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Freddie Bynum: From Bulldog to Oriole

Freddie BynumBALTIMORE—It’s 4:15 on a sunny Friday afternoon at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Freddie Bynum is spraying line drives around the diamond during batting practice. Pitch after pitch results in a thunderous crack off the Baltimore Oriole’s bat.

After several rounds in the cage, Bynum grabs his glove and begins turning double plays with All-Star teammate Miguel Tejada.

For many, this would just be a dream. But for the 27-year-old Bynum, it’s a typical day in Major League Baseball … and, for him, it’s a dream come true.

Though injuries have hampered the former Pitt Community College standout’s development as a professional ballplayer, it hasn’t dimmed his career outlook. The smile on Bynum’s face as he steps on second and fires to first says it all: Freddie Bynum is in ‘The Show.’

The Wilson native is playing the world’s highest level of baseball, a place where players hit brand new balls during batting practice on fields so perfectly manicured, just stepping on the grass playing surface produces a twinge of guilt.

Though he was a good high school player, Bynum received just one recruitment letter – from then-PCC baseball coach Monte Little. Figuring he didn’t have the grades for college, he ignored the letter and resigned himself to a life at the industrial company where his father, Fred, Sr., worked.

But his mother, Dalphine, stepped in and implored her son to seek higher education, and Freddie agreed, enrolling in a PCC vocational program. The rest, as they say, is history.

After a respectable first season with the Bulldogs, Bynum continued to hone his skills. His sophomore year was better, much better. He hit .521 and was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American at shortstop.

“Coach Little helped me with a lot of things – concentrating on my fielding, my accuracy, my work ethic,” Bynum said. “He was almost like a second dad to me …. He taught me what to expect in baseball, and, believe it or not, he told me, ‘You’re a Major League Baseball player; you’ll be in the Major Leagues in 10 years.”

Little’s prediction came true in 2000, when the Oakland Athletics selected Bynum in the second round of the draft. His first Major League action came toward the end of the 2005 season against the L.A. Angels before 42,176 fans.

A few games later, Bynum got his first Major League start and promptly collected his first career hit off Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. In fact, he went 2-for-4 with a double and a run batted in and gave his ‘first hit’ baseball to his mother.

Before the start of the 2006 season, Bynum was traded to the Chicago Cubs, and his playing time increased considerably under manager Dusty Baker.

But just when things looked promising for Bynum’s big league career, he was hurt making a diving catch against Minnesota.

After nearly two months on the disabled list, he returned to the Cubs lineup and promptly smacked his first career homer, a deep drive over the center field ivy at historic Wrigley Field.

“It felt awesome, but it was over before I knew it,” Bynum said of his big hit. “I was at second before I knew it was out.”

A fan who caught the homer gave the ball to Bynum in exchange for a couple of signed baseballs. And Bynum, in turn, gave the historic ball to his mother.

In his first full season in the Majors, Bynum appeared in 71 games and hit .257 (35-for-136) with four homers, five triples and five doubles.

But, in December 2006, Bynum was on the move again. He was headed back to the American League through a trade with the Orioles.

“I was just happy to be on a team and that somebody still wanted me,” Bynum said of joining his third team in less than a year.

Back on the East Coast, Bynum got a fresh start in Baltimore. He played in 70 games for the Birds, batting .260 (25-for-96) with a pair of homers, two triples and eight doubles.

Bynum is essentially a utility player for Baltimore. He saw time at second base, shortstop and in the outfield in 2007.

“… I want to do whatever they call on me to do,” Bynum said. “… Whatever I can do to help Baltimore win a game, that’s what I’m here to do. … I’m ready whenever they call me.”

Bynum spent much of his time during the offseason playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where he hit safely in four of his first five games with a triple and three doubles.

New O’s manager Dave Trembley said in a recent interview that he sees the speedy Bynum once again coming off the bench to fill a variety of roles in 2008. 

“I like Freddie Bynum as a utility guy because of his versatility,” Trembley told Baltimore’s official website, Orioles.com. “He can play all three outfield spots, and he can play second base and short.”

Seeing Bynum at full speed on the diamond, it’s easy to figure out why he is a Major Leaguer. But one thing about him is certain: He doesn’t carry the stereotypical persona of a professional athlete.

And the folks back home at PCC can rest assured that Bynum hasn’t forgotten his roots.

“Pitt is a school that helped me build my career,” he said. “If it weren’t for Pitt, I wouldn’t be here. A lot of people at that school helped me out a lot.”