The strangest day of Freddie Freeman’s professional baseball career, a whirlwind he never thought he’d have to experience, finally became a bit more normal once he stepped into the batter’s box.
All the emotions — the tears, the hugs, the laughs — were pushed aside when he looked up and saw Huascar Ynoa on the mound with a baseball in his right hand Monday night at Dodger Stadium. That the Atlanta Braves were the opponent was secondary. Freeman had a job to do even against the organization he still adores. And the Dodgers first baseman didn’t waste time doing it well.
Freeman fouled off the first pitch he saw, a 97-mph fastball low and away, in his first career appearance against the Braves in the first inning of the Dodgers’ 7-4 win. The second pitch was another 97-mph fastball away. It was a mistake. Freeman smashed the baseball 103.7 mph off the bat, sending it 386 feet away over the left-field wall for his first home run as a Dodger.
Freeman’s family bounced in a suite behind home plate as he rounded the bases. He pointed to the group after he crossed home plate. “Fre-ddie” chants echoed. David Price waited for him at the end of the dugout for a hug.
“It was just a good day, a special day,” Freeman said. “One I’ll always remember.”
Freeman has been a Dodger for all of a month. His family recently found a home in Studio City, and he’s still trying to figure out the best route to work. A familiar off-field routine will come with more time. On the field, the five-time All-Star and 2020 National League MVP hasn’t skipped a beat in 10 games.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has complimented Freeman’s baserunning ability, and he has impressed with his glove work in the field. At the plate, Freeman is 13 for 40 (.325) with an .879 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’s become a crowd favorite in a short time.
“They’re chanting every time I come up to bat, and now I feel like I have to do something special every time,” Freeman joked.
Before rousing another home crowd Monday, Freeman spent much of his afternoon with the visiting team.
One of his first hugs was for Eddie Pérez. He and the Braves coach embraced on the field before Freeman ventured into the visiting dugout and clubhouse for more embraces.
He hugged players. He hugged coaches. He hugged Braves manager Brian Snitker. He hugged equipment guys. He hugged Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
“We have about 25 hugs and about four tears shed so far,” Freeman said an hour later.
A few guys said he looked skinny. He choked up during an interview with the Braves’ sideline reporter. He greeted more Braves with side hugs and full embraces while the team took batting practice. He posed for pictures with some.
“He’s a sensitive guy,” Snitker said. “That’s who he is. That’s why we love him.”
Moments before the game, Freeman was presented with his 2021 Silver Slugger Award. During the ceremony, his 5-year-old son, Charlie, spotted Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson across the field and scampered into his arms.
It was the first time Freeman and his family saw his former colleagues since the club’s World Series parade in November. Five months later, after the owner-imposed lockout shut off the hot stove for 99 days, the Braves moved on from the franchise pillar after 12 seasons. The divorce was messy.
Freeman, 32, claimed he was blindsided when the Braves acquired first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics on March 14 while he remained a free agent. The Braves signed Olson, a Georgia native four years younger than Freeman, to an eight-year, $168-million contract extension the next day. Anthopoulos fought back tears talking to reporters about his decision that afternoon.
In his first at-bat against his former team, Freddie Freeman hit a home run and helped power the Dodgers to a 7-4 win over the Atlanta Braves.
A day after that, Freeman agreed to a six-year, $162-million contract to join the club the Braves have met in three of the last four postseasons. He wore a suit and a smile to his introductory news conference, but he fumed underneath. When asked about Anthopoulos’ tears, he curtly disregarded them. Hard feelings simmered. Freeman didn’t believe the Braves treated him right. The Braves thought his representatives forced their hand.
A week later, the beef was squashed during a three-hour FaceTime call.
“That was the closure I needed,” Freeman said.
Anthopoulos traveled to Los Angeles just to see Freeman on Monday. They met up in the visiting dugout. Freeman said his first words for Anthopoulos were: “Hi, world champion.”
“When I walked into the dugout, it was a huge hug, and that’s what I wanted,” Freeman said. “And I think that’s what he wanted too. So obviously we’re on different sides now, but the friendship is strong.”
Anthopoulos hopped on a flight out of Los Angeles before first pitch. So, he wasn’t around when Freeman whacked the fastball from Ynoa to give the Dodgers a lead they didn’t give up.
The first baseman and front-office executive will see each other again in June when the Dodgers visit Atlanta for a three-game series. The Braves plan on giving Freeman his World Series ring at Truist Park that weekend. He knows he’ll be emotional. Monday was a preview.
“I just wanted to see them,” Freeman said, “and hug them.”
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