Tears welled up before he said a word.
Freddie Freeman knew he would be emotional this week when he returned to Atlanta for the first time as a guest player.
He knew his feelings would still linger after he and his beloved former club failed to reach a new contract last season, paving the way for the 2020 Premier League’s most valuable player to sign with the Dodgers instead. bike.
” re bigire. .
He put his hands on his head and briefly walked out of the room, gathering himself in a hallway near his old club.
“Give me some time,” he sighed as he stepped outside.
He picked up a towel when he returned a minute later, wiping away his tears while holding his eye to the side, for fear of standing in front of his eye would cause another failure.
“I do not know if I can pass this,” he said, his voice broken. “Okay, I’ll try.”
Then, for another 15 minutes, Freeman tried to gather his feelings and express his thoughts – with a mixture of gratitude, appreciation and love for the franchise he played for 12 years but at the same time sadness and heartbreak because they were no longer part of it. her. .
“People, I wholeheartedly love the Braves organization,” Freeman said. “It will never change.”
The love festival continued throughout the Dodgers’ success at the Braves in Truist Park.
Trea Turner hit three, Justin Turner hit two runs and Julio Urías hit six strong rebounds, leaving only one run when he scored 94 high-season goals, but that was Freeman’s performance – two runs, one shot and two runs – the one that shone the brightest.
“I could not feel a few feet, to be honest with you,” Freeman later said. “I tried to imagine what tonight would be like, and it exceeded my expectations. It was just a special and special night.”
As of Friday afternoon’s press conference, Freeman said he was keeping his emotions under control since the Dodgers arrived in Atlanta the night before.
She and her family returned to live in their old home, which they still own.
They went to breakfast early in the morning at their favorite place, Cupanion’s, where Freeman said everyone was standing in the restaurant and clapping as they walked in the door. (Ironically, he added that they still have “Freddie omelette” on the menu.)
After cutting his hair from his old barber, he appeared in the dance park and counted 14 people who wore his old shirt outside – something, he said, he “never did in his ten years with the Braves.” she did not see it. “
But as the first field approached, emotions began to wane.
He had prepared all season for this reunion. He still could not overcome himself.
“I think you can tell how much I really love this organization,” he said. “I also don’t know how I’m going to spend this weekend, really.”
This was a situation Freeman never expected – as a return visit to a place that, although growing up in southern California, was his home.
Freeman was only 17 when he was fired by the Braves in 2007. He had just finished high school in Orange County. He knew little about the franchise, or the city in which he played.
“You are happy that you are being elected, no matter by whom,” he said last week, the idea of his imminent return to Atlanta already running through his mind. “You just want the opportunity.”
It came soon. In 2010, Freeman made his first major league debut in 20 years. The following year, he began running for decades as the Braves ’first daily base.
He started living full-time in Atlanta in 2011, initially as a way to work with more experienced teammates such as Dan Uggla and Brian McCann during the season but eventually because he is in the place where he felt he was.
Initially, he was a second star on the team, emerging as a heartbroken star-caliber star to help the club play in 2012 and 2013, but also behind in a supporting leadership role. also serves local icons such as Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson. .
That changed in 2014. Freeman signed an eight-year extension that strengthened it as a franchise center. And during the club’s rebuilding in the next half decade, it was one of the few bright spots of a lost team – but still locally loved -.
Jeff Francoeur, a former partner of Freeman Braves and Bally Sports South publisher, said: “I think the audience really understands that, three or four years ago they were scary, but he still played great, he played hard.” “The Braves have always been kings in Atlanta … so Freddie, he took that role of city.”
The city also started in him.
There he started a family, married in 2014 to his wife Chelsea, who now has three children.
It is his eldest son, Charlie, who played T-ball for the first time, joined a team that included Uggla’s son and was led by a former All-Star contestant.
That is, he became involved in the community, as part of his charitable work with Atlanta Children’s Hospital.
The rumor is that some of his other family members were also displaced, including his sister, his sister and older brother Andrew, a banker who moved to the area in 2020 with his wife and two children.
“It’s amazing when you’re driving around and you’re looking at your brother on the billboard,” Andrew said in a phone call with Ken this week. “It was kind of surreal.”
And like everyone else in his family, in the city and throughout baseball, Andrew believed that Freeman would spend the rest of his career with Braves, unable to imagine that his brother had ever worn a different uniform.
“Atlanta was part of Freddie,” Andrew said. “His whole identity was Atlanta.”
The last time Freeman visited Truist Park before Friday was one of the proudest moments of his career.
At the end of the team’s World Cup championship – a title that also included a Dodgers defeat in the National League Championship Series – the Braves held a rally inside Truist Park.
And even though a few days had passed since he reached the World Series final, Freeman was still dumb.
“Today, it hit me,” he said that afternoon. “We are always world champions.”
However, his time with the Braves was coming to an end.
Throughout the year, Freeman’s termination agreement remained in the future.
When negotiations began during the season between his agents and the team – a controversial process reportedly an ultimatum from Freeman agents, the lack of direct contact between Braves brass and Freeman, and the potential suspension of the contract in the sixth year. – fell off. a wall.
Finally, in the first week of spring training, everything came to a head, with the Braves looking for another base, Matt Olson, just days before Freeman decided to sign a six-year, $ 162 million deal with the Dodgers. sign dollars, did.
Asked Friday if he regretted how his time in Atlanta ended, Freeman’s voice was sharp. His tears stopped briefly.
“There is nothing closed for me here. Why would I take such a special moment?”
– Freddie Freeman, the first Dodgers base, on his return to Atlanta
“I think the question of remorse is a different side of the story than I am – I’m not here to talk about it,” he said. “If I get into it, we will be here for a long time.”
And what about the need for closure?
“I have nothing to take here,” he said. “Why would I take such a special moment?
Indeed, despite his unfortunate ending with the Braves, Freeman’s love of the club, of the city and of the spectator base, he proudly admits that as it stretches across the South, it has clearly not disappeared.
After he left the media room – embracing all the staff, reporters and other familiar faces he knew from the brain – he was quickly greeted by a large crowd as he stepped out to practice beating.
He signed an autograph to the audience up to an hour before the game, then burst into tears again when a tableau video was played before the first stage.
He received his World Series ring at a future ceremony from his former manager, Brian Snitker, a longtime Braves coach whom Freeman promised to lead in 2016.
He then addressed the crowd on the PA system, his voice echoing amidst the cheers of the spectators at a sold-out stadium that still considered him his own.
“I know I wore a different uniform, but I still love each and every one of you,” he said. “This is one of the hardest days of my life but one of the most amazing days of my life.”