ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman walked into the interview room at Truist Park on Friday afternoon and couldn’t contain his emotions. He took a deep breath, turned away from the cameras, crossed his hands over his head, and walked out. “Give me a second,” he said. “Hold tight.”
Freeman returned a few minutes later and did his best to conduct an emotionally charged interview that marked his return to the place he still adores. Through shaky speech, shaking hands and tearing eyes, Freeman — a lifelong member of the Atlanta Braves until he signed a six-year, $162 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 17 — did his best to make that happen to express city and these fans and this team still mean to him.
“I always told you guys how much I love the Braves, this town,” Freeman said. “I thought I really love this city and this organization, but I think you can tell how much I really love this organization and this city. I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this weekend guys if I’m being honest.”
With just an hour left to go for first place on Friday, Freeman spent about 20 minutes signing at both ends of Truist Park for young Braves fans. The Braves played a video tribute moments later on their giant midfield screen, then Freeman dashed out of the dugout and headed to the pitcher’s mound to receive his World Series ring — the one he didn’t want to see until he came back to Atlanta as Visitors – from Braves manager Brian Snitker. After a long, tearful hug, Freeman addressed a packed crowd at the stadium, who remained standing.
“I know I’m in a different uniform,” he once said, “but I still love each and every one of you.”
Freeman had already reunited with his former teammates in LA two months ago, but he expected this weekend to spark more emotion. As his much-anticipated return drew near, some of those close to Freeman suggested that this series would provide a much-needed closure for a man who is noticeably still coming to terms with not playing for the Braves anymore.
Freeman denied that.
“There’s nothing for me to close here,” he said, still fighting back tears. “Why should I end such a special time in 15 years that I’ve spent here? For me there is nothing to close. The question of regret is a whole other side of the story that I don’t want to talk about here because I think, one-to-one, the people I’ve spoken to know that’s another side of it. ‘Cause if I got down to it, oh, we’d be here a long time. And that emotion could change — big time.
Freeman, 32, first joined the Braves in 2007 when he was selected in the second round of high school. He emerged as a star at the end of the team’s continued winning streak, established himself as the face of the franchise through a subsequent rebuild, and then set the tone as the franchise returned to competition – a streak of four consecutive division titles ending in the World Series Championship 2021 culminated.
It had been expected all along that Freeman would return as a free agent, but no deal had been reached when the owners imposed a lockout on December 1. Shortly after baseball resumed in March, Freeman’s agent Casey Close made two offers to Braves to general manager Alex Anthopoulos in a scenario described as a take-it-or-leave-it, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney.
Anthopoulos then went ahead and traded a package of prospects with the Oakland Athletics to acquire Matt Olson, Freeman’s replacement, on March 14. Freeman signed three days later with the Dodgers, who play near his birthplace in Orange County, and was left stunned at how it all turned out.
On Friday, however, Freeman shifted his focus to what had just been accomplished.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my 12 years, and when we got to the win-it-all climax last year, that ring just isn’t a ring to me,” Freeman said during his pregame press conference. “It’s all the victims. All the missed family time. all the hours The broken wrist [in 2017]. The 14-hour bus runs in the lower leagues. At 4 o’clock we come to the hotels. The Grind, every year. To finally win it – man. There is no better feeling in this world.”
Freeman batted .296/.385/.510 with 270 homers and 940 RBIs in his 11 full seasons with the Braves, and won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award following the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. During the Braves’ Last fall’s World Series, Freeman was at his best, hitting .304/.420/.625 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in 16 playoff games.
The Braves organist played “We Are The Champions” as Freeman hit the lead in the first inning, and the Braves fans stood and cheered again. Freeman took time to settle into the batter’s box, removing his helmet to greet the crowd and his former teammates before finally taking a stroll against Ian Anderson.
Freeman previously admitted it would be difficult to pinpoint his feelings over the weekend.
“Gosh,” he said at one point, “this is a lot harder than I thought.”