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Freeland celebrates his Holm-town success

Rockies lefty returns to his elementary school as part of Rockies Winter Caravan
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland carried a bemused expression as he navigated Holm Elementary School's tight hallways. Not many years before, there was plenty of room for him there, and the cafeteria tables were a lot taller than knee-high.

The place didn't stay strange for long. His mom, Susan Freeland, still works in the school office. A handful of teachers from when he was a student were still there when he visited Thursday during a Rockies Winter Caravan appearance with pitcher Jon Gray, infielder Pat Valaika and the triceratops mascot, Dinger, who challenged Freeland for most-popular purple visitor.

DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland carried a bemused expression as he navigated Holm Elementary School's tight hallways. Not many years before, there was plenty of room for him there, and the cafeteria tables were a lot taller than knee-high.

The place didn't stay strange for long. His mom, Susan Freeland, still works in the school office. A handful of teachers from when he was a student were still there when he visited Thursday during a Rockies Winter Caravan appearance with pitcher Jon Gray, infielder Pat Valaika and the triceratops mascot, Dinger, who challenged Freeland for most-popular purple visitor.

The assembly took place in the gym, Freeland's favorite place in the school.

"The gym," he said, laughing. "I always enjoyed science class, the basics of it, dissecting little things and learning. As a little kid you always think that's so much fun. Other than gym, that was probably my favorite subject."

Freeland, 24, is coming off a rookie season in which his Major League debut was the 2017 home opener. He tied with teammate German Marquez for the National League lead in rookie wins while going 11-11 with a 4.10 ERA, and has a high ceiling for '18. Building endurance for a full season after wearing out at the end of his rookie year and improving his changeup could be keys to Freeland taking the next step.

Video: Freeland on offseason, looking ahead to 2018

But Thursday was all about going back and staying grounded.

One of many ways teachers are valuable is helping children with dreams and reality. A Major League dream may be a narrow one, but folks at Holm knew Freeland, and didn't mind his dedication.

"I think there was one writing assignment that really stood out, when he wrote about his love of baseball and always dreaming about it," said Nickie Tzimapitis, who taught Freeland and his older brother in fourth grade. "We had a certain curriculum, but he was able to sneak things in."

Freeland recalled, "Everything I did revolved around sports, and pretty much it was mostly baseball. One of the projects we had was to draw on a [ceramic] plate. They [kept] that plate. I think I still have it. I drew a baseball field. Baseball was everything."

Don Freeland felt the school's encouragement. He coached his son at the youth level, and sometimes had to pick him up early from school for a baseball event.

"We might've been leaving on Friday to go to a tournament," Don Freeland said. "I came here early before school was dismissed and walked to his classroom to pick him up, and his teacher jokingly said, 'No, you can't leave. He's got to do this stuff.'

"She knew ahead of time, of course, but gave me a hard time about it. She said, 'Baseball's not that important. He's got to stay in school.'"

Seeing Freeland back in the school as a baseball role model was surreal to his mother.

"It's fun to see him with his teachers, and at the end of this we're going to have a picture with the little 4-year-olds with Dinger," Susan Freeland said. "That was the age he was when he started this. It's hard to imagine him being this tall.

"He takes a picture with the preschool teachers, and how much taller he is blows me away. And they followed him all the way through. They knew what happened in middle school, in high school. His teachers followed him."

Of course, it's always good for anyone to realize they're not the biggest deal. Turns out Freeland is the second-most famous former Holm student. First place goes to actor Don Cheadle.

Barbara Althouse, who taught music to both, spotted Cheadle's talent and cast him as Templeton the rat during a performance of "Charlotte's Web." Her son, David Althouse, a sports executive producer for Fox 31 Denver, made sure to connect Freeland and Cheadle in a tweet:

Tweet from @davealthouse: Fun fact about Holm Elementary in Denver: both @KFREE_21 and @DonCheadle attended as kids pic.twitter.com/9ZAngwYJjQ

And Freeland made sure to get on the web with his old music teacher.

Tweet from @davealthouse: Home coming for @KFREE_21 at Holm Elementary - a chance to walk the hallways, say hello to the current students and past teachers (like Mrs Althouse) pic.twitter.com/c7Ug1pnYVP

What could Freeland have accomplished musically? At the time, Althouse cast another student with the baseball part in a production of "I Want a Vacation." Althouse couldn't remember what part she gave Freeland -- but she has the records of all her productions at home. She listens to Freeland's interviews, which sound much different from the child she remembers, and wonders.

"I can't believe his deep voice," she said, smiling.

Althouse and Susan Freeland are longtime friends, and the latter realizes that 2017 was so good for Freeland that he has his choice of favorite dreams.

"I'd have to say Opening Day," Freeland said of his six strong innings in a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers in the home opener. "The near no-hitter [8 1/3 innings before yielding a Melky Cabrera single in a 10-0 victory over the White Sox on July 9] was awesome but it's going to be hard to top Opening Day in my hometown, getting to pitch my debut and all that together.

"It's going to be hard to beat that."

Thursday was a good time to remember those times, and dream of even better.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Kyle Freeland