Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman has some ideas for making El Modena High’s baseball players just a little more comfortable and ready to win more championships.
And he’s using his own money to do it.
“I want to help them build a clubhouse and bring kids that hopefully want to come to El Modena,” he said of his alma mater in Orange. Freeman essentially went straight from the ElMo field to the farm fields of the Atlanta Braves organization as a second-round draft pick after graduation in 2007. He was quickly called up to the Braves and came west this year in a trade to the Dodgers.
But he’s been a frequent visitor to El Modena campus over the years, sometimes working out on the field in the off season, and has now pledged $500,000 to replace what he described as a shed with a 1,440-square-foot modular building featuring a locker room, a team meeting area with monitors and a coaches office, as well as building new, larger batting cages. The district will cover the rest of the $1.1 million project, Orange Unified School District spokeswoman Hana Brake said.
Freeman’s donation is the largest in district history from a single private donor, Brake said. The school board accepted Freeman’s pledge at its meeting Thursday night, Aug. 18.
The first baseman said he wants to give future Vanguards “a place to hang out, maybe do school work when they come there at the field.”
“I just always wanted to give back,” he said Thursday, not long after he singled in the sixth inning against the Brewers in Milwaukee. “El Modena is a special place for me and my family, so that’s why me and my wife decided to do it.”
Not a lot of schools boast the kind of facility being planned, El Modena head coach Josh Kliner said, adding Freeman has already shared some ideas for a few extra amenities he’d like to see included for the ballplayers.
“It is something that we are super excited about, it is something that you don’t see everywhere,” Kliner said. “It is huge.”
While the Vanguards have always been a pretty tight program, a clubhouse like this can bolster “the comradery of being able to hang out with the guys” and let the players “be around your brothers” and sit and talk, Kliner said.
Freeman has spoken often about the support he received from the team and especially then head coach Steve Bernard. Freeman’s older brother, Andy, was playing for Bernard when the boys’ mother, Rosemary, died of died of melanoma in 2000.
“He was so influential in my life,” Freeman said Thursday of Bernard. “Especially when my mom died. My oldest brother was there at El Modena. So we have a lot of wonderful memories, a lot of wonderful people who helped our family in a lot of ways.”
Kliner, who was then an assistant coach, said when Freeman was a Vanguard he talked about building the team a clubhouse when he made it to the big leauges.
“Freddie was a super good kid,” Kliner said, saying it has been cool to watch him grow into such a successful professional player. “He was always talented.”
And having someone who worked hard and succeeded is a great inspiration the school can point to, Kliner said. “You are able to drive that point home to them he was sitting in those seats you are sitting in right now.”
Since Freeman had to head off to the current season, Kliner said his father, Fred Freeman, took over working with the district on arranging the donation.
Brake said the building is expected to be ready by the summer of 2023.
El Modena in enjoying several new facilities: a new 30-meter pool recently opened and earlier this year a 44,000-square-foot science building was completed. In 2020, a completely rebuilt Fred Kelly Stadium was opened.
The stadium is shared by all of the district’s high schools, but the new clubhouse will be just for the Vanguards, said Kliner who is now in his 16th year as head coach. Though it won’t be ready for this year’s team, Kliner said he’s feeling good about the next season. El Modena is coming off of back-to-back season championships.
Source: Orange County Register