Braves play Friday, cite importance of Jackie Robinson Day

Over the past two days, multiple sporting events, including MLB games, were postponed in protest of racial injustice following the Jacob Blake shooting by police in Wisconsin.

Because of their schedule, the Braves weren’t among the clubs who postponed games. After a team meeting Friday, first baseman Freddie Freeman announced the Braves and Phillies planned to play their series opener later in the evening on MLB’s rescheduled Jackie Robinson Day.

Freeman issued a statement to reporters, saying he held the meeting after speaking with pitcher Touki Toussaint, who is of Haitian and Kenyan descent.

“I just held a meeting with our team after speaking with Touki last night,” Freeman said. “Touki brought The Players Alliance and what they’ve put out in the last couple days to my attention, even though I had seen it. I wanted to bring it to the whole team. That’s what I did just now. The Players Alliance is doing an amazing job. They’ve donated their salaries the last couple days. As a team, I put it out there and we’re going to put it in an email for everyone with their statement, and if you feel compelled to donate, you can do that.

“That’s where we are. As for playing (Thursday, when the team was off), we probably would not have. Just to be in solidarity with everything that’s going on. Today, we are playing. I spoke to (Phillies outfielder) Bryce (Harper) earlier today. It’s Jackie Robinson Day. This is a big day for baseball. Not only baseball, but our nation. What he meant to so many people. It’s going to be a big day for us to put ’42′ on our back with everything going on. So the Atlanta Braves are going to be playing tonight.”

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Freeman said each teammate has the option of donating their game check to The Players Alliance, which is an organization of “more than 100 black current and former professional baseball players, united to use our collective voice and platform to create increased opportunities for the black community in every aspect of our game and beyond,” according to its website.

“They’re doing an amazing job right now,” Freeman said. “I just wanted to make our full team aware of what they’re doing and the amazing work. It’s not mandatory to donate your salaries, but we have opened it up. The Players Alliance is doing game checks from the 27th and 28th. … It was a full travel roster meeting we just had. Everyone is aware of it and that’s the personal decision if they’d like to donate or not.”

The Milwaukee Bucks became the first team to boycott a game on Wednesday, when they decided against facing the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of their first-round playoff matchup in the NBA’s bubble at Disney World. The rest of the NBA followed suit, as did other sports leagues in the hours and days following.

When the Bucks made their decision, the Braves were in the middle of a doubleheader against the Yankees. They were off Thursday before opening a series in Philadelphia on Friday. The Phillies didn’t face the Nationals in their series finale on Thursday.

On a personal note, Freeman said he’s always trying to educate himself on racial injustices in America. He revealed that four-to-six weeks before opening day, he, Toussaint, third base coach Ron Washington, first base coach DeMarlo Hale, manager Brian Snitker and player representative and catcher Tyler Flowers had a serious two-hour conversation about the subject.

Around the same time, Freeman reached out to close friend, former teammate and current Cub Jason Heyward. Freeman FaceTime’d him and said, “Jason, it’s time to have a talk. I need some help. I want to learn.”

“I called him before opening day, it was about kneeling (during the anthem) and all that stuff,” Freeman said. “Talking to him, he’s so knowledgeable, so smart, so level-headed. That was one of my toughest conversations. Just starting that conversation. It’s uncomfortable, it really is. But when you have such a respect for someone, you just want to learn. ... He was so, so informative for me.”

Knowing the importance of dialogue, Freeman listened to and learned from Toussaint on Thursday night. It was a phone call since Toussaint isn’t currently on the 26-man roster. He’s stationed at the alternate training site in Gwinnett.

“That’s what it’s all about, opening up the conversations,” Freeman said. “It’s been very eye-opening, not only for me, but for a lot of people. Touki is very, very passionate about The Players Alliance and what they’re doing and what’s going on in the world. When he comes to me about something, I’m all for it. I told him I love him, I support him and I’ll raise awareness as much as I can.

“Right when I saw Touki Toussaint pop up on my phone, I immediately got to it and heard what he had to say. It’s amazing that he’s such an amazing young man who’s stepping up like this. The least I can do is help him bring awareness to what’s going on. … When they come to me like Touki did last night, all I can do is raise awareness, listen, take a step back and hope we can become better.”

Notes from Friday:

- Second baseman Ozzie Albies is still working his way back from a bone bruise in his left wrist. Snitker said he’s progressing well, but Albies isn’t expected to join the team during the six-game road trip in Philadelphia and Boston, which began Friday.

“He’ll have another week to get strong and get himself going,” Snitker said. “This week will be a big determinant in getting him back.”

- The Braves haven’t announced their Sunday starter yet. “It will depend on how we get there,” Snitker said, which indicates it will be another bullpen game.

- About starters, left-hander Cole Hamels has been throwing side sessions and “feels good,” Snitker said. The Braves signed Hamels to a one-year deal last winter, but injuries have prevented him from pitching this season.

The Braves believe Hamels could return in September, perhaps making a couple regular-season starts before the postseason. His outings would be brief to build up his innings.

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