For the Freedom's High-Flyin' Fraga, the Pro Baseball Dream Lives On in Florence
Daniel Fraga is small in stature but big on heart.
So, I promised Daniel Fraga, the 24-year old second baseman for the Florence Freedom, that I wouldn't concentrate on the fact that he's 5'7" and 165 pounds.
I promised him that I wouldn't dwell on the fact that he's had to overcome this obstacle everyday when being 6 feet and taller and 200 pounds is the norm for a professional baseball player.
I also promised him that I wouldn't concentrate on the fact that when Major League scouts are looking at other players he may feel he's being overlooked.
The fact is, Daniel Fraga thrives on it all.
Daniel is one of the most athletic second basemen I have seen. His ability to leap over sliding runners and still make the throw to first base is an art. And the guy is fast, really fast. When Fraga gets on base and decides to steal the next one, he does so successfully 76 percent of the time.
Voted an All-Star in his first season with the Freedom last year, Fraga is an everyday player dealing with the bumps and bruises that all players do. He's used to it though.
"My life revolved around baseball," Fraga remembers. "As a kid, I always had a bat and a glove in my hand, I always wanted to play baseball."
Fraga calls Mill Spring, North Carolina home but grew up and spent 16 years in Miami, Florida.
"It was my escape from everything else that was going around," Fraga said of baseball. "Miami was a place where you either stayed on track or you didn't.
"I grew up with baseball friends so that kinda helped and I stayed out of trouble."
He played recreational baseball but travel teams were too expensive for his family, he said.
Fraga admits, "I wasn't really so much into schooling. I did everything I had to do in school because of baseball. If I was growing up and my parents saw bad grades, they'd tell me that I'm not going to practice or you're not playing baseball."
After high school, Fraga spent two years at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina. He tells of 75 - 80 players trying out for the baseball team, which he was able to make. Fraga spent two seasons at Catawba and was named a junior college Division II All-American.
Next, Fraga found himself at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke for his junior and senior years where he was a defensive stalwart, committing just six errors in 291 chances. He also led the team offensively in batting average (.392 in 51 games) and stolen bases (21 of 25 attempts).
More importantly though, Daniel completed his bachelors degree in exercise physiology. He plans to earn a certificate in personal training and to give back to kids and up-and-coming players in his community if Major League Baseball never comes calling.
At Florence, where a friendly connection helped introduce him to the team, Fraga's dream lives on. His former pitching coach at Pembroke, Blake Maxwell, knew Chad Rhoades, who was the Freedom's pitching coach last season. They had met in the Boston Red Sox organization. Fraga was invited to spring training for Florence and made the team.
Fraga is batting .223 this year with a .627 on-base plus slugging percentage. He's committed an uncharacteristic 10 errors this season. But, even if his numbers aren't where he wants them to be, his competitive heart is.
The very last thing Daniel said to me as we walked to the clubhouse doors, my last steps with Daniel on this day, was, "I wish I could put into words how blessed I am."
Written by Erik Lake, RCN contributor