"My body was really, really hot. So I said, ‘Please don’t take me.’ I wasn’t ready. It got a little worrisome that night.”
On the evening of July 3, hours before Braves manager Brian Snitker would announce first baseman Freddie Freeman was among four players to test positive for COVID-19, Freeman was lying on his bed, drenched in sweat and praying for his life.
Earlier that day, Freeman had tested positive despite being negative on the intake test a couple days prior. And so while the Braves began preparing for the 60-game season, their most valuable player was ill and forbidden from entering the facility.
That night was what Freeman described as his worst while battling COVID-19. His fever exceeded 104. His body had never burned like it was.
“Friday night, that was the scariest night for me,” Freeman said. “I spiked to 104.5 fever. Thankfully, (Braves trainer) George (Poulis) wasn’t awake when I texted him because I probably would’ve gone to the hospital. But ten minutes after that, I gunned my forehead again and I was 103.8, then 103.2, then 103.6. So I was like, ‘If I go above 104 again, I’ll probably have to start ringing the phone and try to figure this out.
“I said a little prayer that night. I’ve never been that hot before. My body was really, really hot. So I said, ‘Please don’t take me.’ I wasn’t ready. It got a little worrisome that night.”
After taking NyQuil and Tylenol, Freeman finally fell asleep. His fever had decreased by the morning.
“I was scared if I spiked even higher when I was sleeping what would happen,” he said. “I woke up at 7 a.m. the next morning and I was 101.5, so I was like, ‘Whew. I can take the 101.’ Friday night was my worst night.”
Freeman’s fever continued lowering through the weekend. He was fever-free on July 6, though he didn’t regain a sense of taste and smell until days later. His wife and aunt had also tested positive but have recovered. Thursday, July 9 was Freeman’s final day feeling symptoms.
Credit: Atlanta Braves
“Come Thursday, a week after my first symptoms, I wasn’t feeling that great again,” he said. “I took a nap that day, and when I woke up from the nap, I told my wife Chelsea, ‘I feel absolutely great. Get me carbs though. I need carbs.’ So I ate some Italian food and I have felt perfectly fine since Thursday. Today (Saturday) is my ninth day with no symptoms.”
Friday morning around 9:15, Poulis called Freeman telling him he’d “hit a home run.” Freeman registered back-to-back negatives. He went to Emory and had several tests done. At 1 p.m., he was officially cleared. At 2 p.m., he was back at Truist Park working out.
It was an off day for the rest of the Braves – Freeman has had enough of those – though a few coaches came out to help Freeman. The first baseman hit, ran the bases and fielded grounders, admitted he felt some natural soreness afterwards.
But before Freeman retook the field for long-awaited baseball activities, his father FaceTimed him.
“He said Freddie you look really, really excited,” Freeman said. “I said, ‘Dad, I feel like I’m a kid in the candy store again.’ You forget sometimes how much you love this game. When it gets taken away from you, I really did truly miss it. I was so excited to come to the yard. I got to the field and there’s only a handful of people here because it was an off day, but it felt so amazing. Walking out of that dugout, I’m not quite sure what I said – I think someone said I said, ‘this is wonderful’ (he did). Just being here feels good. Sometimes you get into the every-day thing of just showing up to the field and playing the game and going home, you kind of treat it like a job, but this made me take a step back and realize how much I love this game and how much I miss it.”
The obvious question is whether Freeman will be ready for opening day, which comes July 24 – six days from Saturday – in New York. Freeman’s answer: He’s going to try. He expects to collect around 30 at-bats across the next five days. The Braves will have him hit third in every inning during their intrasquad games.
The Braves could also follow that formula in the two exhibition games against the Marlins on July 21-22. Freeman and Snitker expressed confidence he could be ready in time.
“We have the five days and I think he’ll be able to get a lot of at-bats,” Snitker said. “He can hit every inning if he wants. He’s out here, got a good workout here (Friday). Just ran the bases, got groundballs and everything. It’s good. Obviously, when you get your best player back it’s a positive thing.”
First and foremost, the Braves were relieved Freeman and his family have recovered. On the field, the Braves are thrilled to potentially have their All-Star first baseman not miss any regular-season games.
Freeman had almost resigned to the idea of missing time. He and Snitker said Saturday was essentially the deadline day. Had Freeman not reported, the team would’ve started preparing to be without their All-Star first baseman.
Instead, Freeman is back just in time to possibly face Jacob deGrom and the Mets after all.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Freeman said. “I still can’t believe I went back-to-back negatives. I can’t believe it. How much I’ve talked to people – J-Hey (former teammate Jason Heyward), their (Cubs') pitching coach was 30-something days until he got a negative. I’m so surprised, I’m still surprised I got a back-to-back negative.
“I’m not going to question it, but I feel great. I was running out of time. I’m still pushing the envelope here the next five days. Tomorrow I could wake up even more sore and I might not be able to get six at-bats. We just don’t know. But I think the adrenaline is going to take over. I’m so excited to be here. I feel great.”
Gabriel Burns is a general assignment reporter and features writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After four years on the Braves beat, he's expanded his horizons and covers all sports. You'll find him writing about MLB, NFL, NBA, college football and other Atlanta-centric happenings.