Before they face off: One more nod to Freddie Freeman, forever a Brave

Former Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) spent 12 seasons with the franchise, winning an MVP in 2020 and a World Series title in 2021.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Former Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) spent 12 seasons with the franchise, winning an MVP in 2020 and a World Series title in 2021.

The “Fre-ddie, Fre-ddie, Fre-ddie” chants that were once synonymous with Braves home games serenaded Freddie Freeman at his new home. Standing at second base with nothing but his thoughts, months of emotions seemed to hit Freeman at once.

In what became a pivotal eighth inning during the Dodgers’ home opener, Freeman opened the frame with a ground-rule double that bounced over the left-center wall. Dodger Stadium erupted for its new first baseman, adopting the two-syllable chant Atlanta once considered as integral to baseball as home runs and strike threes.

Standing amid the sea of blue, hearing his new fans’ embrace, it was the moment Freeman truly became a Dodger. A plainly emotional Freeman acknowledged the crowd of 52,995 with a wave, chest bump and helmet tip. His family was shown on the broadcast, cheering passionately from their suite.

Freeman’s hit sparked a six-run inning in a 9-3 victory over the Reds.

“It’s special when 50,000 people can create a moment that you’ll never forget,” said Freeman, an Orange County native who, through an unplanned development, found his way back home.

While Freeman was celebrated in Tinseltown, the Braves welcomed back their own native son. First baseman Matt Olson, Freeman’s All-Star replacement whom the Braves acquired from the A’s, played his first game in Atlanta since high school on opening day. In his first 10 games, Olson has hit .412 with two homers and seven runs scored.

Olson gets to play in front of his family. Freeman gets to play in front of his. It was a chaotic path to reach this conclusion, with both players engulfed in months of speculation and unknowns.

Now look through the lens where everything happens for a reason. It makes a bit more sense, doesn’t it?

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the Braves visit Los Angeles this week during the Dodgers’ first homestand. Come Monday, Max Fried and ‘The Night Shift’ will get their first crack at their former teammate.

Freeman has understandably grown tired of talking about his breakup with the Braves. It will be a storyline this week. It will be again in June when the Dodgers come to Atlanta and Freeman receives his World Series ring. The guess here is it’ll pop up in October, too.

Eventually, it won’t be so weird. That won’t be the case in the coming days. Freeman was a Brave for 12 years (in the system for 15). He was adored, staying patient through a complete rebuild and getting rewarded with four consecutive division titles, topped by the 2021 World Series championship.

“A lot of emotions are going to happen (when I face the Braves), but I love Braves country, the Braves organization, and always will,” Freeman told me March 27. “Twelve years with the Braves just doesn’t go away, you know? I’m always going to be part of the Braves.”

One can appreciate Freeman’s success and miss him as a team staple without disrespecting Olson, who’s already proven a snug fit and could one day be considered a franchise great as well. This is about what Freeman meant to the city for so long.

When I visited Freeman in Arizona last month, just over a week into his first Dodgers spring training, everything was still unfamiliar to him. He elaborated on his Braves departure, yet again, and explained his clear-the-air call with general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

It wasn’t an easy time for Freeman, who always felt he’d be a Brave for his entire career. You won’t find many guys not grinning ear to ear after landing $162 million to live in Los Angeles, but Freeman was still scarred by the Braves fallout.

He and his family, excited to have him home if not with the Braves, put on their own everything-happens-for-a-reason glasses.

“I thought my wife and I were as close as you can get after seven years of marriage, but these last few weeks, I don’t think you can get much closer than we have,” Freeman said. “There’s been a lot going on, things being said all over the place. But the one constant is my family. My wife and I have talked and shared a lot of tears together in the last couple of weeks. If there’s a good that came out of this, it’s the faith. We’re doing devotions every morning before I come to the yard. It’s been a lot for our family, but there’s a good that comes out of it that most people don’t see. But it’s happening in our house and it’s getting closer to (God) and getting closer to each other.

“That’s the beauty we’re finding in this. There are trials during life and it just makes you come closer to Him and (Freeman’s wife, Chelsea), so it’s been so wonderful in that aspect of it.”

If Freeman wasn’t returning to the Braves – that was his clear preference – the Dodgers presented the perfect Plan B. Freeman could get his deserving contract, play for a franchise he knows won’t dip into obscurity and be close to his family. Freeman still lived in Southern California in the offseason. Even as he experienced the uncomfortable and unfamiliar at Chavez Ravine, comfort and familiarity waited for him afterward.

A Dodgers uniform looks good on anybody. That doesn’t mean it looks right. It’s odd seeing Freeman in another jersey. He was on every Braves billboard. He was plastered on the walls in restaurants, bars, the airport, you name it. Freeman’s jersey was Atlanta’s top seller.

Freeman was an Atlanta ambassador. Never, when watching the Braves meet the Dodgers in the postseason three times since 2018, did anyone expect to see Freeman switch sides in this increasingly fascinating cross-country rivalry. Never did one think he’d flip a cursive “A” for the intersecting “LA.”

In today’s sports age, “forever” seems a fantasy. Hall of Fame-level players rarely spend their careers with one club, whether that’s the player’s or team’s choice. It’s business with emotions a cost. Freeman’s representation had contractual desires. The Braves proved unwilling to meet those parameters and pivoted.

That’s what brought us to stories like this. Freeman in Dave Roberts’ lineup rather than Brian Snitker’s, donning that darned Dodgers blue that one hates to love, hearing those “Fre-ddie” praises from fans who remember Andruw Jones as a free-agent mistake rather than an all-time magnificent defender.

Whatever happens during the course of Freeman’s six-year Dodgers deal, he’s forever a Brave. And who knows, maybe one day he’ll even find his way back (the National League has the designated hitter now, after all).

But his days as the face of the franchise are over. What’s Freeman’s ultimate legacy as a Brave?

“I haven’t really thought about it,” he told me. “I had talked about having my number retired, but I’m not there anymore so I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Twelve years, you know, I did do alright in those 12 years. So I don’t know what they have in store or what’s going to happen, but I accumulated some very nice things there and we won a championship together. So that’s my legacy. I was able to help bring Braves country a championship and that’s what I care about the most.”

So the Braves and Freeman move on. Thus far, both are finding plenty of reason to smile. Like any breakup, they’ll remember the good times. But the decorated past doesn’t affect the present: The Braves are trying to repeat, and Freeman’s Dodgers are the greatest obstacle in their path.

Get used to the Braves versus Freeman. That’s the new normal. The Braves and Dodgers feel destined to meet again this postseason. Maybe it’ll even feature Freeman against Kenley Jansen, a long-time Dodger turned Brave, with the game on the line. Doesn’t that sound like a blockbuster flick?

We’ll see the first trailer this week.