CAMELBACK RANCH, Ariz. — This wasn’t how Freddie Freeman envisioned his spring playing out, much less the rest of his career.
The All-Star first baseman isn’t in North Port, Fla., with the franchise he’s so proudly represented for over a decade. He won’t be one of those few individuals who spent their entire career with one team. The Braves are his past; the Dodgers are his present.
This is Freeman’s first spring training in Arizona. It’s his first spring training outside the Braves organization, where he spent 15 years. There are some familiar faces – Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw, many others whom his Braves competed against for years – but many unfamiliar ones. Freeman is trying to meet three new people a day as he settles into Dodger blue. He’s growing more comfortable each day.
“I walked into (the spring training facility on my first day) and there’s like 400 people in here. I’m like, ‘Oh, no,’” Freeman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during a conversation Sunday. “Then I walked into the clubhouse here, and the food room was on the left. I look to my left, and I didn’t know anybody in that food room. I was like, ‘Wow. This is unsettling.’”
“It helped to hear his side of things. I won't divulge what we talked about. But you can imagine what we talked about in three hours. It was good for us to now be good again. Now, when we see each other, we can just hug."
- Freddie Freeman, on his chat with Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos
Unsettling is also a way to describe Freeman’s Braves exit. Freeman spent over a year expressing his desire to stay. Atlanta was home, and the Braves were his family. To the surprise of many, Freeman didn’t ink a long-term deal last spring. The sides didn’t reach an agreement during the season, either, leading to Freeman experiencing free agency for the first time.
Communication by all parties was a large part of this story. Freeman had little interaction with the Braves before and after the lockout. Meanwhile, he was fending off calls and texts from Dodgers representatives such as Turner and manager Dave Roberts. They were all-in on acquiring the former MVP.
It was complicated with the Braves – relationships rarely work out when that c-word is invoked. Freeman admitted to being stunned when they traded for Matt Olson, his replacement, then signed him to an eight-year deal by nightfall the next day. General manager Alex Anthopoulos was emotional during the ensuing news conference, shedding tears over completing a transaction that closed the door on Freeman.
Freeman, a Southern California native, landed with the Dodgers. During his introductory news conference, Freeman – clearly still a bit rattled by what unfolded – was asked about Anthopoulos’ tears and responded, “I saw them. That’s all I’ll say.”
Freeman and Anthopoulos spoke last week. He apologized for comments during his introductory news conference and said their relationship remains strong.
“It helped to hear his side of things,” Freeman said. “I won’t divulge what we talked about. But you can imagine what we talked about in three hours. It was good for us to now be good again. Now, when we see each other, we can just hug. I asked him to come to LA (for the series in April). I don’t think he was going to come to the LA series when they came out. I said, ‘Please, I want to see you and give you a hug because we did so many good things together.’
“(The conversation) was more of getting his side of the story and making sure our relationship was great, as it was before. We accomplished that.”
Freeman wants to move past discussing his Braves departure. But the storyline will pop up at least twice more in the coming months, when the Braves travel to Los Angeles in April and Freeman visits Atlanta in June. Freeman is expecting a lot of family for the series at Truist Park. He’s already booked a 52-person suite for two of the games.
Anthopoulos offered Freeman the choice of receiving his 2021 World Series ring in LA or Atlanta. Freeman made what he considered an easy decision to receive it at Truist Park. “I know (Braves fans) are going to cheer for me and then start booing me, I do. I’m a visiting player, and I completely understand,” he said.
“I’ve given so much (to the Braves),” Freeman said. “I want to get that (ring) in front of Snit (manager Brian Snitker) and all those guys over there because we worked so hard to achieve that. And I know the fans, even though we’re going through a breakup, I do believe I should share that with them. It’s going to be great. I know I’m coming in as a visiting player, but there’s so many happy memories we’ve had there.
“I’m going to have a ton of emotions going back in that series, but ultimately I think it’s going to be good for everybody involved.”
Perhaps this works out for everybody. Freeman’s Dodgers will be contenders every year, and it’s an optimal situation for his family. The Braves should remain a long-term force with Olson, an Atlanta native celebrating his own homecoming.
“I'm going to have a ton of emotions going back in that series, but ultimately I think it's going to be good for everybody involved."
- Freddie Freeman, on his return to Truist Park in June
He considers himself a Brave forever, but as a present Dodger, Freeman is in his old team’s way. The Braves and Dodgers are each other’s greatest obstacles to the National League pennant. That looks likely to remain the case for a while.
Freeman will miss his former teammates and the organization where he knew everybody’s name. And while he never thought he’d leave them, he’s eager to oppose them.
“The thing is, we’re connected forever with last year,” Freeman said. “We’re going to have reunions, and I’m going to be coming back for those reunions just like they are. Everyone has been so great. You don’t need to say it in public for everyone to know, but privately, all the texts and the calls I’ve received, nothing but positive.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them. Now I have to face Tyler Matzek. I have to face ‘The Night Shift’ (bullpen). It’s going to be fun. I think there’s going to be a lot of adrenaline when those guys come in and we’re facing each other. It’s just going to be good to be able to hug everybody. That coaching staff has been together for so long; I’ve been with them for so long. Even though we’re on different sides, baseball is a fraternity. We’re all going to be friends forever.”