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COMEBACK COMPLETE MANY THOUGHT AN ACCIDENT ENDED HIS CAREER

   ANDY BOOGAARD THE FRESNO BEE
Originally published 1998-06-10

Joe Freitas entered the emergency room on that horrific New Year's Eve night of 1992 and walked up to his son, Jeremy, laying with what was left of his right arm.
"The first thing he said to me was, "Dad, stay with me so they don't cut my arm off because I'm going to come back,' " Joe struggled to say with a lump in his throat Tuesday. Come back and play baseball, of course.
So established was Jeremy already as a pitcher before his senior season at Hanford High, a scholarship awaited from Stanford.
That was before a dune buggy driven by a friend outside of town rolled, pinning his arm, crushing bones and severing nerves.
When he awoke in the Hanford Community Hospital bed New Year's Day, the once golden limb dangling in traction above his head, Jeremy's heart was struck with fear.
Never in his 17 years had he seen his father cry, but that would change.
"I asked my dad if I'd be able to play baseball again," he said.
Joe Freitas, the calloused cotton farmer, produced tears, not words.
"I'm sure he didn't want to tell me what he had heard," Jeremy said.
He is known for his power, arm strength and enormous courage and determination, but never has Jeremy Freitas been known for his speed.
But there was No. 37 in the USC cardinal and gold on television Saturday, the first of many from the dugout to the mound as the Trojans celebrated their 21-14 victory over Arizona State for the College World Series championship.
"So many different emotions were going through my head at the time," said the senior outfielder, who closed a two-year USC career with five hits against the Sun Devils, tying a CWS championship game record. "Everything in my career came to a focal point. All of the things that I had done in the past had a big explanation point put on them right there."
He had seen his father cry before, and he would again.
After the Trojans unpiled, Freitas found his family at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. Waiting with open arms were his older brother Joe, mother Judy and the father, again, eyes awash with emotion.
"Cries, but one of those happy cries," said Jeremy, who finished the season with a .340 average, 14 home runs and 42 RBI. "The family, they all deserved the title. They put up with me for so many years."
The father said, "I'm still pinching myself to see if all of this is true. I'm just overwhelmed. There were some negatives with some great positives. Thank the good Lord, we've been blessed."
Through extensive rehabilitation, Jeremy Freitas reached back for some words of advice given by his Little League coach, Donald Taylor.
"He told me at practice one day to run extra laps, because it would help my pitching," Freitas said. "I said, "I can't, I'm tired.' He said, "Hey, that's one word that's no longer in your vocabulary. I never want to hear you say can't again.'
"I called him right after we got back to the hotel [Saturday at Omaha]. I told him, "I finally did it. I'm a champion. I beat the odds.' "
Brutally long odds, beginning first with surgery performed by Hanford orthopedist D. Lancy Allyn. That was followed by a nerve graft by surgeons at Stanford University. And it was there that Freitas heard the most unforgettable words:
"Find another hobby."
"From that point," Freitas said, "I decided I was going to prove to everybody who ever told me I can't do something that I can."
Unable to play his senior season, he graduated from Hanford High, then enrolled at Fresno State in fall 1993. It was then that he was introduced to a person who would figure critically in his rehabilitation - Bulldogs strength and conditioning coordinator Steve Sobonya.
"He's an animal, just the kind of guy I needed," Jeremy said. "That guy's amazing. He just doesn't hand you a paper with instructions; he runs and lifts with you every day. He'd wake me up at 6 a.m., saying, "I know it's Sunday, but get your butt over here.' I know for sure if I hadn't met Steve, all these things would not have been possible."
Two other coaches had an impact on Jeremy, including Fresno State's Bob Bennett, with whom Freitas didn't part on friendly terms after the 1995 season.
Before it came to that point, however, Bennett first recognized Freitas' hitting ability, which helped him make the team in 1994 after he converted from pitcher. He redshirted that season, then hit 8 for 24 in a reserve role in 1995.
Given a veteran outfield cast returning, Freitas didn't expect to get many more at-bats in 1996. So he bolted to Fresno City College.
"I'm sure a lot of people were dumbfounded, wondering why I would transfer from a great program with great fan support like Fresno State," he said. "I thought I was in good physical shape after breaking my arm, but I still didn't know if the arm would hold up in 40 to 60 games. I thought, to get a fair shot at pro ball, I needed to play every day."
City coach Ron Scott didn't waver on his promise to give Freitas a legitimate shot, even after the left-handed batter began the season 0 for 24.
"Coach Scott stuck by me, and I had one of the best years in my life," said Freitas, who rebounded to hit .394 with eight homers and 52 RBI in an All- America season. "I don't regret one bit [transferring from Fresno State]. Bottom line, I had to prove to myself that I could play or couldn't play."
ESPN cameras caught Freitas' every spectacular move in the College World Series.
It began with a whopping home run to center field against two-time defending champion LSU, which rallied to defeat the Trojans 12-10. In the bottom of the inning, that beat Florida 12-10.
USC made the climb back out of the losers' bracket in its half of the eight-team, double-elimination event. Freitas' two-run single triggered a four-run 11th inning that beat Florida 12-10. In the bottom of the inning, in what was deemed the defensive play of the CWS, Freitas caught Jason Dill's ricochet off the left-field wall, spun and threw Dill out attempting to make a double.
"I've got to think if I hadn't broken the arm, it would be stronger today," Freitas said. "It's been so long, it's hard for me to remember how I threw the ball before the accident."
Freitas finished 11 for 25 (.440) with nine runs in six CWS games.
When it was over, he gave a boy his bat and hat. The child, apparently from the Omaha area, had a deformed right arm. His father, obviously aware of the player's comeback, approached Joe Freitas.
"He said, "I want to thank you for being good parents.' I guess God sends his message in different ways."
As a 25th-round draft choice of the Kansas City Royals last week, Jeremy Freitas is about to add yet another chapter to his implausible story. If baseball doesn't work out, he has a degree in psychology-sociology - to say nothing of his father's cotton farm - to fall back on.
Tuesday morning, Joe Freitas was asked by a friend what he thought about his son playing in the pros.

"I said, "All you've got to do is tell him you can't do it.' Then, look out."