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BROKEN ... BUT NOT BENT JEREMY FREITAS BEATS THE ODDS

 George Hostetter The Fresno Bee
Originally published 1994-10-12

The moment of truth came late last week, when Jeremy Freitas looked for his name on a list posted at Beiden Field.
If it was there, among the outfielders, then his dream had come true. He had made the final cut of Fresno State's baseball team. And if it wasn't there? Well, he didn't want to think about that. He had been through too much pain and had worked too hard to be cut. His name HAD to be there.
The suspense was over in seconds. There it was - Jeremy Freitas - right above the name of his brother, Joseph. He had survived.
"Words can't describe how I felt," Freitas said. "I wanted to shout. It was unbelievable."
Freitas wasn't exaggerating. Twenty-one months earlier, he had been lying in an open field near Hanford with a friend's dune buggy on top of his right arm.
His humerus, the long bone extending from the shoulder to the elbow, had snapped. Part of it was sticking out of his skin. The broken bone had severed all the nerves and muscles in its path.
Freitas, then a senior at Hanford High with a promising pitching career, couldn't move his throwing arm. Doctors later told him he'd be lucky if he ever pitched pennies again, let alone a baseball.
Yet, there he was last week, standing among his Fresno State teammates, gazing at their names on the roster and preparing to dress for practice. Talk about life's mysteries.
"This one is a miracle," said Bulldogs coach Bob Bennett.
If so, then it's a miracle born of commitment, perseverance and a fierce will to succeed. Which, to hear Freitas talk, is almost the family motto.
"My dad taught me to never, never give up," Freitas said.
That philosophy was tested on Dec. 31, 1992. The day began on a somber note when Freitas attended the funeral of his grandmother, Betty Freitas. In the afternoon, he went to a friend's house in rural Hanford to work on the friend's dune buggy.
The accident happened in the early dark of a winter's night, about dinner time. The friend was driving the dune buggy on a homemade oval track and Freitas had just sat down in the passenger seat after adjusting several headlights on top of the vehicle. Perpetual optimism
"He took off fast and went around the turn," Freitas said. "He went too fast. It happened in the blink of an eye."
The dune buggy rolled, pinning Freitas' right arm. The Bulldogs had tried to sign him to an early letter of intent the month before, but he wanted to wait. Now it looked like he might never again sign his name to anything, at least with his right hand.
Freitas declined to give his friend's name, saying it was an accident that could have happened to anyone.
"People ask me if we were screwing around," Freitas said. "No way, not on that day. We had just buried my dad's mom. I was very close to her."
A teen-ager's perpetual optimism accompanied Freitas to the emergency room. Everything would be OK, right? But hope didn't survive his first visit with an emergency-room doctor.
"I said, "Doctor, am I going to play ball again?' " Freitas said. "The doctor said, "I really can't tell you that right now.'
"It was the worst thing he could have said. It felt like someone had ripped out my heart."
Hanford orthopedic surgeon Dr. D. Lancy Allyn did the nuts-and-bolts repair work on Freitas' arm. Surgeons at Stanford University performed a nerve graft in spring 1993, transplanting a nerve from his left leg to his right arm. His upper arm has almost as much scar tissue as clear skin.
But the more subtle repair work, to Freitas' outlook and his career, was out of the doctors' hands. That rested on Freitas' shoulders. Painful road back
Freitas' determination got an unexpected boost when a Stanford doctor told him to find another hobby besides baseball.
"I can't explain how mad I was," Freitas said. "From that point, I decided I was going to prove to everybody who ever told me I can't do something that I can."
Step one was rehabilitation. Freitas went to work with physical therapist Robert Bacci at NovaCare Outpatient Rehabilitation in Hanford.
"An elbow joint has 135 to 140 degrees of motion and Jeremy's had 52 degrees when he came to see us," Bacci said. "It would have been a serious injury for anyone, even someone who doesn't play sports."
Bacci used a variety of therapies, including a stretching device not unlike a medieval rack.
Freitas wrapped two straps to his arm, one above the elbow, the other below it. The straps were connected by a crank that was turned to force the arm straight.
"I'd crank it as hard as I could and leave it there as long as I could stand the pain," Freitas said. "Then I'd take a rest and do it again."
Step two was cutting a deal with Bennett in August 1993. Let me train with the team, Freitas offered. I'll keep my nose clean and stay out of trouble. If I become a player, everybody wins. If I don't, only I lose.
Bennett agreed.
" "We'll let you come out, but it doesn't look like you'll play,' " Bennett said he told Freitas. Toughened up
Step three was more rehabilitation during his redshirt freshman season, this time with Fresno State assistant weight-training coach Steve Sobonya.
The 6-foot 3-inch Freitas was overweight, slow and weak. Sobonya helped him flatten his stomach, drop 1.8 seconds off his 60-yard dash time and raise his bench press from less than 100 pounds to 270.
"If he came in and was tired, I'd say, "You know, Jeremy, people said you can't make it. What are you going to do about it?' " Sobonya said. "Then I'd walk away. That would get him fired up.
"I have a nickname for him: Bull. He's like a Brahma bull. If you get him stirred up enough, watch out." "Go get it'
It all came together during the Bulldogs' four-week winter camp, which ended Saturday.
Freitas had turned himself into a legitimate Division I outfielder with a lively bat and an adequate arm who still dreams of taking the mound one day.
"He's in the running for an outfield position, to say nothing about his pitching," Bennett said. "I wouldn't put anything past him."
A wise statement. Just by earning a Bulldogs uniform, Freitas has already set a lot of doubters straight.
"I thrived on people who believed in me," Freitas said.
"I had other people who said, "Give it up, deal with reality.' Then I had those select few who said, "Block it out, go get it, we're pulling for you.'
"Those people, the ones who supported me, I know who they are. And I really thank them."