A group gathered inside Sean Freeman’s Mandeville home discussing its plans for a night out. He retreated to his office, and when a quiet fell over the house, Sean figured the friends had dispersed to the watering hole of their choice, his son Cole accompanying his pals.
“He didn’t tell me bye,” Sean quickly remembered, racing up to Cole’s room.
There, he found his son, laying in bed. Confused, father asked son what had changed the plans.
“Gotta go hit tomorrow,” Cole said. “And work out.”
His mother, Kellie, laughed.
“Cole Drank doesn’t go out,” she said.
Drank is a nickname, originally Sean’s play on a Southerner’s need for a “cold drink” that’s now, with a bit of help of rapper Kendrick Lamar and social media, taken on a new life.
Teammates do not call him “Cole” or “Freeman,” instead just yelling “Drank” to the undersized utility man who’s the only LSU regular batting above .400, a player with a passion LSU coach Paul Mainieri likens to Alex Bregman and a skillset others compare to former big leaguers David Eckstein and Ryan Freel.
Students chanted the nickname last Friday against Fordham after Cole, playing his third position in eight games, dove behind second base to backhand a ball as it took a hop, rolling the ball to Kramer Robertson covering second for a fielder’s choice.
“You’re going to see him really, really take off there now that he’s settled at second base,” Delgado coach Joe Scheuermann said. “I think that’s his best position. He has a tremendous ability to turn a double play, and he’ll make some Derek Jeter-like plays behind that bag. He’ll make your mouth open.
“He’s a baseball rat is what he is.”
Spring Hill College was Cole’s lone offer out of Lakeshore High before Scheuermann observed a practice and found a scholarship for the 5-foot-7 shortstop who dreamed of playing at LSU but faced tall odds because of his height.
Though few told the infielder he was “too small.”
“They just said ‘If you were bigger,’ ” Sean explained. “Someone told me a long time ago ‘Cole doesn’t pass the eye test.’ You walk out there and you look at him, then you see him play a few times and you’re like ‘Holy crap.’
Once on the junior college’s campus, Cole and Scheuermann met in the coach’s office, where outfielder Lee Haydel’s 2007 NJCAA Rawlings Gold Glove trophy was on display.
“Coach,” Cole asked. “How you win that?”
“You become the best player at your position,” Scheuermann answered.
“I’m going to win that before I leave here,” Cole responded.
Cole did in 2015 at second base. At first sight, Mainieri pegged him a shortstop, watching last fall at Alex Box Stadium while Delgado played San Jacinto Junior College and future Tigers pitcher Riley Smith, off of whom Cole hit a double to lead off the game.
He led off throughout his junior college career. Heading into the final nonconference weekend series of the season against Ball State, Cole is what Mainieri terms a “second leadoff hitter” batting ninth. He carries a .500 on-base percentage and more inclination to bunt or hit the ball on the ground than he did at Delgado or even in fall practice at LSU.
Cole, the team’s fastest player out of the batter’s box to first base, swung more with his shoulders and torso, resulting in lazy popups that wasted his speed.
“Just had to shorten him up and start his swing down. That allows him to stay on top of the ball,” LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said. “When he hits the ball on the ground, it either gets through the infield because the third baseman’s taking the bunt away from him, or he puts pressure on the shortstop or second baseman to pick the ball up and make a clean play. And it’s usually bang-bang.”
Cole estimates he bunted four times in high school. Scheuermann laughs, claiming he invested hours in refining the fundamental skill with little progress. Work continued in Baton Rouge, where Cole now approximates 80 to 85 percent of his drag bunts are dropped on his own, without a signal.
“It’s opened up the whole left side for me,” Cole said. “I feel like that third baseman isn’t respecting my speed or whatever, even if I don’t want to bunt, I might show it, pull him in and hit that next one right by him.”
Such sureness drives Cole. He plays with a discernible edge, his father says, a disregard for outside opinion or scouting reports that detail only his small stature. Mainieri thinks it’s that scrappiness endearing fans toward this one new name of many they’ve had to learn this season.
Sean sits near the top of the players’ parents section before Tuesday’s 6-3 win against Louisiana Tech, a sprinkle from an afternoon thunderstorm pelting the tarp covering the Alex Box Stadium field.
He recalls his son’s goals: first to get to LSU, then make an impact and finally to win a starting job. When all were achieved, Cole would reward himself with a tattoo. His father has two, one on the inside of his right forearm in memory of his mother and another encircling his right bicep displaying his children’s names.
Cole got his over Christmas break, four words creeping up his side on the frame many thought would be too small to succeed at the Division I level.
“Heart Has No Limit,” it reads.
He sees it each morning in the shower, moments after arising and, again, coming to realize his goals fulfilled.
“I wake up some mornings just like ‘I’m about to go to practice at the Box at LSU,’ ” Cole said. “Every time I talk to my parents, it’s almost like we’re living in a dream.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome