Duke grads work to balance athletic careers, married life
Nate Freiman logged thousands of frequent flier miles jetting to Asia to caddie for Amanda Blumenherst.
Last year, Blumenherst nearly missed her tee time at a professional golf tournament because of flight delays after traveling to Boston to see a milestone in Freiman’s professional baseball career.
This week, as Freiman and the Oakland A’s officially open spring training today, the first couple of Duke athletics is getting to be just that – a couple.
Husband and wife for 14 months, Freiman and Blumenherst make their home in Phoenix, not far from Oakland’s spring training complex where Freiman, a slugging first baseman, is attempting to make the A’s roster for a second consecutive season.
After lives apart, they are taking this journey together.
“This year,” Blumenherst said when the couple visited Duke this month, “I’ll be able to be with him a much as possible.”
Freiman and Blumenherst began dating during their stellar Duke athletic careers, which culminated with them being named Duke’s 2009 male and female athletes of the year.
They married on Dec. 27, 2012, but their professional athletic careers meant most of the first year of their marriage was spent in different cities and, often, different countries.
That problem disappeared last summer when Blumenherst decided to put her LPGA career on hold indefinitely to spend more time with Freiman.
“I’m going to play a lot of Pro-Ams,” Blumenherst said. “I will still stay in the golfing world. But not as much. I’ll be able to be with Nate much more than I did last year.”
A three-time national player of the year during her Duke career, Blumenherst won the 2008 U.S. Amateur championship and was considered a rising star in the women’s pro golf world.
Freiman left Duke as the school’s all-time leader in home runs and began a minor-league baseball odyssey in 2009, the same year Blumenherst turned professional.
After being drafted by the San Diego Padres, he played in Eugene, Ore., Fort Wayne, Ind., Lake Elsinore, Calif., and San Antonio, Texas, while climbing the minor-league ladder.
When his seasons ended in September, he joined Blumenherst on the LPGA Tour. Most of the events are held overseas, with many lucrative tournaments being held in Asia in the fall.
“I’ve still flown way more miles for golf,” Freiman said. “I think the Asian trips, they add up quick. But she has watched way more baseball than I have watched golf.”
Last year, Freiman got his big break when Oakland selected him in baseball’s Rule 5 Draft. That mean the A’s had to keep him on their major-league roster the entire season or offer him back to Houston, which had picked him up from San Diego.
Career highlights began flooding Freiman’s way.
He made his big-league debut April 3, collecting his first two hits as the A’s beat Seattle in Oakland.
On April 15 in Oakland, Freiman smacked his first big-league home run in a game against Houston.
Away on LPGA Tour, Blumenherst missed both.
“I was so happy for him and thrilled,” she said, “but it was tough not being able to be a part of it, especially because his family was there but I wasn’t.”
Freiman turned in a strong season, winning the American League Rookie of the Month Award when he batted .351 with a home run, three doubles and nine RBIs in May.
“Baseball is a ridiculous funny game,” Freiman said. “I hit about .150 probably in April. I think any day I was going to be gone (to the minors). Had a good month of May and you buy yourself more time. Baseball is just an up and down game.”
Sharing time at first base with Brandon Moss, Freiman helped Oakland win the American League West Division championship for the second consecutive season.
Freiman batted .274 overall, but nearly 80 percent of his at-bats came against left-handed pitching. The 6-foot-8 right-handed hitter collected a .304 average against lefties with four home runs.
“I was in a role where I got to go up there against left-handed pitching every couple of days,” Freiman said. “I got to play to my strengths and play to the team strengths. I got to learn a lot from when I was playing and even learned a lot from the times I wasn’t playing.”
Last September, with the playoffs approaching, Blumenherst made her decision to leave full-time LPGA Tour life. Rather than travel to Asia for tournaments, she watched the A’s play Detroit in the American League Division Series, which the Tigers eventually won in five games to end Oakland’s season.
Freiman and Blumenherst both discovered the rabid Oakland fans reminded them of Duke.
“It actually does remind me of the fans in Cameron because they come prepared,” Freiman said. “They do their research. They come prepared and they take an active participation in the game, specifically the guys in the outfield bleachers.”
At age 27, Freiman will need a strong spring to make the A’s roster again. Oakland doesn’t have to keep him in the majors and has the option of sending him to the minors again.
The spring training camp officially opens today, but he’s been working out with other Oakland players at the Arizona facility since December.
For a change, that fits in nicely with the traditional married life Freiman and Blumenherst sought.