Since his baseball coach at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts was also the track coach, Nate Freiman was encouraged to stay in shape in the offseason. He became an accomplished indoor runner.
But Freiman wasn’t really interested in high hurdles and middle distances.
As a 6-foot-8 freshman at Duke, Freiman looked more the part of a certain successful basketball team on the Durham, N.C., campus.
But he didn’t like the game his father played, either.
Baseball has always been what mattered, particularly since age 16 when Freiman’s height and strength began to rapidly advance.
Height doesn’t necessarily beget success in baseball. It worked in favor of 6-10 Randy Johnson, who won 303 games and accumulated 4,875 career strikeouts. But a half-dozen other current and former major-league pitchers 6-10 and taller have had varying success.
But on April 3, 2013, when he made his major-league debut with the A’s, Freiman became the tallest non-pitcher in major-league history.
“I’ve had people joke about it,” said Freiman, primarily a first baseman. “But I honestly have no idea if it’s true. But it would be cool if it is.”
The right-handed-hitting Freiman began this season with the River Cats. On Friday night, he was the team’s designated hitter. One phone call and an overnight flight to Florida later, Freiman was in the A’s starting lineup at first base Sunday afternoon against the Miami Marlins.
Sporting a new swing he’s used for about six weeks, Freiman’s three-run homer propelled the A’s to a 4-3 win.
“I’ll probably have to not make it a habit of sleeping half an hour,” Freiman told reporters in Miami after not getting much sleep while traveling from Sacramento. “There was too much adrenaline going. I was wired.”
Freiman’s unique status in baseball has another component. He’s married to LPGA Tour player Amanda Blumenherst.
The couple met as freshmen at Duke and had several classes together throughout college and while their athletic careers were developing. Freiman was the 2005 Massachusetts High School Player of the Year; Blumenherst tied for 10th and shared low amateur honors in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open. She has four top-10 LPGA Tour finishes. They also were Duke’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year as seniors in 2009.
The couple married in December 2012, and the following fall Blumenherst left the LPGA Tour to support her husband’s career. They’re expecting their first child in November.
Freiman has caddied for his wife several times and knows his limits.
“It was great,” Freiman said at Raley Field shortly before his call-up to the A’s. “I got to travel with her to different places. But I don’t know anything about golf. I did the best I could. I didn’t tell her anything golf-related. I just did the yardages and got out of the way.”
Now a one pro-sport family, Freiman is the traveler. He played in 80 games with the A’s last year, batting .274 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 208 at-bats.
“It was difficult being apart,” he said. “Golf unto itself is a very stressful game. It’s a tough lifestyle. It wasn’t easy on either of us. I am a lot happier the more I get to spend time with her. But it was something (two pro sports) we were both doing and she was doing amazing.”
Steve Scarsone, the River Cats’ manager, witnessed Freiman’s 76 games and 296 at-bats with the A’s Triple-A team this season. Freiman batted .277 with 14 home runs and and 69 RBIs.
“I don’t think (his height) gives him an advantage or anything,” Scarsone said. “We’ve seen that baseball isn’t necessarily a tall man's game. The small, spry guys have just as much opportunity. Baseball is an equal opportunity game in terms of size, unlike some other sports.
“But to be able to manipulate yourself on the field and make those quick adjustments defensively and be able to handle pitches in and away with those long arms, that shows quite a bit of dexterity. Yes he’s tall, but he also has great athleticism.”
Freiman, who is scheduled to play against left-handed starting pitchers, also may be the A’s designated hitter, as he was periodically last year in Oakland.
“I can stretch pretty well (as a first baseman),” he said. “But it takes a lot to move right and left. I just have to learn to stay on top of my range. I just have to take a lot ground balls everyday and do my work in the weight room.”
With his family soon to expand, the soft-spoken Freiman has his preferences. If his child is athletic, he’d prefer a baseball player rather than a golfer.
“Oh, a baseball player, definitely,” he said. “I just think it would be fun to take them out and play catch and stuff.”