LITTLETON, Colo. -- You’d think school visits by a professional athlete would be inspirational for the kids, but for Rockies left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland, it’s clearly the other way around.
On Friday morning, Wildcat Mountain Elementary School students -- first, those from the Special Olympics Unified Sports program, then all in grades 3-5 -- came to greet him, and they lifted Freeland’s spirits. Of course, his appearance lifted theirs, too, but ask Freeland and he’ll tell you that he was at least as buoyed as all the starry-eyed children combined.
“Every once in a while you [hear] a kid -- I had a couple today -- say, ‘You’re my favorite player; I want to pitch like you, play like you,’ ” Freeland said. “It’s really cool. It brings you back to how simple this game is and how easily you can have joy in this game, and put joy in other people’s lives. It warms my heart to have someone out there who’s 10 years old saying that.”
Wildcat Mountain Elementary earned the title “Coolest School” for the South Denver Region by raising nearly $10,000 for Special Olympics Colorado through its Polar Plunge, where folks dunked into wintry water for donations. Part of the prize was a visit from a Colorado professional athlete, and Freeland is very happy to be there for the cause.
It was on an off-day during the Rockies’ 2018 trip to Seattle that Freeland connected with Special Olympics, and the children knocked his heart out of the park.
Already familiar with the events, Freeland learned that Team Colorado was participating in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games at the University of Washington. The Rockies had arrived in town at 1 a.m. For Freeland to make it, he had to be out of bed by 8 a.m. Freeland spent the day giving pep talks, laughing and celebrating -- a lot of celebrating.
“They did a great job. When I found out about [the event], I figured I’d go check it out, have some fun, meet Team Colorado,” Freeland said. “I met the soccer team in the morning and bounced around the facility and got to watch people compete in tennis, track and field, a whole bunch of stuff.
“The majority of the teams were going for medals, and I believe actually ended up going 18-for-18 on medals. It was really great. That’s where it started. I’ve worked a good amount with them since. We did some things last year and this [year], helping raise money for the Polar Plunge and getting people excited for next year.”
Ah, next year.
Friday was a nice step back for Freeland, who will begin lifting weights next week as he works to regain momentum after a rough season for him and the Rockies.
Freeland’s 3-11, 6.73 ERA this year was as well-documented as his fourth-place finish in the 2018 National League Cy Young Award voting, and his inspiring 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the Rockies’ 2-1, 12-inning 2018 NL Wild Card Game victory over the Cubs. Even with the joy the Wildcat Mountain students brought him, he sounded a bit forlorn during the assembly when one of the students asked how many games are in a season.
“[It’s] 162 games in the regular season,” he said. “If you make the postseason, it’s more.”