King of the Hill: Remembering Softball Great Gene Freeman

Eugene “Gene” Freeman

When the Chelsea Municipal Fast Pitch Softball League was in its heyday and Carter Park was the place to be on a summer night, Eugene “Gene” Freeman was a king on the hill.

Freeman was a pitcher in the league when crowds would flock to the park to see the best players in the area compete for such teams as Freeman’s old Ed’s Grill team,  Torro Contractors, Durant Paint, Club 34, Andie’s Citgo, New Bridge Café, and other clubs.

Freeman, with his trademark style of the sofball brushing against his right pant leg and then exploding toward home plate, was truly one of the best. Even the legendary slugger Bill Palladino said he didn’t like facing “Geno” Freeman on the mound.

“Billy used to say to me, ‘tell your brother, I’ll hit him next time,’” Carl Freeman recalled this week.

Eugene Freeman died on August 26 following a battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.

Family and friends remembered Freeman fondly during memorial tributes this week. He was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle.

Gene Freeman had two older brothers, Carl and Ray, two sisters, Loretta Freeman and the late Claudette Freeman.

Carl Freeman, 79,  said his brother Gene loved sports and was a highly skilled athlete. “He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever known and the other one was [my brother] Ray and my cousin Jimmy Lee,” said Carl.

Lee, a first cousin who founded the Tommy Duval Athletic Club as a teenager, said his cousin was a part of group of kids who loved sports and grew up in the old Ward 2 section of the city. The Freeman family lived in a house at 82 Arlington Street before the Chelsea Fire struck in 1973.

“Our house burned down but Gene never talked about it,” said Ray Freeman.

Gene Freeman attended Williams School and Chelsea High School. He loved playing sports with his friends.

“All the best players came out of Ward 2, you know that,” Jimmy Lee said.

Ray Freeman said he left Chelsea to serve in the United States Air Force when his brother Gene was a youngster. “I was in the service mostly in Colorado, Germany, and England  so I didn’t’ get to see Gene pitch much,” said Ray. “But I know he loved softball and all sports.”

How did Gene Freeman become so proficient at the game?

“He always watched the King and his Court,” said Ray Freeman. “He played with and against Eddie Feigner. Gene had a natural motion and a distinctive style on the mound.”

It was in the Chelsea Fast Pitch League run by Arnold Goodman where Gene Freeman became a legendary, larger-than-life figure. Teammates such as Red Carroll, Thomas Fay II, and the great Bobby Halas knew that when Gene Freeman was on the mound, the team had a chance to win every night. They also loved his competitive but friendly demeanor.

“Gene had an outgoing personality and he had his own style of doing things,” said Ray Freeman. “He always greeted everybody with a smile. He was a unique pitcher, too.”

Jimmy Lee attribute Gene Freeman’s warmth and caring attitude to his upbringing. “That’s the type of folks who come from Ward 2,” said Lee who started the Tommy Duval Athletic Club as a teenager. “My parents taught me the same way. All of us first cousins grew up on the same block on Arlington Street and loved this city.”

Several of Gene’s softball friends paid their respects at the wake and funeral service. They spoke of his greatness on the mound and kindness and grace off of it.

“He was a great brother who with his wife took great care of the family,” said Carl Freeman. “He loved Chelsea and would always come back to the city.”

There’ll never be a softball league as popular as the one that existed at Carter Park in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Chelsea lost a tremendous connection to its athletic past when Gene Freeman passed away this week.

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