Column: Dry eyes and renewed focus — Freddie Freeman is finally a Dodger
He wasn’t unhinged. He wasn’t unstable. He didn’t cry.
A day after being a last-minute addition to the National League All-Star team, the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman held a 51-minute conversation with the media Monday that was notable for what didn’t happen.
He didn’t yell at anyone. He didn’t fire an agent. He didn’t profess love for another team.
After four crazy months, the dude actually seemed pretty chill.
“I’m really happy here,” he said, and for the first time that sounded believable.
Gone were the tears that irritated some of his teammates when he cried and cried over leaving Atlanta. Gone was the anger directed at those who reasonably wondered whether those tears were real or he was simply bawling to avoid getting booed.
In a letter to Major League Baseball, the Senate Judiciary Committee asks Commissioner Rob Manfred why the league should be exempt from antitrust law.
Gone was the feeling that he considered the Dodgers to be, as Clayton Kershaw put it, “second fiddle.” Gone was the notion that he regretted his obvious $162-million money grab and just wanted to return to a Waffle House.
Freeman seemed settled. He seemed satisfied. Whatever happened in his sudden and strange departure from the Braves, he seemed like somebody who had finally found a Dodgers uniform that fit.
The only time his voice even faintly thickened, in fact, was when he talked about how much he appreciated the Dodgers. A month ago, that would have sounded fake. But as the beneficiary of continual support through the lingering storms, his gratitude felt genuine.
“I’m so happy to be here, because, man, these guys helped me so much,” he said of his Dodgers teammates. “It’s emotional because I’ve gone through a lot … and these guys in this clubhouse, man, they’ve surrounded me, the fan base has surrounded me, it’s been just a special start to, I think, a wonderful Dodger career.”
Emphasis on special. Emphasis on start.
Just wondering, but is it possible that he hasn’t been a disingenuous guy torturing the truth but simply a distressed guy fighting with regret? If so, is it possible he has finally conquered that fight?
“I got the closure in Atlanta,” he said of the Dodgers’ series there in late June in which he finally received the championship ring from an organization with which he had spent his entire 12-year major league career. “It was like a two-ton boulder off the shoulders. I sent the guys a message, talked to them all, thanked them for sticking with me and helping me get through the closure. Once I got that closure, things have taken off.”
He also thanked Dodgers fans for sticking with him, chanting his first name from the moment he arrived at Camelback Ranch in the spring, and continuing to greet him with roars that will surely accompany his appearance at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night. The loudest cheers will be for Kershaw, but “Fred-die, Fred-die” will be a close second.
The Dodgers and Angels have made it to the midway of the season and find themselves in two completely opposite paths.
“I think the fans knew I needed the love to get me through it,” he said. “Anybody who has been on a job for a long time and goes to a new job, it’s difficult, and what the Dodgers and the Dodgers’ fan base has done for me and my family … that’s why I’ve been able to compartmentalize. … Once I get to the field, it’s been great. ... [The] guys in the clubhouse, they’re a special group. Just happy to be part of it.”
He’s compartmentalized, all right. And yeah, he’s playing like he’s pretty darn happy.
He comes into the All-Star Game as the best player on the NL’s best team and one of the hottest hitters in recent history.
He entered the All-Star break with 16 hits in his last 24 at-bats — that’s not a misprint — while leading the league in hits and ranking in the top 10 in batting average and on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
He should have been an original All-Star selection, but he made the team only when the New York Mets’ Starling Marte withdrew because of a nagging groin injury. It was such a last-minute decision, Freeman was playing on the beach with his children outside his Orange County coastal home late Sunday afternoon and nearly missed the call.
He only went inside and saw because he had to use the bathroom. Once there, he noticed Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman had called him.
“I was in a sombrero, playing with my kids skipping rocks in the ocean, changing dirty diapers,” he said. “It was a whirlwind. It fit perfectly for 2022.”
Let’s see … quick spring signing after the lockout … tears when the Braves visit Dodger Stadium … tears when the Dodgers visit the Braves … Freeman suddenly fires his longtime agency .. everyone begins wondering, were negotiations really botched or did the Braves just prefer the 28-year-old Matt Olson to the 32-year-old Freeman?
Through it all, the only thing beyond debate was that the guy could hit and field and smartly run the bases. The only thing everyone in the room seemed to agree upon was that this guy could be the difference.
“It’s been a heck of a ride these first four months,” he acknowledged, and, man, he’s good at handling the turbulence. “It’s not that hard to me. It‘s just outside noise. I don’t really have social media, so I don’t see what’s going on. I know there’s a lot of things going on, but I feel good, I feel great where I am. … I’m having a blast. … Things are kind of falling into place the last couple of weeks, and it’s showing on the field.”
It’s also showing in little glimpses of a personality that even the most hardened Dodgers fans could find charming. Who knows, they might end up liking him for more than just his bat.
A reporter absurdly asked him Monday to name his favorite Disney movie song, but instead of scoffing at the question, he quickly had an answer.
The MLB All-Star Game returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time since 1980 on Tuesday. Here’s our coverage:
“We just watched ‘Encanto’ so … ‘[We Don’t Talk About] Bruno,’ ” he said. “Yeah, ‘Bruno.’ ”
Another inquiring mind asked about what he would drink on his last meal on Earth. He quickly referenced his mother Rosemary, who died when he was 10.
“I’m having a Dr. Pepper, my mom’s favorite drink,” he said. “If I’m going to see her, I’m going to pick a Dr. Pepper.”
Then there’s Charlie, his 5-year-old son who was playing video games in the clubhouse Monday and was thrilled that his father would now be on the All-Star team in a future video game version of “MLB: The Show.”
“When I told my son that I was going to be an All Star, that’s what makes it so special for me,” he said. “I wish I just could recreate that face. That’s a face I’ll never forget.”
Sweet stuff, but, oh yeah, about all those tears …
“I can’t control that, I’m a Freeman,” he said, shrugging. “We like to cry.”
For now, though, the eyes seem dry, the vision clear, the focus unmistakable, the truth as plain as a line drive to right.
Freddie Freeman is finally a Dodger.
Are you a true-blue fan?
Get our Dodgers Dugout newsletter for insights, news and much more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.