Prairie baseball coach to be inducted into American Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.
BRUSH PRAIRIE — Don Freeman jokes that he was destined for international fame because his first organized baseball game, when he was 8 years old, was played in Canada.
He was living in Blaine, and the ball field on this particular day was just across the Washington-British Columbia border.
“First time up, I got hit in the shoulder. My dad had told me, if that happened, don’t cry, don’t rub it, just go to first base. That’s what I did,” Freeman recalled. “I was 8. I was tough. And I was a ball player.”
In his second plate appearance, the same thing happened. Freeman got tagged in the shoulder by a pitch on a dreary, cold, rainy day.
“I dropped like a sack of wheat and cried like a baby,” Freeman said.
Oh, how the baseball world would have changed had Don Freeman given up the game after such an inauspicious debut.
“For some reason I kept coming back,” Freeman said.
Because he did, he made a difference for thousands of baseball players through the years, including so many in Clark County.
In January, Freeman, a longtime high school baseball coach, a longtime national baseball coach, and a longtime international baseball coach, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Baseball Coaches Association.
“All these opportunities to travel the country, the world, all because of a game. Just incredible. Just incredible,” Freeman said. “I’m afraid to pinch myself.”
This spring he is going back to where it all started for him as a baseball coach. Freeman, who was the baseball coach at Prairie from 1984 until 2004, will return as the school’s head coach.
“When I came to Prairie, I became a Prairie Falcon,” Freeman said. “I was there a long, long time. I feel tied to the school.”
He certainly has not been taking it easy in what will be 14 years between jobs at Prairie. He coached at Hillsboro High School in Oregon for three years, came back to Washington to coach at Heritage for three seasons, then coached the Clark College team for four seasons.
His relationship with USA baseball began in the mid 1990s and he was part of the USA Youth National Team, either as an assistant or head coach, through much of the 2000s. He was a coach and/or evaluator with USA Baseball up until 2013.
The past four summers he has been in Europe, working with the German National Team as well as youth national teams.
In all, Freeman has coached baseball on five continents.
Among the criteria to be eligible for the ABCA Hall of Fame is involvement in more than just coaching the game. There are clinics to organize, to teach, to lead. Hall of Famers must make a significant contribution to the advancement of the game at the local, national, or international level.
“There are 10,000 other coaches out there who are as good or better than I am,” Freeman recalled telling a colleague after he learned he was going into the Hall of Fame.
“But not everyone does what you’ve done,” the colleague replied. “A lot of guys get in and can’t tick off all the boxes. Don, you tick all the boxes.”
It turned out, Freeman did all that even though it took him more than a decade of his professional career just to get back to baseball. A three-sport athlete when he attended Eastern Washington State College, as it was called then, it was his gymnastics knowledge that got him his first coaching job.
He came to the Battle Ground School District to teach and coach in 1972. Prairie opened in 1979, and he moved to the new school. Back then, boys gymnastics was a sanctioned sport, and its season was in the spring, the same as baseball.
Boys gymnastics was phased out the same school year that the Prairie baseball job opened. Guess it was fate.
It should be noted that Freeman continued coaching gymnastics, instructing girls in the winter seasons. He is a member of the Washington State Gymnastics Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.
And with his 24 seasons in the state as a baseball coach, with two state titles, he is also a member of the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.
Oh, and there’s another accolade on the way. Freeman will be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing body for all high school athletics in the state.
Freeman’s next induction ceremony is Jan. 5, though, and it’s national. The ABCA’s annual meeting is in Indianapolis. There are 11 inductees and speeches will be limited to five minutes to thank family, friends, and share some memories. Roxy, Don’s wife of 37 years, is expected to be there to share the moment.
A point of emphasis during his speech, he said, will be relationship building … again, all because of a game.
“You make friends in the baseball world so easily,” Freeman said. “When you step on a baseball field, you’re either cementing a friendship or making new friends.”
Don Freeman has a lot of wins, a lot of memories, and a whole lot of friends.