ATLANTA, GA – JUNE 24: Freddie Freeman #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers gets emotional as he is … [+] introduced to the crowd prior to the game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on June 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
So, um . . .
There is crying in baseball.
“I don’t even know if I can get through this. I’ll try,” Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said Friday afternoon, turning into a sobbing mess around a back room of Truist Park in Atlanta.
Tears flow when you’re Freeman, and you’re the designated star during your three-game homecoming in your former city of 12 Major League seasons. That included 2021 featuring a World Series trophy with many of your fingerprints.
Then again, regarding Freeman’s wet eyes, it’s possible (but not likely) he sauntered into his pre-game press conference Friday suffering from the Georgia dogwoods and azaleas that regularly cause allergies to flare up.
Or it’s possible (and likely) Freeman was bawling like crazy since he realized the Braves didn’t want him.
“Give me a second. Hold on,” Freeman said, wearing his Dodgers warmup jersey as he covered his face while rushing out the door. Moments earlier, he crept toward the stage in the packed room of mostly media folks who report on the Braves — you know, the same team in which he was the face of the franchise.
Freeman’s five All-Star Game trips, three Silver Slugger awards, Gold Glove and 2020 National League Most Valuable Player honors contributed to the Braves’ ability to move from downtown Atlanta after the 2016 season into The Battery, their $1.1 billion stretch of property that includes everything from restaurants, apartments and bars to office buildings, shops and Truist Park.
Then Freeman and the Braves had a nasty breakup, but only from Freeman’s standpoint. For instance: According to the naive, Freeman and his agent played a game of chicken after last season with Braves management during salary negotiations, and Team Freeman didn’t win.
According to the truth, Braves management wanted Freeman to sign with the Dodgers, the Yankees, the Angels or anywhere but Atlanta since they preferred to give younger free-agent first baseman Matt Olson (28 to Freeman’s 32) an eight-year contract worth $168 million.
Freeman wasn’t pleased with Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos in particular, and he said as much through clenched teeth during his first Dodgers press conference in spring training. He apologized later, but he suggested again Friday that he continued to fume over the refusal of Braves management to negotiate with him and his agent through last season and afterward.
Which means Freeman can’t take the hint: Given the length of those non-negotiations with Team Freeman, Braves officials didn’t want him. They wanted Olson or somebody not named Freddie Freeman.
Or maybe Freeman can take the hint: Maybe he was crying, because he knew the Braves didn’t want him.
What everybody knew Friday was that Freeman returned to the city he claimed he never wanted to leave as a Major League player. So, after he continued the daily routine he had with the Braves of ordering a (ahem) Freddie Omelette for lunch at Cupanion’s Kitchen & Coffee near his Atlanta home, he began evolving into a crying machine of 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds.
“I was doing pretty good about an hour ago,” Freeman said, wiping his face with a towel getting soggier by the moment during his press conference. “I’m just happy to be back. This organization, the people, the media people who’ve covered my family with grace and love over the last 12 years, it’s hard. The fans. I was 20 years old, some saw me when I was 17 in the Gulf Coast League. Rome, Georgia. Myrtle Beach and Pearl, Mississippi in 2009. Everyone helped me be who I am today.”
ATLANTA, GA – JUNE 24: Freddie Freeman #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is given his 2021 World Series … [+] Champion ring by Manager Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves prior to the game at Truist Park on June 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
It got more emotional for Freeman about 15 minutes before the first pitch. Following a video of his highlights with the Braves on the stadium’s big screen, his former team held a miniature 2021 World Series ring ceremony for the guy they made the 78th pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft.
The standing ovation was loud and long.
They chanted “Freddie, Freddie, Freddie.”
After Braves manager Brian Snitker handed Freeman his ring around the pitcher’s mound, Freeman thanked the sellout crowd. “It’s been hard day. Very emotional,” he said. “Help me get through it, and help my family get through it, too. It’s going to be hard, but we love you guys, and we always will.”
Well, it wasn’t that hard for Freeman. While batting second, here’s what happened during his five plate appearances:
- First inning. The cheering lasted a while, and so did another standing ovation. Braves pitcher Ian Anderson left the mound to allow Freeman to acknowledge fans in every direction with either a wave, a nod or both. He walked.
- Second inning. Freeman heard mostly polite clapping when he moved to the plate. He struck out. The crowd roared.
- Fifth inning. Booooo, and that anti-Freeman sound was everywhere after his name was announced. He walked.
- Sixth inning. Freddie who? There was little response throughout the stadium, and there was even less after he singled.
- Ninth inning. With the Braves trailing 4-1, along the way to losing by that score, Freeman was met with low-level boos as he led off the top of the inning. He grounded out to low-level applause.
Just like that, Freeman went from a favorite son around Atlanta to just another guy on the hated Dodgers, the Braves’ opponent during each of the past two seasons in the NL Championship Series.
Which means Braves fans had their own tears Friday.
Not over Freeman.
See the final score.