LIFE IN THE FAST LANE : Stokes Stealing His Way Into Hearts of Pro Scouts
Nearly every morning, as Freddie Stokes is approaching Luellen Abraham’s first-period German class at Lincoln High School, his path is blocked.
In the doorway stands Tony Jackson, an assistant football coach and school security guard who Stokes estimates is about 6-feet 8-inches and 325 pounds.
“May I have a meeting with this student, please?” Jackson will ask Abraham.
Abraham always says yes.
So Jackson will grab Stokes by an arm, squeeze it and preach the virtues of education right there in the middle of the hallway.
Not that Stokes, a B+ student, needs that much motivation. It’s just that he soon will have to make a big decision between going to college and signing a professional baseball contract, which almost certainly will be offered to him.
“Coach Jackson tells me I should take education first because it’s guaranteed now,” Stokes said. “He tells me I’ll always have time for baseball. He tries to apply pressure on my arm, and he gives me one of those famous bear hugs of his.”
What does Stokes say?
“I just grin at him.”
As Stokes’ high school years end, few doors are closed to him.
He played quarterback for the Lincoln football team well enough to be offered a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. He signed a letter of intent during the winter.
He’s having such a good spring on the baseball field that professional scouts are regular spectators at Lincoln games, despite the team’s 3-19 record.
One of Stokes’ biggest fans is the first-year Lincoln baseball coach, David Hanula.
“I’ve coached four different sports over the last 12 years, and Freddie has the best combination of athletic talent and attitude that I’ve ever seen,” Hanula said. “If all teams had 12 guys like him, everyone would want to get into coaching.”
Blazing speed and deceptive strength are Stokes’ most outstanding weapons.
“He’s a lot stronger for his size (5-8, 165 pounds) than he looks,” Hanula said. “And he’s got the best jump, speed-wise, in the outfield that I’ve seen all year, and we’ve played most of the best teams.”
Stokes has stolen 26 bases this season, he is hitting .432 (he’s a switch-hitter), and he has made several outstanding catches in center field.
Still, it’s when he reaches base that Lincoln’s opponents become most nervous. And it’s when Stokes, who always has the green light to steal, has the most fun.
“I like to get a big lead and test the pitcher to see how many times he will throw over to first,” Stokes said. “I’ll keep chipping away toward second and then take off.”
Not surprisingly, his idol is Vince Coleman, who plays for his favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals. When Stokes watches the Cardinals play, he takes notes on the techniques they use to steal bases and tries to apply those techniques to his own game.
“Usually, the other pitcher knows me, and he’ll throw over to first at least twice,” Stokes said. “Then he’ll throw home, but I don’t go, because the first pitch is usually a pitchout. After the first pitchout, I know the pitcher won’t try it again. He’ll usually throw over to first again, and about the third or fourth pitch to the plate, I’ll go.”
Stokes figures he had about 18 stolen bases last year, but he’s unsure of the exact number he has stolen in his three years on the Lincoln varsity--he transferred from Morse after his freshman year--because some old scorebooks disappeared in the coaching transition.
That won’t matter come June, however, when the professional baseball draft is held. Already, scouts from the Cardinals and Cubs have talked with him. Of course, so have Jackson and other Lincoln faculty members and students.
“It’s a big controversy at our school right now,” Stokes said, laughing. “People keep asking, ‘What do you want to play, football or baseball?’ ”
The Hawaii scholarship will allow him to play both sports in college. But if he’s drafted high enough in June and the money is right, Stokes said he may be leaning toward professional baseball. Especially if he can get a pro team to agree to pay for his education.
“I’m stuck in the middle right now,” he said. “As we negotiate, it depends on what’s guaranteed to me. Will they pay for my school?”
“The money will tell the true story for me. I’ll base my decision on the money and what they have to offer me in the future.”