They were two Caltech games for the record books

"Laundry," he said. "If you are an athlete, they will actually wash all of your workout clothes during the season, which I think is a huge perk."

But, still he plays. Like many others in a program that Athletic Director Betsy Mitchell views as part of the classroom, he plays without shame or remorse.

"It's not embarrassing," he said. "I'm trying. I'm putting myself out there. I'm learning about myself with every game. How is that embarrassing?"

He batted only .177 last season with one extra-base hit and one RBI. But in Friday afternoon's loss to Oregon Tech, he made two diving stops at third base, wondrous moments he compares to solving equations that might one day send people to Mars.

"Four years ago, I don't make those plays," he said. "Sports is my hardest class."

He likes to play so much, he quit basketball to focus on baseball even though, at the start of this season, dating back to high school, he had gone five full baseball seasons without a win.

"We have always talked to him about how learning to deal with failure is an important part of success," said his father, Mitch Freedman. "We never talk about the score of the games."

The Beavers' first-year baseball coach, Matthew Mark, offers the same message: "I tell the players to use the game as an escape, don't think about the physics project, don't think about homework, just come out and have fun and learn."

So Freedman plays, and he loses, and loses some more, but then a miracle happens. Two years ago, he was on the basketball court that was rushed by fans that included a Nobel Prize winner when the team beat Occidental. And last weekend, he was on the field for the final out of a seven-inning, second-game-of-a-doubleheader win so unthinkable the players had no idea how to celebrate.

"It was so strange. We weren't expecting it," he said. "We all just sort of came into the dugout."

Mark informed them of the milestone, then honored it by giving each of the team's five seniors a game ball. Freedman keeps it in his locker and stares at it every day as a reminder of why he continues to play.

It's unsigned. It's scuffed with dirt. It's stained by grass. It's the most important of baseballs, yet it's still just a baseball. Imagine that.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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