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Duo chooses baseball over A&M

By Jack Magruder
October 29, 2002

Ambres, Freeman
Chip Ambres and Choo Freeman
Photo: Michael Walby
MESA, Ariz.—In this college football fall, Chip Ambres and Choo Freeman are teammates. Finally. And while it did not work out exactly the way Texas A&M and other big-time NCAA football powers had hoped, the two Mesa outfielders are delighted with their career paths.

Both could have been in full pads each Saturday. Five years ago, Ambres was a play-making quarterback at Beaumont (Texas) West Brook High, being recruited by several major programs. Option. Pro set. Shotgun. You name it, he ran it.

At the same time, Freeman set a state record for touchdown catches as a wide receiver at Dallas Christian High in Mesquite, Texas, and was a three-time all-state selection.

Each signed a national letter of intent with in-state program A&M, but each instead opted for baseball after going at the top of the 1998 draft.

"I just had to follow my heart, which was baseball,’’ said Freeman, who signed after the Rockies selected him 36th overall in 1998. "Even though football was tempting, I figured the sooner I started (baseball), the better off I would be as a player.’’

The Marlins helped make Ambres’ decision easy — he signed for a $1.5 million bonus as the 27th player taken that June, although he did not begin his pro career until the spring of 1999.

"I wouldn’t say I think about (football) as much as I used to, but it does cross my mind,’’ said Ambres, who turns 23 in December. "I wonder where I would be right now, and about maybe playing on Sundays. But I’m playing baseball right now, and I’m loving what I’m doing.

"I’m a baseball player. I’m trying to get to the big leagues, just like everybody out here. I’ve had a couple of people call and say they are still interested’’ in having him return to football, "but I can’t really see myself going back right now. I’m so in deep with baseball.

"This has become my overall love. I’m just excited to be out here, being with the new guys and making friends. This is like the cream of the crop, to see the players that you hear about on TV or read about in Baseball America. We’re out competing with these guys. It’s great.’’

Freeman and Ambres are hoping to build on their summer seasons. Freeman hit .291-12-64 at Double-A Carolina, his first season above Class A. Ambres batted .236-9-37 at Class A Jupiter, where he set personal bests in most offensive categories, and was off to a good start in the Fall League with three doubles, three triples and eight RBIs in his first 14 games.

Both played center field in their summer seasons, and each has already played some left. Freeman, who turned 23 on Oct. 20, also has played some right, although he might project best as a left fielder.

"This has been pretty much a confidence booster for me compared to the season,’’ Ambres said after his first summer in the Florida State League, where the ball does not carry particularly well.

"I’m generating power here and seeing results. Getting at-bats and playing with a lot of Double-A, Triple-A and major league guys, it’s awesome. To be out here and see where you are at, and to know if you can compete with these guys. It’s definitely going to be a confidence booster going into spring training next year.’’

Ambres hit his first home run of the season in a 4-2 victory over Phoenix on Oct. 25, breaking a 1-1 tie with a two-run shot in the sixth inning. He was two for four.

"He’s definitely holding his own, coming here from A ball. He’s been a pretty solid hitter,’’ Mesa manager Bobby Dickerson said of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Ambres. "He’s very athletic, plays center field effortlessly. He can go get the ball. He’s got enough speed to hit at the top of the order.’’

While this is Dickerson’s first look at Ambres, he got an eyeful of Freeman in the Southern League as the manager at West Tennessee.

"He’s a talented player. He has all the tools. He has a short, compact swing,’’ Dickerson said. "Right now he’s struggling a little bit, pulling off the ball, but there is definitely a lot of talent there. He’s very athletic.’’

And athleticism of the kind possessed by Ambres and Freeman is where it all starts, as scouts know.

"You look for the athleticism, and then the player development department needs to get it out of them,’’ Dickerson said. "A lot of times, you are not going to see a finished product for four or five years. You really have to be patient and look at the potential there versus the present production.

"The analogy I use all the time ... I can see those guys in a major league locker room. And there are a lot of players I’ve had that I just can’t picture them in a major league locker room. These two I can. They wouldn’t look out of place.’’

FALL GUYS

• Mesa first baseman Hee Seop Choi (Cubs), expected to be given every chance to be the major league starter in 2003, homered in three straight games Oct. 24-26. He hit a walk-off solo shot in the 10th inning to beat Phoenix, 4-3, on Oct. 24 before adding bases-empty homers against Phoenix again and Peoria the next two days. Choi’s homer Oct. 26 came in the first inning of a rain-shortened five-inning, 11-6 victory. Choi also doubled in that game. He has six homers, the same number he had in the AFL in 2000.

• Peoria teammates Tagg Bozied (Padres) and Mark Teixiera (Rangers) are in competition to keep the Fall League home run title among the Javelinas. Through Oct. 28, Bozied and Tiexiera had seven apiece — Teixiera hitting No. 7 on Oct. 26 and Bozied hitting his seventh the following day. Peoria third baseman Hank Blalock (Rangers) led the league with 11 in 2001.

• Scottsdale righthander Luke Hudson (Reds) struck out nine in four shutout innings of a 7-0 victory over Peoria on Oct. 25. After four weeks, East leader Scottsdale (16-7) and West lead Peoria (15-7) were the only teams over .500. The two division winners meet in a one-game playoff Nov.23 at Scottsdale Stadium.

• Grand Canyon lefthander Horacio Ramirez (Braves) threw five no-hit innings against Maryvale on Oct. 20, but Maryvale outfielder Terrmel Sledge (Expos) drove in the only run of the game with an 11th-inning single in a 1-0 victory. Maryvale’s Dee Haynes (Cardinals) broke up the Grand Canyon no-hitter with a single in the eighth. Righthander Josh Karp (Expos) threw four shutout innings for Maryvale. And in a game dominated by pitching, the end was fitting—righthander Rodney Ormand (Orioles) pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded situation in the last of the 11th to preserve his victory.

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