Freddie Freeman strolled into the press conference room at Truist Park, took a glance at the media – many of whom covered the bulk of his Braves career – and turned right around. “Give me a moment,” he said, exiting the area.

Freeman briefly delayed his welcome-back media meeting. He was overcome with 15 years of memories and emotions, needing to collect himself before talking with reporters and communicating with fans. In just a few hours, Freeman would face the Braves in Atlanta as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I don’t even know if I can get through this,” Freeman said, sniffling and wiping tears from his eyes before fielding questions. “I’ll try.”

For the next 15 minutes, Freeman tried to push through his quivering voice and runny eyes to convey what the Braves mean to him.

“I was doing pretty good about an hour ago,” Freeman said, wiping tears off his face. “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.”

After a pause, Freeman continued: “I love the Braves organization with all my heart. That will never change.”

Since he and the Braves parted ways, a reality Freeman still struggles to comprehend, he’s looked forward to Friday. He faced the Braves in Los Angeles during an April series, but that wasn’t the same. This time, he faced his old organization in his forever home away from home.

The Braves drafted Freeman in the second round of the 2007 MLB draft. Then 17 years and eight months old, Freeman began adult life within the organization. The Southern California native suddenly had Atlanta as the destination of his minor-league daydreams.

As Freeman spent those summers tucked away in Rome, Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, Atlanta was the reminder of what could be. Eventually, it was the place his imaginations became real.

Freeman made his MLB debut Sept. 1, 2010, at Turner Field, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Six years later, Freeman started the final game at Turner Field, going 0-for-3 with an RBI. He started the first game at SunTrust Park – he had two hits in that one – and after it was renamed Truist Park ahead of the 2020 campaign, he started the first game there, too, collecting four hits.

During Freeman’s early time in Atlanta, he discovered a much greater purpose than baseball. He met his wife Chelsea. The two married in 2014 and now have three sons. Freeman’s family is his everything, giving him reason to smile no matter what happened at the ballpark.

Freddie Freeman as a Braves rookie. AJC file photo

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

In his 12-year Atlanta tenure, he was teammates with Chipper Jones (2010-12) and Ronald Acuna (2018-2021). He had plenty of more forgettable teammates, too, as he waited through the team’s major rebuild that was initiated two years following Jones’ departure and essentially concluded with Acuna’s arrival.

For over a decade, Freeman was the Braves’ headliner. He was the era’s Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, John Smoltz, Jones. When the Braves came up, Freeman’s name shortly followed. He was a five-time All-Star. He won three Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. He won National League MVP in 2020, a season which began with him fearing for his life while battling COVID-19.

Last winter, Freeman checked off what he considered the last empty box on his career achievement list. His Braves won the World Series, defeating the Astros in six games. In his final at-bat, he homered. That would be his last highlight as a Brave.

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman celebrates with a chop going around third base after he hit a solo home run during the seventh inning against the Houston Astros in game 6 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday, November 2, 2021, in Houston, Tx. Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

He received his World Series ring Friday in a pregame on-field ceremony. After a tribute video, manager Brian Snitker presented Freeman with his ring on the mound. Freeman, whose family was on the field, addressed the fans afterwards. He cried again as he thanked fans for what they’ve meant to him and his family. Freeman told the crowd it was one of the hardest days of his life, but also one of the most amazing.

“That World Series ring is more than a ring,” he said earlier in the day. “When you’re a kid, all you dream about is making it to the big leagues. That’s everybody’s dream. Then you get to the big leagues and you just want to stay. Then if you’re lucky and blessed enough to stay, your whole mindset changes. And all you want to do is win. No kid thinks about a World Series, they just think ‘I want to be in the big leagues.’ When you get here, and you put on that Braves jersey (Freeman stuttered, fighting off tears) – I say 14-1/2 years because I had to put on a Pelicans jersey for half a year – the only thing that matters is winning.

“We went through a lot of ups and downs in 12 years. We reached the pinnacle last year, winning it all. That ring is just not a ring to me. It’s all the sacrifices, all the missed family time, all the hours, the broken wrists, the 14-hour bus rides in the minor leagues, the 4 a.m. getting into hotels, the grind every single year to finally win.

“There’s no better feeling in the sport. And to do it with Snit, Walt (Weiss), Eric (Young), Sal (Fasano), Rick Kranitz, Alex (Anthopoulos), Terry (McGuirk), all those guys in uniform who are still in that clubhouse, and those who aren’t. There’s nothing better. That’s what I’ll be thinking when I get that ring tonight.”

From 17 years and eight months old to 32 years and one month old, Freeman poured his soul into the Braves organization and Atlanta community. But just as Atlanta was once a reminder of what could be, it’s now a reminder of what never will be. Freeman, despite securing the ring he received Friday evening, missed one more box on his career checklist, one he never thought he’d even need to consider: Spend my life with one team.

Freeman was an opponent at Truist Park, an adversary of the city that he adores - even if it didn’t look that way as he spent hours before the game signing autographs and taking pictures with fans on the field. Those 42,105 fans in attendance cheered him before the contest, chanting his name while he received his ring. The crowd applauded him again as he stepped into the box to face Ian Anderson during the first inning, giving him a one-minute ovation. Freeman drew a five-pitch walk and later scored. He reached base three times in the Dodgers’ 4-1 win after expressing doubt before the game that he’d play well.

“I couldn’t feel my legs for a few innings, to be honest with you,” Freeman said after the game. “The best thing that happened was walking in that first at-bat. Long day. I haven’t eaten since 1 p.m. I’m exhausted, emotionally exhausted. But what a wonderful, wonderful evening that was for my family and I.”

The truth amongst the emotions: When the first pitch was thrown, the fans didn’t want Freeman launching opposite-field shots or going Mr. Fantastic at first base. They wanted to see their Braves, the defending champs largely thanks to Freeman, knock out his new team, one that was for so long a roadblock in Freeman and the Braves’ grandest quest.

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman signs autographs for fans during batting practice.    “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

This isn’t what Freeman wanted. He was devastated that a winter of miscommunication and lack of communication produced the one unacceptable result. Tears were shed. Words were said. Apologies were issued. Eventually, dust settled. There’s no going back to what once was.

“A lot of people I’ve spoken with one-on-one know exactly what happened (with my departure),” Freeman said after the game. “I know a lot of people don’t know exactly what happened. I’m not going to be one to put it in quotes in the media. I’m just not here to do that PR stuff. I talked to the people I needed to talk to after everything went down. My wife and I are at peace. If you think about the past, it’s only going to affect your present and future. That’s what we have settled on. You can’t change anything that’s happened. All you can do is learn from your experiences and I’ve definitely learned a lot. I think some of you (reporters) know exactly what I’m talking about. So I’m just not going to be the one to be in quotes saying anything I need to say right now. I’m trying to move on.”

But this weekend, it was OK to dip into the past. Freeman celebrated all that entailed in his cherished home away from home, the one where he may never grow accustomed to being a visiting player.

“This is where I walked in every single day,” Freeman said of Truist Park. “I saw you guys every single day. I drove in today and I saw 14 Freeman jerseys. I never took that for granted. I think I’m crying so much because some of you know all of that, what happened, so it’s hard. I don’t know if there’s going to be any compartmentalizing anything about (Friday), even (Saturday) and on Sunday because tomorrow’s crowd is going to be a different crowd. ... But I’m hoping it’s Monday soon. Gosh, this is a lot harder than I thought.”

Freddie Freeman (center) and Max Muncy celebrate a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in a MLB baseball game on Friday, June 24, 2022, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@