Quad Cities River Bandits pitcher R.J. Freure returned from the Pan-American Games last week with more than a prized silver medal, plenty of swag and memories that will last a lifetime.
The right-hander met the challenges he was presented with while pitching in a pair of games for Canada during competition in Lima, Peru.
"I gained so much from the experience, from finding out how I can do against that quality of competition to having the chance to talk with and learn from pitchers and hitters on our team who have been in the big leagues," Freure said.
"It was an awesome experience, something I was proud to be a part of, a chance to represent my country."
The 6-foot-1 native of Burlington, Ontario, was part of a Canadian team managed by former major-league all star Ernie Whitt.
Its roster included six players with major-league experience, and the team arrived in South America looking to repeat the Pan-Am Games championships Canada earned in 2011 in Guadalajara and 2015 in Toronto.
Freure pitched two shutout innings to help Canada win its pool with an unbeaten record and took the mound again in the gold-medal game, given the start against Puerto Rico.
"I really didn’t expect to get the chance to start in the gold-medal game," Freure said. "It wasn’t really something I was thinking about, but I got the call the night before the game from Ernie Whitt, and to get that opportunity, that was really special."
The sixth-round selection of the Astros in the 2018 draft out of Pittsburgh was up to the test.
He struck out seven batters and walked one while allowing one hit over three innings of work before leaving a scoreless game eventually won by Puerto Rico 6-1.
"There were some great players there, and to see how my stuff played against that type of competition, it was great," Freure said. "There is so much I can learn from the entirety of it that will carry over."
Freure, who last competed on a Canadian U18 national team in 2015, learned that he had been selected for the Canadian roster for the Pan-Am Games in early July, the result of a selection process which began almost a year earlier.
"I have been a part of Team Canada at lower levels before growing up, and it’s always a special honor to have the chance to represent your country and put on that uniform," Freure said. "It’s always meant a lot to me, and I’m grateful the Astros gave me the opportunity to be part of it."
Houston’s approval allowed Freure to step away from his Midwest League duties on July 25 for the start of Canadian team workouts and exhibitions in West Palm Beach, Florida, before the team left for Peru.
"Getting together in Florida gave everyone a chance to get know each other and for the team to come together before we left for Peru," Freure said.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Cuba and the Dominican Republic and compete in the past, but this was different. To be a part of an event so big, athletes were there from 41 countries, and to have an Olympic-village type setting, the experience was incredible."
Freure wanted the experience to be something that could also help him as he moves forward in his career.
He found the chance to talk with the major-league talent on the roster to be beneficial, asking questions to both pitchers and hitters.
"I saw it as a chance to learn. It was a chance to talk with guys who have pitched in the big leagues and have swung the bat in the big league," Freure said.
"I talked to them about what they see and think about as they work and tried to pick up as much as I could from them. It was a unique opportunity, and I tried to make the most of it."
Rejoining the River Bandits last week, Freure saw his first action for QC in its 8-0 win at Wisconsin on Saturday.
He did not allow a hit in four innings of relief work, adding to his team-leading strikeout total of 95 by striking out six batters and walking one to earn his third save of the season.
"It felt good to be back with the Bandits and be working with our catchers and the team again," Freure said. "It was good to be back working with (QC pitching coach Erick) Abreu again. He’s helped me a lot, and like all of the pitchers here, we’re getting better because of what he’s teaching us."
Freure said his approach both in the Pan-Am Games and back in the Midwest League has remained the same.
"I tried not to do anything differently in Peru than what I’ve been doing all season," he said. "I’ve been using my off-speed stuff and attacking hitters with my fastball. My curveball has been coming along, and I’ll just keep working."
Best tools: In its annual Best Tools edition, a pair of 2019 Quad-Cities River Bandits and two Clinton LumberKings are been recognized by Midwest League managers as the best of the best in the league by Baseball America.
The publication lists former River Bandits shortstop Jeremy Pena as the best defensive shortstop in the league and names Quad-Cities manager Ray Hernandez as the top managerial prospect in the league.
It also recognizes Clinton catcher Will Banfield as the best defensive catcher and names former LumberKing Jerar Encarnacion as having the best outfield arm in the league.
Show and no: After batting .401 over 32 games in the Arizona Rookie League, the Padres promoted 18-year-old shortstop CJ Abrams to Fort Wayne last week.
The 48th overall selection in this year’s draft collected two hits in eight at-bats over two games before suffering a shoulder contusion, which placed him on the seven-day injured list.
Greene and growing: Riley Greene, the fifth overall selection in this year’s draft, was promoted by Detroit to West Michigan last week.
The outfielder was promoted from short-season Connecticut after batting .295 in 24 games in the New York-Penn League.
River Bandits this week
Beloit: Today-Friday, 6:35 p.m.
With three 3-hit games, OF Anthony Churlin has hit .425 over his last 10
Cedar Rapids: Saturday, Monday-Tuesday, 6:35 p.m.; Sunday, 5:15 p.m.
Hitting .395 over his last 10 games, Gilberto Celestino's .275 BA leads the Kernels
At Peoria: Wednesday, 6:35 p.m.
Chiefs pitchers have allowed a league-high 1.51 walks and hits per inning
LumberKings this week
Burlington: Today-Friday, 6:30 p.m.
The Bees are batting a Midwest League-worst .219 as a team
At Kane County: Saturday, Monday-Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.
OF Dominic Fletcher is hitting .333 in 38 games since joining the Cougars
Cedar Rapids: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
The Kernels like the long ball, leading the league with 95 homers