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Baseball: Volunteer coach Freeman helps propel UL pitching

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 27, 2015



UL volunteer assistant Daniel Freeman, right, shown here talking strategy with coach Tony Robichaux during a Ragin’ Cajun game earlier this season, has played a big role in the pitching staff’s progress this season.(Photo: Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com)


As UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux sought to replace an assistant coach and a voluntary assistant after last season, he made a decision.

It’s how Daniel Freeman landed with the Ragin’ Cajuns, who after beating South Alabama 5-1 in 12 innings in last Sunday’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game will open play Friday afternoon against Rice in the NCAA’s Houston Regional.

“I sat down and said, ‘We’ve got a ton of young arms coming in. We’re gonna need some constant help in that bullpen,’ ” said Robichaux, who doubles as UL’s head coach and pitching coach. “And that’s where I think he’s been so valuable to us.”

Freeman does it with no benefits like health insurance or vacation.

He does it with no pay from the UL athletic department, because that’s now allowed by NCAA rules, but instead makes money from Robichaux’s summer baseball camps, which is permissible.

And he does it in a manner that’s prompted Robichaux to praise him effusively for his work with a Cajun staff that includes three true-freshman weekend starters in Gunner Leger, Evan Guillory and Wyatt Marks and a true-freshman closer in Dylan Moore.

It’s not just Robichaux, though, who doles commendation Freeman’s way.

“It’s huge,” Moore said of Freeman’s presence. “He’s here every day, and he watches every bullpen we throw, and he comments on every pitch we throw.

“Everyone respects him, because we all know that he knows his stuff, and we know that he, as a coach, has bought into Coach Robe’s system and he’s learning from Coach Robe (too).”

Freeman works more in the bullpen than he does with Cajun starters, but they’re a big beneficiary of his work – actually, volunteerism – as well.

“He’s big on mindset – attacking guys, getting after guys and being kind of a bulldog out there,” Leger said.

“Some guys can get kind of big-eyed in front of Coach Robe – I mean, he’s an intimidating guy, you know, a little bit. It’s good having that young guy you can go talk to.”

After two years at Texarkana College, the Houston Astros selected Freeman – the 2000 District 2-5A MVP at Ruston High – in the 17th round of the 2002 MLB Draft.

He spent five years chasing the dream in pro ball, including four in the Astros minor-league system – the last two with the Salem Avalanche at the High-A level.

Freeman was a private instructor from 2006-11, then had a three-year stint as West Monroe High’s pitching coach.

He has in interest in coaching full-time at the college level, though, and that’s what prompted him to become UL’s volunteer coach.

“The game’s a lot faster (in college),” Freeman said. “You can just do a lot more with guys of this caliber.”

Working with the Cajun youth – Leger was named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, and UL was one of just two programs to regularly start three freshmen on the mound on weekends late this season – was especially appealing.

“We’ve got a good group of young guys,” he said. “They come in every day ready to work, and they put in the time.

“They picked up our system really quick. Those guys just believe in themselves, and we play good defense behind them.

“When you can go out and throw strikes and pound the zone, and play good defense behind (that),” Freeman added, “it’s gonna give them a lot of confidence to go out there and just relax and do their job.”

Freeman works on the mechanics of Cajun pitchers as much as anything.

He spends most of his time in the pen, overseeing their work there. There have been no major overhauls – “They don’t want to make it a cookie-cutter system,” Moore said – but there is tweaking and refinement when need be.

“(Robichaux) works a lot on the mental aspect of it, and the system side,” Freeman said, “and I kind of work with them on mechanics and just making sure their delivery stays fundamentally sound.

“It’s just making sure they can repeat a delivery and that it’s a delivery that works well for their arm, to where they don’t break down and have some injuries.”

Cajun pitchers, however, particularly credit Freeman for his work as a go-between.

“He’s a little younger, so he’s kind of easier to relate, I guess,” Moore said.

“He kind of knows what we’re going to throw, so it helps to get his opinion – especially for me. … If I have a rough outing or something, he kind of helps me through it and tells me, ‘That’s kind of how it is as a closer.’ ”

What perhaps helps most, however, is that Freeman evidently does not hold back.

Leger said he coaches with “high intensity.”

“He’s brings his toughness,” Robichaux said. “He’s not gonna sugarcoat anything to the pitchers when they ask him when they’re not pitching or what they have to do to get better.”

That’s paid dividends this spring, when the attention of Robichaux – who works extensively with pitchers throughout the fall – is more divided.

“I can’t be in there every day,” said Robichaux, who in two-plus decades at UL has never used the resume-building voluntary position for a pitching assistant.

Freeman, however, deflects the attention, sending it right back to his pitchers like a hard comebacker to the mound.

“We had a rough fall, and that was expected coming in,” he said. “We had young guys that had never pitched with this system.

“They really stuck with the process, came out every day and battled. The credit’s all theirs,” Freeman added. “They really came out here and worked hard, and it’s been a joy to watch.

NCAA Houston Regional

At Cougar Field, Houston

Friday’s Games

Louisiana (39-21) vs. Rice (35-20), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Houston (42-18) vs. Houston Baptist (28-25), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saturday’s Games

Game 1 vs. Game 2 losers, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Game 1 vs. Game 2 winners, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)

Sunday’s Games

Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Game 4 vs. Game 5 winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)

Monday’s Game

x-Game 4 vs. Game 5 winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)