True to his name, Gehrig Frei was always destined to be a baseball player.
South Forsyth’s junior shortstop didn’t choose baseball just because he felt obligated to, though. He gave plenty of other sports a chance when he was younger – hockey, basketball and soccer, to be specific – but it all came back to baseball.
“I've just always loved the game,” Frei said. “I remember playing soccer when I was, like, 3 and I was just not into it. I specifically remember driving back home and telling my dad, ‘I do not want to play soccer. I just want to play baseball.’”
Frei’s passion for the sport has made him one of South’s best position players in the 2020 season, more than living up to a first name that personifies his life’s calling.
That name, of course, has a story.
Frei never met his grandfather – he passed away before he was born, when his father was in his twenties – but when he was alive, his favorite player was Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. So, naturally, to honor his late father, Frei’s dad gave him that unique first name.
“My dad always said that his first son that he had, he's going to name Gehrig, and sure enough I was the first son,” Frei said. “I like it. It's a baseball name.”
But being named after a baseball great didn’t mean his name was recognizable to everyone. Throughout his life, he’s become used to having to help others pronounce it.
“Even teachers, when I first meet a teacher and they're calling roll, (it's) 'Greg',” Frei said. “They don't know how to pronounce it. Some do, but a lot of people don't.”
And even though he has a name of one of the greatest Yankees of all time, Frei is a devoted Braves fan, having grown up in Georgia. Chipper Jones was his favorite player when he was still playing, and just like him, he became a switch hitter, first learning how to hit from both sides of the plate while playing wiffle ball.
Of course, Jones played third base in the majors, but Frei always knew shortstop was his place.
“I had always played shortstop ever since I can remember,” Frei said. “It's just where I like to be — a lot of balls are hit there (and) I'm comfortable with it.”
Off the field, Frei is just as locked in, earning high marks from South baseball coach Russ Bayer.
“Gehrig's one of the most mature driven players I've ever coached,” he said. “He’s a super mature kid that goes about his business, extremely soft-spoken, but very hard-working.
“I've got two sons that'll be here soon. In the summer time I take them to work out at Rapid (Sports) Performance. He'll be playing a double header at night and I show up with my boys at Rapid at 10 a.m., and he's in there getting his workout in knowing he's going to play two games that night.”
That devotion to hard work has more than paid off. Last year, the results of it were on full display in front of a national audience during South’s appearance in the prestigious National High School Invitational tournament.
“We’re playing Orange Lutheran (Calif.), who was the No. 1 team in the country, and he's 2 for 2 in his first two at-bats, with a double and a single on a kid who might be the first or second overall high school arm taken in the draft this year,” Bayer said. “He's a 15-year-old on national television banging out knocks from both sides of the plate and making big defensive plays. That was huge.”
His production has carried over into this year, too. On Saturday, Frei went 2 for 4 with two doubles and a team-leading four RBIs in South’s 11-1 win over Lanier.
As for his future college career, it’s a matter of where, not if. Frei still hasn’t decided on where he’s going, but he’s considering his options carefully.
“I'm just trying to figure out what's the best place for me, I guess,” Frei said. “I like a couple that I'm talking to.”
True to his calm demeanor, Frei doesn't feel pressure to perform because his name happens to be shared with one of the greatest baseball players ever. He's appreciative of it, but ultimately, his goal is solely to be the absolute best version of Gehrig Frei he can be.
“It's just my name,” Frei said. “It's a baseball name and I'm thankful to have it.”