Freddie Freeman crafted his swing with help from father of another Dodgers star

During his childhood in Orange County, when the future National League MVP was just a budding young player with a raw left-handed swing, there were only two people who ever gave Freddie Freeman hitting lessons.

One was his dad, Fred.

The other was the father of then-Dodgers star Shawn Green.

While Shawn was slugging home runs at Chavez Ravine in the early 2000s, his dad, Ira, was helping cultivate the Dodgers’ future first baseman a short drive away, mentoring Freeman with weekly hitting lessons through his Little League and middle school years at an instructional training academy in Santa Ana.

It’s where Freeman matured as a young hitter, the place he unleashed his opposite-field power and crafted his consistent stroke at the plate.

As he looked back two decades later, ahead of his first home game with the Dodgers this week, Freeman couldn’t overstate the impact Ira — and Shawn — made on his early career.

“You get to work with a guy who knows as much hitting as he did, and … who knew how to teach their son to become a big leaguer,” Freeman said, “it was special.”

When Fred first brought Freeman to Ira’s academy, the 12-year-old was already a clear talent. He had a long, athletic frame. He had natural pop at the plate. Ira had already heard about Freeman, who was a Little League legend in the Orange County baseball community.

“It was pretty obvious he was an outstanding player,” Ira said. “You could see he was special.”

But Freeman needed guidance, still growing into his body as he progressed through middle school.

Freeman worked out with Ira once a week. Ira put him through tee work, soft toss and hitting sessions off pitching machines. He had him do one-handed drills and focus on an opposite-field approach. He filmed many of Freeman’s reps too, reviewing the tape with Freeman later as they dissected his progress.

Freeman would take the tips home to work on with his dad, then return seven days later for more.

“He was very receptive to instruction,” Ira said. “He wanted to learn.”

Former Dodgers slugger Shawn Green throws the first pitch before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 16, 2018.

(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

There were parallels to Ira’s experience coaching his own son, another tall, left-handed slugger who went on to a 15-year major league career, including five memorable seasons with the Dodgers between 2000 and 2004.

Ira only got into coaching when Shawn was 9, building a batting cage in the side yard at their home. Shawn remembers his dad devouring books about hitting by Hall of Famer Ted Williams and legendary hitting coach Charlie Lau, developing a “hitting bug” that benefited Shawn’s early development.

“It was a win-win,” Shawn said. “I got to spend time with him, got instruction and got better and better.”

Ira didn’t stop coaching once Shawn’s professional career took off. Instead, he opened his training center, called the Baseball Academy, in 1995. It was a modest place, a six-cage facility in a strip mall off the 55 Freeway next to a golf shop and a hockey equipment store.

Located just a 15-minute drive from Angel Stadium, it became a frequent offseason training spot for such big leaguers as Jim Edmonds, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad each winter. Shawn, of course, was also a regular.

“A lot of people bounced in and out of that place,” Shawn said, “back when it was kind of the focal point for training in Orange County for baseball.”

Freeman relished the environment.

Like the other young students who trained there, he would rush to the 60-mph batting cage whenever the pro hitters were around — the big leaguers always used the slower machine, Ira said, because it was the closest thing to batting practice speed — to stick a quarter on the outside of the cage arcade-style, reserving his spot in line for when they finished.

One day, Shawn stuck around to watch the kids take swings. Freeman’s smooth motion immediately stuck out.

“He told Freddie, ‘You’ve got a great swing,’ ” Fred recalled. “Since then, Freddie was a Shawn Green fan.”

Shawn and Ira became fans of Freeman’s too, closely following his progress even after he stopped training with Ira in high school.

Ira would watch some of Freeman’s prep games at Orange El Modena, sitting in stands packed with scouts.

Shawn kept tabs on Freeman’s minor league career after he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round in 2007.

“I think Freddie had the advantage of all the things, right and wrong, my dad learned working with me,” Shawn said. “He was able to pass on probably an even better version of his instruction to Freddie.”

In early 2009, Ira and Shawn worked with Freeman one more time.

A few weeks before spring training that year, Ira got a call from Fred. Freeman was coming off an impressive 2008 season in single A but was struggling to rediscover comfort with his swing ahead of the new season. Fred asked Ira whether he could come take a look, and Ira brought along Shawn (who had recently retired from the major leagues) to help out.

“It was like, almost a panic,” Ira recalled. “He just didn’t feel right.”

Ira suggested a few tweaks, focusing on the separation of Freeman’s upper and lower halves. A few days later, Freeman started feeling confident again — the student and instructor falling right back into their old rhythm.

“It was just seeing him and hitting and talking baseball,” Freeman said. “I got lucky getting lessons from him.”

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