DENVER -- Nestled behind the blacktop of Holm Elementary School, where alumnus Kyle Freeland roots the development of his competitive nature, the Rockies left-hander points to a back field tucked between a quiet Denver suburb, recalling one of the earliest mid-innings jams he escaped.On a surface that has since been
DENVER -- Nestled behind the blacktop of Holm Elementary School, where alumnus Kyle Freeland roots the development of his competitive nature, the Rockies left-hander points to a back field tucked between a quiet Denver suburb, recalling one of the earliest mid-innings jams he escaped.
On a surface that has since been slightly remodeled during his final year at Holm, Freeland led his fifth-grade class to a win over the faculty in the school's annual softball game, hitting, pitching and even coaching in the matchup that pits the school's eldest students against their educators. Holm vice principal April Milow attests that it's the only game in her 19 years at the school that the students won.
"He didn't trust any faculty member to coach," said Milow, who was Freeland's fifth-grade teacher. "He knew that if he coached, they would win."
"When I wasn't hitting, I was coaching third base," Freeland, 25, said. "I was trying to do everything I could. I remember trying to play my best game every at-bat, not give anything away, make every single play in the field, but I remember it being a lot of fun."
It's during his time at Holm when Freeland developed his passion for baseball, which he says was fueled by an inspiring environment. His mother works in the front office, as she has since he was a third-grader, and Freeland makes multiple trips back annually for obvious reasons.
On Friday, Freeland returned to Holm bearing gifts. Through a partnership with Wal-Mart, Freeland distributed backpacks and school supplies tailored specifically to each grade level to the students as they embark on the new academic year, which began on Monday.
Holm, despite being tucked within an affluent suburb, is comprised of a large swath of students below the poverty line and is classified Title I within the Denver Public Schools district, a designation that attempts to shrink the overall education gap in schools where many students are from low-income families. According to DPS, the Title I program is the largest federal program supporting both elementary and secondary education.
Holm's diverse demographic is made up of 83 percent students of color, and half of its population are English language learners. Collectively, 84 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch. Holm's students are mostly residents of the 23 surrounding apartment complexes, many of whom see higher crime rates in the Denver area, Milow said.
"Our kids are very highly impacted by poverty and trauma," Milow said. "So our kids are really impacted."
Freeland has not only blossomed into a rising star for the Rockies, he's also one of Colorado's rare locally rooted baseball standouts who still plays at home, making his influence on local children all the more impactful.
"It means the world to me," Freeland said. "Obviously some families can't really afford all those school supplies for their kids. Growing up going here, if I were to have somebody donate this stuff, it would've meant the world to me. My parents could afford school supplies, which I was very grateful for, but the thing about the kids whose parents might struggle to do that and may be only able to get them a few things, I'm sure it brightens up not only the kid, but it's going to make the family and the parents very happy."
Freeland hopes to continue exploiting his local celebrity to foster relationships with Denver's youth, particularly at the elementary and at-need levels, and not just through charity. Over the course of the academic year -- and depending on how deep of a postseason push the Rockies make -- Freeland's hope is to become more involved with educational initiatives, specifically mathematics, where an obvious baseball tie could be formed.
But old-school baseball purists can rest easy for now: Freeland doesn't plan to include ground-ball rates, wOBA and expected metrics on the early curriculum -- at least not yet.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.