Even after split, Freeman and Braves maintain strong relationship

LOS ANGELES – A day or so before last year’s trade deadline, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos called his star player.

Freddie Freeman, who had just returned home from a road trip, was in bed with his son, Charlie. “He’s exhausted,” Anthopoulos said. So the GM offered to call the next day.

“No, no, no,” Freeman told him, as Anthopoulos recalled by phone Monday.

And they stayed up and talked for about an hour because Anthopoulos, as he had many times before, wanted Freeman’s input. As he always did, Freeman helped as much as he could. This moment, while one of many, is symbolic of the relationship they built over four years together.

“He was supportive of me all the time,” Anthopoulos said.

Much has occurred since then. Freeman is wearing Dodger blue and not navy blue. He is the star first baseman for one of the Braves’ top National League foes. But even if so much is different, so much is still the same. Freeman and the Braves’ relationship persists, and it hasn’t taken a hit.

In spring training – after the Braves and Freeman separated, after Freeman’s emotional introductory press conference with Los Angeles reporters, after the dust had settled on that entire situation – Freeman and Anthopoulos talked on FaceTime for over two hours. They spoke about a lot.

“That the relationship was good,” Freeman said on Monday in the Dodgers’ dugout when asked what he took away from their conversation in March.

He later added: “He said his side and I listened. And that was the closure I needed. Now it’s just happiness in seeing him and friendship because we spent so much time together over the last four years trying to win a World Series and we were able to accomplish that. It was just good to see him.”

The biggest lesson learned as Freeman faces his old team might be this: There is no animosity between Freeman and the Braves. He greeted Anthopoulos and manager Brian Snitker, and spoke with his old teammates. When talking to reporters in the dugout, Freeman estimated, “we have about 25 hugs and about four tears shed so far.” He said there was a “choke up moment” between him and Anthopoulos.

The emotions ran high when the Braves arrived at Dodger Stadium for the first of three games.

And while some on the outside think there may be some strain in Freeman’s relationship with the Braves because of how their split occurred, those inside the situation never expected any tension.

“As far as I was concerned, everything was amicable the whole way,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s going to be a friend for life. I’m going to be grateful to him for what he did – for me, for my family, for the organization – forever. We’re going to be tied forever because of the championship we won together.”

Added Freeman: “I don’t know if any of us are really looking for closure. It’s like, I had a great 12 years. I’m not trying to close anything. I’m just trying to move on obviously. But I had so many great memories with the Braves and with those guys over there. It’s always going to be there I think over the course of the next six years.”

In his first at-bat against his former team, Freeman homered off right-hander Huascar Ynoa.

“There’s no storylines for anything like this,” Freeman told reporters after the game. “There’s no poetic justice or anything like that. I love the Atlanta Braves, I always will love the Atlanta Braves. I’m just glad I could help the Dodgers win a game tonight.”

Before the series opener, Freeman said he expected a pink sword to fly his way from Guillermo Heredia when he reached first base. He hoped Clayton Kershaw, Monday’s Dodgers starter, would be perfect against the Braves. He hoped to go 4-for-4 against his old team. But both sides exchanged kind words about the other, and Snitker and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer presented Freeman with his Silver Slugger Award before Monday’s game.

Freeman and the Braves are on-field enemies, but off-field friends. That won’t change because of what they experienced together.

“We all went through a lot with him,” Snitker said. “Some really good experiences and great things that will be a part of all of us forever. Freddie’s a good friend to all those guys and myself.

Freeman’s departure picked up steam after his introductory press conference with the Dodgers. He said the Braves hardly communicated with his side. Asked about Anthopoulos getting choked up when discussing moving on from Freeman in a scrum with Braves reporters, Freeman merely said, “I saw (the tears). That’s all I’ll say.”

Anthopoulos said it was good for him and Freeman to talk after everything occurred, “especially for him to have questions and be able to get the answers that he wanted.” It seems like the two cleared the air during that FaceTime call.

Of the introductory press conference comments, Anthopoulos on Monday said: “It was an emotional reaction, which happens. There’s nothing wrong with that. To me, if you have a true friendship and a true relationship, one moment’s not going to impact that, right? Someone’s built up so much equity with you and I understand, too, that it’s emotional. It’s emotional. It’s emotional for me. I didn’t plan on that. Trust me, last thing I wanted to do.”

When Freeman greeted Anthopoulos on Monday, the first baseman said: “Hi, world champion.”

“It was good to see him, give him a hug,” Anthopoulos said. “Was it awkward with what he was wearing? Sure, strange to see him wearing that. But was it good to see his face and his smile? Absolutely.”