By Nick Dobreff / Florence Freedom
FLORENCE, KY - It’s said that baseball is a game of inches.
For Freedom catcher Michael Wheeler, a few inches have made all the difference.
“I love baseball,” said Wheeler, “But if I was 6’3” or 6’4” I would be playing football.”
As a high school athlete in Tennessee, Wheeler excelled in both sports and was named Mr. Football his senior season.
But Wheeler, who is generously listed at 5’11’’, understood that his days as a linebacker would end after high school.
He began playing baseball exclusively and as a freshman for Walter State Community College, he helped lead his team to the Junior College World Series Championship.
It was during that season that he met current Freedom player Justin Pickett. Picket was a year older and the team’s starting catcher. The two soon became close friends on and off the field.
It was mere coincidence that they were united again when the Freedom signed Wheeler during the off-season. But he’s certainly glad to be reunited with someone he admits has a brotherly influence on him.
“I pick his brain as much as I can on the field, off the field, riding home, eating, about everything but especially about catching.”
As one of the veterans on the Freedom, Pickett has a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on. And Wheeler knows there is a lot to learn.
“I feed off him and I learn a lot. He knows our pitching staff and I’m always watching how he studies and learns the tendencies of hitters on the other team.”
Wheeler has already made a huge impact this season with his bat. He’s currently fourth on the team in batting average (.267) and home runs (2), and third in RBI (7).
On defense, he’s played left field and served as the backup to Pickett at catcher. While he’s always looking to learn something new about the position, there’s no question he’s grown under the watchful eye of Pickett.
“I’ve learned a lot about being a leader. The catcher has to bring leadership to the team. You’re the only one who faces the field so it’s my responsibility to direct traffic and know where the ball has to go at all times.”
But more than anything else he just wants to win.
“I set my expectations really high. Sometimes they might be too high actually. But at the end of the day if I don’t reach them and we have a good season as a team, that’s all that matters.”