole is] a self-made ballplayer ─ having to take the JUCO route and battling his way here, [then] earning a spot. He wasn’t blessed with height or power, but everything he did, he has done himself.”