FREDERICK, Md. - When you are good enough to play elite Division I collegiate baseball in the Southeastern Conference, there is always a chance your paths will cross in the professional ranks.
Now they are teammates in for the high Single-A Potomac Nationals.
Tuesday night in Frederick, Md., the pair suited up for the Northern Division All-Stars in the Carolina League All-Star Classic. Banks’ dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning, which scored Freeman in front of him, lifted the North All-Stars to an 8-7 victory over the South All-Stars.
How good is baseball in the SEC? Four of the eight teams that made it to the College World Series this season in Omaha, Neb., are from the Southeastern Conference: Arkansas, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Florida beat LSU for the title in 2017. Five of the last 10 winners in Omaha hail from the SEC.
Second baseman Freeman played at LSU on that 2017 runner-up CWS squad while right fielder Banks was at Texas A&M.
Flashback to college, the two were able to face off in college when Freeman was a junior in Baton Rouge. Banks was wrapping up his college career as a senior for the Aggies. Freeman had known about how good Banks was even before he suited up for the Tigers.
“Obviously there’s that respect when we first met,” Freeman said. “We got to play each other one time, his junior year, my junior year. When I got to LSU you’d heard nothing but Nick Banks. I actually told him a story one of the first games I went to at the Box, I think it was Mark Laird, might have been (Andrew) Stevenson, hit a ball down the right field line, he was playing right field line. Sitting in the stands ‘oh, that’s a double easily’.
“Banks runs over there, picks it up on the foul line, and I mean threw one of the hardest balls I’ve ever seen right on the money at second and tagged him out at second. I was just like this is what the SEC is all about. I think it’s pretty cool that I remember something like that. Now I’m teammates with him. It’s kind of crazy how the baseball world works.”
Their track to the Nats are similar. Freeman was a fourth-round selection in 2017 for the Nationals. Banks was a fourth-round selection for the Nats in 2016 and he has respect and a great rapport with his former SEC foe.
“Cole joined LSU his junior year,” Banks said. “I got to play against him for one year. He’s just a hard-nosed grinder. You know what you’re going to get out of him. It’s been fun playing with him and seeing where we’ve come from since college and where we are now getting to play together in an All-Star game.”
Once opponents, now the pair are pulling on the same rope with the P-Nats, hoping for a chance with the Nationals like another former SEC and LSU star has enjoyed.
Freeman has a good relationship with Stevenson, another current player in the Nationals system who went to LSU. Freeman said he knew Stevenson’s wife, Michelle, while going to school at Lakeshore High School.
“He’s actually married now to one of my friends that I grew up with in high school,” Freeman said. “So, got to actually hang out in the offseason a couple of times. He’s as good of a guy as there is. Once I got drafted he even texted me to say if you need any help with anything I’m here for you.
“I talk to him and pick his brain. We talked about two weeks ago. He’s an awesome guy, just tells me what to expect and gives me a little-heads up.”
Stevenson has now played 43 games with Triple-A Fresno this season and spent nine games with the Nationals.
Freeman is slashing .295/.396/.386 in 66 games with 16 stolen bases at Potomac. Banks has hit .405 (17-for-42) his last nine games for the P-Nats.
Carolina (39-30) and Potomac (30-37) play Thursday night at Northwest Federal Field in Woodbridge, Va.