JJ Freeman upholds family baseball tradition

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DOWNINGTOWN – JJ Freeman was born to play baseball.

From his earliest childhood memories, there were always activities involving bats, balls and gloves; hitting off a tee and playing catch with his dad in the backyard.

Games to play and games to watch – where his father Jim was a standout shortstop in the West Chester Adult Baseball League.

“I was probably 4 or 5 when I started playing baseball,” said JJ, “as far back as I can remember. I had a bat and glove at the youngest age, and I loved baseball from the start, playing all-year round.”

Freeman has been the starting second baseman for the Whippets during the past two seasons, helping D-West capture the Ches-Mont League National Division title at the end of a three-year championship run that began in 2015.

“I’m a senior leader who tries to give 100 percent every day,” Freeman said. “I just want to do whatever is necessary to help my team win because at the end of the day that is the ultimate goal. I am always trying to outwork the guy next to me to have that advantage to be successful.”

An All Ches-Mont League and All-Area honorable mention selection in 2016, JJ has been the anchor of a stout infield defense behind a strong set of arms that has included Drew Britt, Adam Grintz and Joey Zettlemoyer over the past two seasons.

“JJ’s key attributes would be his strong work ethic, consistent defensive play, as well as his baseball IQ,” said Downingtown West veteran coach Dave Oleszek. “JJ leads the infield. He can do things that many second basemen cannot.

“He makes the routine play, the difficult play, turns the double play with the best of them, and can run any situational play the defense needs. He is a smart offensIVe player, knows the importance of moving runners and situational hitting.”

Those assets are all a result of his upbringing – beginning at the top with his father Jim, the owner of All-Star Baseball Academy following a solid playing career at Temple and Widener and on the local sandlots.

Jim Freeman also broke camp as the starting shortstop for the Phillies strike-replacement team in 1995 before his professional career was short-circuited by MLB’s ensuing labor agreement.

“I remember seeing my dad play in the Adult League, and the other day we found some tapes and it was pretty funny watching him play for the Phillies,” said JJ. “My family is the reason I am the player I am today.

“My parents always challenged me to be the best player I could BE while also being very supportive. My dad has taught me everything I know about baseball and I am grateful for all the time he has put in to help me get better,”

Sports has been a way of life in the Freeman household – which includes mother Lisa and daughters Nikki – a sophomore field hockey midfielder at nationally-ranked Virginia (ACC champions, NCAA Division I quarterfinals in 2016) – and sixth- and fifth-graders Alyssa and Mia – both field hockey and basketball players.

But the family’s involvement in athletics has never taken away from the primary goal – strong academics.

JJ has not only excelled on the diamond at Downingtown West, but has also been a five-star player in the classroom as a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Club and a regular on the Distinguished Honor Roll list.

Freeman is headed to Division III Franklin and Marshall, an Ivy League caliber school, where he will major in business and get the opportunity to show others how the game of baseball should be played.

“My plan is to play college baseball at a competitive level for the next four years and continue to play after that as long as I’m physically capable,” said Freeman, who plays in the summer for Downingtown American Legion and throughout the year with ASBA’s travel teams.

“I am blessed to have had a positive high school experience both academically and athletically,” said JJ, recipient of the Coaches Award at D-West. “My hard work and dedication have helped me achieve great things in the classroom, at home, and on the field. I will transfer the valuable skills I have learned while at Downingtown West into my college career to learn and grow every day.”

His high school career may not have ended as planned – the top-seeded Whippets suffered a stunning 3-0 loss to Council Rock South in the opening round of the District 1-6A tournament (“We were really flat, and we got punched in the mouth,” Freeman said).

But there were plenty of highlight-reel moments along the way during the 18-4 campaign.

At the top of the list – Freeman belted a two-out, two-run triple in the top of the seventh to help Downingtown West edge West Chester East 2-1 on May 11, clinching a third-straight Ches-Mont National title. It was a fitting highlight for a player who had quietly provided so much to the program for the past two seasons.

“JJ makes sure that he is mentally and physically ready to compete,” said Oleszek. “He knows his job on the baseball field and trains to make sure he can last a 20-game season and playoffs through his work ethic and training. 

“JJ has made so many key defensive plays and key at bats helping us win many games during his time playing for the Downingtown West program. He has been a great leader for the varsity as well as the younger players in our program.”

That is all a result of Freeman’s baseball genesis. Now, he will have the opportunity to strut his stuff on a bigger stage – all the while adding to the Freeman family baseball legacy.

“Almost everything I know has come from my dad,” said JJ, who has served as a volunteer youth baseball coach and also enjoys playing basketball. “I am looking forward to playing in college and hopefully find a job where I love what I do.”

Sounds like a plan for a baseball-related career.

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