Playing his dream game

Published 12:01 am Saturday, May 24, 2014

0524 spt-Gavin Free throws

Opp native Gavin Free pitches during his victory over Kitchener Monday afternoon. | Courtesy photo

Gavin Free’s first pitch as a professional baseball player sailed just a bit high.

That didn’t matter because the Opp native recovered quickly and went on to get his first career victory for the Guelph Royals on Monday in a 7-6 win over the Kitchener Panthers.

Free signed with the Royals, a team near Ontario, Canada, on May 9.

“I was a little jacked up,” Free said about that first pitch. “It was awesome, though. It was like I had always dreamed it would be professionally.”

Free is a part of a Royals team that has won nine inter county baseball league championships.

Getting the opportunity to play at the next level after spending the last two years playing college ball at Huntingdon College is wonderful, Free said.

“It was just like I hoped it would always feel like,” he said. “I get to further my career and play at the highest level possible I can play at.”

The Royals are made up of 19-to-30-year-old x-minor league and pro players, or players who have already been drafted and played in the minors for a while.

The talent level Free is facing and playing with is no fluke.

“Now at the level I’m pitching at, I’m having to pitch more with my mind than my body,” he said. “If you make a mistake, these guys will make you pay for it. I had a few balls hit hard off of me the other day, and they came off of mistake pitches. I left them up in around the belt. They made me pay for it, which they should because these guys can hit.”

Additionally, there are players who have played in the Double A division.

“They’re trying to get back in the game,” Free said. “It shows you what everybody is trying to do. The talent level up here is definitely the best I’ve ever faced.”

While getting the win on Monday was great, Free said an even better moment came when he exited the game after throwing 90 pitches.

The Royals were ahead 5-2 and the Panthers had two men on, who eventually scored later in the inning to make it a close game.

Free admitted that he was a little worried, but the feeling went away when his teammates told him that they had his back.

“I really appreciated that,” he said. “Those guys showing not only how they play, but them caring about helping me succeed.”

Free is living in a four-bedroom apartment with three other players from the United States, two of which are from California, while the other is from Maine. Their apartment is located on the campus of the University of Guelph.

Free said it’s really “green.”

“It’s real nice,” he said. “With the people up here, I’m trying to get adjusted to them as well as they are to me. They’re probably thinking, ‘What in the world?’ whenever this South Alabama dude comes up with him talking red-neck language to them.”

Free is expected to start today in a home game against Hamilton, and is currently on a four-to-five-day rest period in between games.

When asked if he’s striving to get to play in the major leagues, Free said he’ll be grateful to play at whatever level.

“If I can play baseball at the highest level possible that I can play at, whether that be now or whether that will be further down the road, I’ll be grateful for either,” he said. “My end goal is to play at the highest level I can play at.”

For now though, Free said he’s happy as he can be.

“I am tickled pink to be here and just excited to be playing up here with this type of talent,” he said. “It’s different being away from home, but it’s also fun. I’m getting to experience different parts of the world. I‘m just grateful to be where I’m at. Only God knows how far or where I’m going to go. I’m just trusting that, and just going out there to pitch when it’s my day to pitch.”

Free is the son of Tim and Connie Free of Opp.