In Control Of The Situation Freitag Gains Command Of Pitches, Helps Mastbaum Snap Washington's Streak

Posted: April 28, 1987

An almost-daily rite last spring at Jules Mastbaum Tech's baseball practices featured Bill Freitag begging coach Ralph "Bones" Schneider for a chance to pitch.

But any time Schneider said "yes," he saddled his hitters with two distasteful options. They could dive for cover on almost every pitch or stand there terrified, wishing they had strapped on catcher's equipment.

"Billy would keep saying, 'I can pitch,' " Schneider said. "Then he'd try and I'd say, 'You can't throw a strike.' He was all over the place."

Then came the summertime, which signaled the start of American Legion play, and Bill Freitag compiled a 5-2 record with the Port Richmond Cardinals.

When word of that development reached Schneider, he said to himself, "I must have been a dummy." He also said to Freitag, "You're my (main) pitcher this season."

Or did he?

"Dave May (ex-Mastbaum shortstop) called Mr. Schneider when school started to tell him how well I pitched in Legion," Freitag said. "Mr. Schneider said, 'Maybe you'll pitch for us this year. We'll see.' "

Yesterday, what Schneider and everyone else at Front Street and Erie Avenue saw was the conquering of mighty George Washington . . . by Bill Freitag, naturally.

Freitag, a senior righthander with a short-arming motion and a riding fastball, yielded four hits and four walks (he struck out five) while leading Mastbaum to its historic 2-1 Public League victory.

Historic? Washington had won 35 consecutive games against Public League opposition, counting the regular season and playoffs. Coach Joe O'Hara's Eagles won their final two regular season games in '84, 14 straight (11 regular, three playoffs) in '85 and '86 and five more to start this season.

"I didn't know the exact number, but I knew they had a long streak," said

Freitag, who threw approximately 100 pitches. "They have a very good team.

"The only batter I knew much about was (shortstop) Kengo Honda, from Legion, and that worried me. In the last couple innings, I figured I'd go more with my curve in case they started to time my fastball better."

Washington scored in the fourth when sophomore catcher Greg Carlisle drew a two-out walk to force in a run. Freitag avoided further damage by inducing a pop to left from third baseman Tom Devlin.

With two away in the seventh, Scott Rosen singled to short and stole second, but Frank Rubin fouled out to third baseman Keith Roberts.

Finally, Freitag could show unbridled emotion and not worry about someone (everyone?) chiding him.

"That's why my throat is killing me now, from hollering at him (to stay calm)," said junior first baseman Bob Freitag, Bill's brother. "I try to holler louder than anyone out there, to make sure he hears me most of all. He has all the potential in the world. But he gets upset too easy."

"Holy geez, does Billy get mad at himself," Schneider said. "When he just fights the batter, we're better off. So's he."

In the 1988-89 school year, after Bob graduates, Mastbaum once again will experience the feeling of not having a Freitag enrolled. This is the 13th consecutive year that at least one of Ed and Zillah Freitag's six sons is attending Mastbaum.

Young Ed graduated in '77, followed by Charlie, Al, Joe, Bill and Bob. Barb is the eldest sibling in the family, which is based in the Harrowgate section, virtually in the shadows of the Tioga El stop. Mrs. Freitag also attended Mastbaum and her father, Charles Lunkenheimer, was a member of the school's first graduating class.

"Ed and Charlie played soccer, Al and Joe played football, now Bobby and me are playing baseball," Bill said. "I was thinking of trying quarterback at one point, but . . . my father said I should stick with baseball. He thinks I'm a pretty good pitcher."

"Al and Joe were kind of husky compared to Ed and Charlie. That's why they played football," Bob said. "They were meaner, too. They were always talking about busting people's heads. Billy and I are built more like Ed and Charlie. But our interest is baseball, not soccer."

Schoolwise, like two of their four brothers, the interest of Bill and Bob is carpentry.

"We don't have any classes together," Bob said, "but we'll pass each other in the halls. Today, we did a lot of talking about this game. It's all we were talking about for the last couple of days."

In Mastbaum's fourth, a walk and steal by Roberts and Alex Rivera's single yielded a first-and-third, no-out situation. When Bob Freitag bounced to pitcher Kevin Higgins, who last Monday struck out all 15 batters he faced in a five-inning waltz past William Penn, Higgins tried to catch Roberts off third. But Tim Bolwell failed to glove the throw, allowing Roberts to score and sending the other runners to second and third.

Then, Bill Freitag hoisted a fly to foul territory along the leftfield line. When Dom Castagna made the catch, Rivera rumbled home with the tiebreaker. Higgins (2 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings) wriggled free by fanning Joe Malok and getting Matt Wermuth on a fly to center.

"Once we went ahead," Bob Freitag said, "I didn't think anything would go wrong."

"I look to Bobby for my push, to get me over the hill," Bill said. "He gives me confidence. He would always let me throw to him, so I could improve my control."

Control? Joe O'Hara had great difficulty maintaining his, especially when one of his players defied a seventh-inning order.

"It had to end sometime," O'Hara said. "Mastbaum deserved it, in a way. I don't know if they won, but we certainly lost. Their kid pitched a great game. Now, we'll see if bouncing back is one of this team's qualities. Which I think it is."

What's known is, bouncing pitches off the screen is no longer a trait of Bill Freitag.

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