It’s 3 p.m. at Foundation Field in Hamilton, Ohio, and the baseball players from the inaugural Florence Freedom baseball team have reported to the field and begin to get dressed. Among them is former Northern Kentucky University baseball player Chris Osterkamp.
A 2003 graduate of NKU, Osterkamp is the starting shortstop for the Freedom, who play in the independent Frontier League.
The league, which includes teams from Missouri to Pennsylvania, is in its 11th season, and Osterkamp is just one of hundreds of other guys just trying to get to their ultimate goal, a chance to play in the major leagues.
Osterkamp made the team out of spring training and quickly established himself as one of its most consistent players.
He entered Saturday’s game having played in 56 games with a batting average of .269 with 24 RBIs and nine stolen bases.
“We started off pretty slow,” Osterkamp said, “but some personnel moves were made, and ever since July we have been 10 games over .500.”
The Freedom signed a one-year contract with the city of Hamilton to play this season at Foundation Field, until a new field is built in Florence.
Playing at home is what Osterkamp says is most rewarding.
“It’s great to be able to play in front of my parents and the rest of my family,” he said.
“Once we move into the new ballpark in Florence, it should be really fun.”
Osterkamp isn’t the only NKU product playing and succeeding in the Frontier League.
One of his teammates, Justin Rahschulte, also played with Osterkamp at NKU.
Lenny Bays, a pitcher for the Mid-Missouri Mavericks, played at NKU as well.
“The level of competition is definitely higher than in college,” Osterkamp said. “I think that playing here is really a great experience for me.”
The contracts for the Frontier League go on a year-by-year basis, and Osterkamp has already been asked to come back for next season.
“Hopefully we can end this season on a good note,” Osterkamp said, “and next year a good core of players is returning and we should have a little more success.”
Osterkamp, a graduate of LaSalle High School in Cincinnati, is still enrolled at NKU.
He is working on his degree in education, and this spring will be a graduate assistant for the baseball team.
“I will look at my options after next summer, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to catch on with an affiliated team,” Osterkamp said. “If I don’t then I will go into teaching.”
Although getting paid to play baseball is an attractive proposal, Osterkamp says that one of the most difficult parts about playing in the Frontier League is the travel.
The teams travel by bus across the Midwest and, while the travel time is usually only two to four hours, there are times when it really wears on the players.
Last Monday, the Freedom had a game in Washington, Pa.
The game didn’t finish until 11:15 p.m., and afterwards the team had to ride the bus eight- and-a-half hours to their next game in Evansville, Ind.
They arrived in Evansville at 7:30 a.m. and got just 5 hours of sleep before having to be at the field again for a 2 p.m. double-header.
“The travel is definitely not fun,” Osterkamp said. “It is just impossible to sleep on the bus, and sometimes it really gets to you.”
What these guys are hoping for is a chance to sign with an affiliated team, a minor league team that is affiliated with a Major League Baseball team.
Earlier this season that dream came true for one of Osterkamp’s close friends and teammate, when former Freedom player Jason Tuttle was signed by the Montreal Expos organization.
“That’s why people play in this league– to get more looks,” Osterkamp said.
“Jason was already drawing a lot of interest, and he finally got signed, and he is doing real well.”
While Osterkamp hasn’t had any serious offers from a major league organization, he has talked to some scouts and people in the business to get a feel for what it takes to make it to the next level.
“Our assistant coach is a scout for the Reds,” Osterkamp said, “and our pitching coach is a former major leaguer, so I have talked to them about everything it takes.”
Osterkamp really enjoys the time he gets to spend with the team and, right now, is just enjoying life as a professional baseball player, something he never really considered before his junior or senior year in college.
“Of course, playing professionally has always been a dream,” Osterkamp said. “But I never really thought about doing it until my last couple of years in college, when I really started to have a lot of success.”
Osterkamp credits NKU head coach Todd Asalon for helping him get to the next level. Asalon made telephone calls to some of his baseball contacts and, these calls, coupled with the attention Osterkamp had already attracted from the Freedom franchise, led to a tryout and an eventual starting spot with the team.
For now Osterkamp is just one of the hundreds trying to work his way up to receiveing an offer from a major league organization.
“I just love being able to play every day,” said Osterkamp.
“It’s great to play at this level with all of these guys that are trying for one thing and that is to prolong their professional playing career.
“All of these guys are in the same shoes.”