When last we saw Freddie Freeman, at the ballpark formerly known as SunTrust, he clearly wasn’t himself. While he refused to pin it on an elbow that had more loose bodies in it than the old Playboy mansion – and still won’t use the alibi to this day – Freeman clearly was affected.
He went 4-for-20 with just one extra-base hit, a double, in the lost five-game postseason series to St. Louis. The last month of the season wasn’t much better – .246 with but two homers. He grimly played on and would get more irritated than his elbow whenever the topic of the creaky hinge was raised by a surprisingly empathetic media.
Yeah, it was bad in there when the surgeon peeked inside four days after the loss to the Cardinals. Bone spurs and bits of hard detritus left little room for any kind of movement. It had gotten so that washing his hair became an exercise in pain tolerance. He’s good. But not swinging-a-bat-one-armed good.
When the doctor said he didn’t know how Freeman played with all that junk floating around, Freeman simply answered, “Well, Doc, I didn’t play very well.”
The first baseman was downright ebullient in a return this weekend to the park now named something entirely different and forgettable. Maybe he won’t tell you exactly when he’s not feeling right. But he sure will when he is. Plus, the big smile gives him away.
“I think (Freeman) is probably the most excited guy in the building for how good he feels,” manager Brian Snitker said Saturday during the Braves Chop Fest warm-up event. “I was talking to him the other day, he feels like a kid. He looks great. The fact that his elbow is pain-free for the first time in years, he’s really excited by where he is at physically.”
> Photos: Braves greet their fans at Chop Fest
“I’ve been doing everything, hitting and throwing with no pain, first time in nine years,” Freeman reported. “Usually I’m taking about four extra strength Tylenol when I’m hitting. I always thought it was just because I was getting used to hitting again. Come to find out there was a little more going on than that.”
There goes that pain-killer endorsement.
Bone spur pain is a capricious on-again, off-again thing. It flipped fully on last season in September, around the time Freeman turned 30, and decided to move in for a prolonged and inconvenient stay. Putting off surgery was no longer an option. At least when he went in for the clean-up four days after the close of the season, it took Freeman’s mind off that Game Five loss to St. Louis and the Cardinals’ infamous 10-run first inning. For that breakdown, there was no medical procedure.
Now Freeman is going into what should be the prime of an illustrious career without the uncertainty of when his elbow will start howling like a wolf at the moon. Got to believe that will make him even more dangerous.
“I feel great. One-hundred percent. Ready to roll,” he said. “Doc said I’m good for 500,000 more miles. I’m good for the long haul.”
It is with a clean elbow and a refreshed attitude that Freeman will report to spring training around Feb. 16. He’s beginning his 10th full season with the team and no Brave has stayed a truer course through losing or through consecutive division titles. And no player has lobbied harder for something more.
Last season’s final act was particularly bitter, the fifth-game blowout keeping the Braves winless in a playoff series since 2001. Then, standing by and watching a team the Braves had outplayed over the long season, the Washington Nationals, win a World Series was an extra added kidney punch.
“It’s a sour taste still,” Freeman said. “I know we had a really good team. Everyone knows we had a really good team.” The ultimate proof of that, however, was lacking.
A guy keenly aware of roster dynamics and the work of his GM Alex Anthopoulos, Freeman enters this season encouraged by the moves that muscled up the Braves bullpen and plugged Marcell Ozuna into the hole left by the departure of Josh Donaldson. He seems more than satisfied about the commitment to winning.
“When you look at our team it’s actually a pretty complete team. Everyone the last couple years could say you have this area or that area (that’s a weakness). When you look at it, our bullpen is strong, our starting pitching is strong and our lineup is strong. That excites me. Alex has been busy this offseason. I think he spent a lot more money than people were expecting. It’s exciting to see we’re going for it.”
“We have a great team. We have a great chance to win the World Series this year.”
Baseball isn’t like a deli counter, you don’t take a number and await your turn to be served. There’s nothing so remotely fair about baseball.
Still, Freeman says, “It’s our turn. We have a really, really good team again. So, it’s our time to take another step.”
Thus, do we have the rough draft of the rallying cry for 2020, authored by the repaired Braves leader here 10 weeks before the first real pitch.
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