(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
When Amber Freeman looks back on her collegiate softball career she will see one that embodied excellence and defied belief in every way. Freeman has done just about everything a single player can do over a four-year period in the game of softball, except claim the most important prize of them all, a national championship.
Freeman has been referred to as one of the greatest softball players Arizona State has ever seen, never being satisfied with her performance on the field, and serving as a natural leader for her teammates. All of those traits point toward her desire to become a champion, which is what has kept her competitive fire burning through her four years at Arizona State.
If this 2015 season ends in disappointment for Arizona State it will not be because she didn’t give her best effort. That is all she has done in her time playing softball in Tempe, and the numbers she has produced speak for themselves.
Batting at least .346 all four years, driving in at least 41 runs all four years, and producing double-digit home runs all four years are just a few of the reasons Freeman has put herself among some of the greatest Sun Devils of all time. She ranks fourth in career home runs (55), fifth in career RBI (194), and fourth in career doubles with 45.
In doing so she has also gained national recognition. She boasts two All-American selections, a Pac-12 Softball Player of the Year honor, and has won a gold medal playing for Team USA in the 2010 Pan American (18-Under) Games.
Freeman has performed and succeeded at a very high level, but the statistics could have never existed.
When she was 11 years old, Freeman suffered an injury from running through first base during a game. Despite complaining of pain on her left side, she continued to play through it until almost a year later when she was diagnosed with a total left hip dislocation. Surgery required inserting a three-inch titanium screw from her hip into her femur, and the future looked grim as far as athletics were concerned according to her doctors.
Freeman has clearly proven every doubter wrong with her play but continues to remain humble through it all.
“The cool thing about that is that I’m not supposed to be here,” Freeman said. “So I just feel very blessed to accomplish the things that I have been able to accomplish.”
Freeman has performed brilliantly in her sendoff season as she leads the team in batting average at .432, her career high, and is tied for the team lead with 14 home runs. Watching from a fan’s perspective would put one in awe of Freeman’s talent, but the senior even manages to surprise herself from time to time.
“Sometimes I have moments in the game where I’ll do something and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I did that,’ Freeman said.
One moment in a game that Freeman wishes she could’ve done something more happened at the conclusion of her junior season, and may hang over her career as a glooming “What if?” should she not capture the accolade that has eluded her thus far.
In a 2014 NCAA regional series against the University of Michigan, ASU was facing elimination trailing 5-4 and down to their last out with a runner on first base and Freeman up to bat. Her fly ball to deep center field hung up two inches too short, and a game-saving home run-robbing catch by UM center fielder Lyndsay Doyle ended the Sun Devils’ season and gave Freeman one final chance to win the national championship.
Despite Freeman’s great numbers, it’s moments like that, which make Freeman believe that no matter what there is always room for improvement.
“I’m so motivated and I just always feel like I can do better,” Freeman said. “I should be hitting higher than that or I should have more RBI or I should be producing more for my team.’
When someone excels at athletics or any walk of life, many wonder what is it that allows him or her to be so successful. Sun Devil softball SID Jeremy Hawkes believes it comes down to the simplest answer for Freeman.
“The thing about her is she just gets it,” Hawkes said. “She’s the consummate teammate, she is without question the leader of this team, and she knows that there’s more to this game than just hitting home runs.”
Freeman has been referred to this season as the mother figure on the team with so many young contributors helping Arizona State. ASU head coach Craig Nicholson credits her with, “the presence in the locker room, making sure people are doing the right thing and holding people accountable.”
The players that Freeman has made a considerable impact on are freshmen pitchers Dale Ryndak and Breanna Macha, along with sophomore catcher Sashel Palacios.
Nicholson believes that Freeman has done well with showing Macha and Ryndak what competing at the college level takes.
“I think she’s done a good job of just taking those two under her wing and really trying to mentor them,” Nicholson said. “When you understand the game and you’re willing to pass along that knowledge, it just helps everyone around you.”
The assumed replacement at catcher for Freeman, Palacios credits Freeman with preparing her for taking on such a demanding role for the team.
“Last year she showed me the ropes of the fundamentals about the game,” Palacios said. “So I owe a lot of my success to her and I’m really lucky to be catching alongside her.”
Everything always comes back to the desire to win for Arizona State, which has an endgame of bringing home the fifth national title to Farrington Stadium. Freeman knows how a national championship would look next to a Team USA gold medal and all the other accolades she’s collected, but the experience of playing is worth more to her than the awards.
“Of course winning a national championship is the ultimate goal, but if it doesn’t happen I have no regrets,” Freeman said. “I know I did everything I possibly could for this program and for this team, and I just want to look back and have fun and enjoy my last few months as a Sun Devil.”