The great duos always sound like their names should go together:
Martin and Lewis.
Scully and Mulder.
Peanut butter and jelly.
Kramer and Cole.
A great defensive unit up the middle in baseball is based on chemistry as much as talent. To that end, LSU seniors Kramer Robertson at shortstop and Cole Freeman at second base have, well, the bases well covered.
They've spent just two years together as starters, not most of two decades like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell of Detroit’s Tigers. But in that short span, Robertson and Freeman have developed something of a telepathic connection, helping them anticipate each other’s moves and when it’s the right time to make them.
“We really don’t have to communicate anymore,” Robertson said. “When we first started playing together there was a little communication about what to do in certain situations, but now there’s nothing that needs to be said. We know what’s going on in every situation, every pitch. We’ve taken so many ground balls together, we’re kind of the same player defensively.
“It’s pretty special, because you don’t get the opportunity much to play up the middle with someone like that.”
Freeman said they know instinctively what needs to be done if one of them shades a bit right or left for a particular batter.
“We click,” he said. “We know what each other is thinking. Honestly, it’s grown with Pap (catcher Michael Papierski), too. With pickoffs coming to second, we just know in certain situations (Kramer) might take the bag if I’m a little shifted over to turn a double play from the third baseman. It makes the defense flow a lot easier.
“When you can flow that easy it makes you a lot more comfortable, especially in big situations. When you know that person has your back, it makes it a lot easier to play.”
Robertson and Freeman are back-to-back in the LSU lineup of late, Kramer returning to the leadoff spot during LSU’s long late-season surge to the College World Series with Freeman batting second.
Robertson likes being on base, watching Freeman pound a ball into the turf then looking to the infielders who have to scramble to make the play.
Often, because of Freeman’s blinding speed, it doesn’t work out for the opposition. As an infielder, Robertson knows how much they’re sweating.
“If a guy like Cole Freeman is up to bat and hits a ground ball to you, your clock is a lot quicker,” Robertson said. “It’s a lot of pressure on the defender. Everything has to be perfect to get him out.”
“If you have tool,” Freeman said of his speed, “you might as well use it. I don’t have Greg Deichmann’s power, so I’m not going to try to hit the ball as far as him. If the third baseman’s not playing in, I’ll bunt and hopefully make a play, put it on the ground and let’s run.”
Robertson and Freeman could have easily made a run for pro baseball after last season. Freeman, who hit .329 for the season including .391 in LSU’s last 22 games, was drafted in the 18th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Robertson, who hit .324, was selected in the 32nd round by the Cleveland Indians, though as he playfully complained recently, that was still four rounds behind where former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel went in 2014 to the San Diego Padres.
Still steaming from LSU’s super regional loss to eventual national champion Coastal Carolina last year, Robertson, Freeman and Deichmann, a draft-eligible sophomore, decided to return this season along with senior left-handed pitcher Jared Poché after he couldn’t come to terms with the Padres after they picked him in the 14th round.
“I think we both really wanted to (come back) deep down,” Robertson said, referring to Freeman. “We didn’t want to say much, but I think when I made my decision it made his decision that much easier. I don’t think he would have signed for anything once the three of us came back and Poché didn’t get what he wanted from the Padres.”
Now they’ve finally made it to the CWS for the first time. Robertson was on the LSU team but didn’t make the trip to Omaha the last time the Tigers made it there in 2015. Freeman spent that season earning an NJCAA Gold Glove at Delgado Community College.
“This is everything we’ve worked for,” Freeman said. “Waking up at 6 a.m., going to weights, coming to early work, getting extra reps in. For this moment.”
One more chance to team up in the middle of the LSU infield, turning the plays, getting the hits, trying to lead the Tigers to a national championship.