ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman walked into the interview room at Truist Park on Friday afternoon and could not comprise his feelings. He took a deep breath, turned away from the cameras, crossed his palms above his head and walked out. “Gimme a second,” he mentioned. “Hold on.”
A couple of minutes later, Freeman returned and did his greatest to navigate an emotionally charged interview that marked his return to the place he nonetheless adores. Through quivered speech, shaky palms and welling eyes, Freeman — a lifelong member of the Atlanta Braves till signing a six-year, $162 million free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 17 — did his greatest to specific what this metropolis and people followers and that staff nonetheless imply to him.
“I all the time informed you guys how a lot I really like the Braves, this metropolis,” Freeman mentioned. “I believed I beloved this metropolis and this group loads, however I feel you may inform how a lot I actually do love this group and this metropolis. I do not even understand how I’m gonna get by means of this weekend, guys, if I’m being trustworthy.”
With solely an hour left earlier than Friday’s first pitch, Freeman spent about 20 minutes signing for younger Braves followers on each ends of Truist Park. The Braves performed a video tribute on their large center-field display moments later, then Freeman spilled out of the dugout and walked in the direction of the pitcher’s mound to obtain his World Series ring — the one he did not wish to see till he returned to Atlanta as a customer — from Braves supervisor Brian Snitker. After a protracted, tear-filled hug, Freeman addressed a packed stadium crowd that remained standing.
“I do know I’ve a special uniform on,” he mentioned at one level, “however I nonetheless love each one in every of you guys.”
Freeman had already reunited along with his former teammates in L.A. two months in the past, however he anticipated this weekend to set off extra emotion. As his extremely anticipated return drew nearer, a few of the folks near Freeman urged this collection would signify some much-needed closure for a person who’s noticeably nonetheless coming to grips with not enjoying for the Braves.
Freeman dismissed that.
“There’s nothing to shut for me right here,” he mentioned, nonetheless preventing again tears. “Why would I shut such a particular time in 15 years that I spent right here? There’s, for me, nothing to shut. The remorse query is a complete completely different aspect of the story that I’m not right here to speak about as a result of I feel, one on one, the folks I’ve talked to know that is a special aspect of it. ‘Cause if I obtained into that, oh, we might be right here a very long time. And that emotion may change — huge time.”
Freeman, 32, first joined the Braves in 2007, as a second-round pick of highschool. He emerged as a star in the direction of the tail finish of the staff’s extended run of success, established himself because the face of the franchise by means of a subsequent rebuild, then set the tone because the franchise climbed its method again into competition — a run of 4 consecutive division titles that culminated within the 2021 World Series championship.
The expectation all alongside was that Freeman would return as a free agent, however no deal had been reached by the point homeowners imposed a lockout on Dec. 1. Shortly after baseball resumed in March, Freeman’s agent, Casey Close, introduced two provides to Braves normal supervisor Alex Anthopoulos in what was described as a take-it-or-leave it state of affairs, sources informed ESPN’s Buster Olney.
Anthopoulos then went forward and traded a package deal of prospects to the Oakland Athletics and bought Matt Olson, Freeman’s alternative, on March 14. Freeman signed with the Dodgers, who play near the place he grew up in Orange County, three days later and was left shocked by the way in which every part performed out.
On Friday, nonetheless, Freeman shifted his focus in the direction of what was completed simply earlier than that.
“We went by means of plenty of ups and downs in my 12 years, and as we reached the head final yr of successful all of it, that ring is simply not a hoop to me,” Freeman mentioned throughout his pregame information convention. “It’s all of the sacrifices. All the missed household time. All the hours. The damaged wrist [in 2017]. The 14-hour bus rides within the minor leagues. The 4 a.m. attending to the accommodations. The grind, each single yr. To lastly win it — man. There’s no higher feeling on this world.”
Freeman batted .296/.385/.510 with 270 residence runs and 940 RBIs in his 11 full seasons with the Braves, capturing the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award after the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. During the Braves’ World Series run final fall, Freeman was at his greatest, batting .304/.420/.625 with 5 residence runs and 11 RBIs in 16 video games.
The Braves organist performed “We Are The Champions” as Freeman got here to bat within the high of the primary inning, and the Braves’ followers as soon as once more stood and cheered. Freeman took his time to settle into the batter’s field, doffing his helmet to acknowledge the group and his former teammates earlier than finally drawing a stroll towards Ian Anderson.
Earlier, Freeman admitted that it could be troublesome to compartmentalize his feelings over the weekend.
“Gosh,” he mentioned at one level, “this can be a lot more durable than I believed.”