How the Braves got here: Freddie Freeman’s patience truly paid off

Frederick Charles Freeman was born Sept. 12, 1989 in Fountain Valley, Calif. The Braves selected Freeman in the second round (78th overall) of the 2007 draft. Freeman made his major league debut Sept. 1, 2010 against the Mets. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Freeman was hitless in his first six at-bats before his single to center in the ninth inning of his fourth game. Freeman’s first hit came off Clay Hensley on Sept. 5, 2010. Freeman was 4-for-24 in that 2010 call-up, with a home run and an RBI. The

Part 3 of preview series. How the Braves got here. Before the season, even though the Braves were defending National League East champions, more attention was focused on the division rivals Nationals, Phillies and Mets. Yet, the Braves ran away with the division. In a five-part series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines how the Braves repeated. Today: Putting a supporting cast around Freddie Freeman.

“We have a 90-win team that got better, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

When Freddie Freeman hosted his first media assembly of spring training in February, he professed his belief in the Braves’ roster. It wasn’t a popular opinion at the time – few picked the Braves to repeat as NL East champs.

In fact, Freeman voiced his confidence amid echoes of criticism for the organization’s resistance to make the big splash. The Braves signed third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann while bringing back the core of last season’s club. Meanwhile, the Nationals, Phillies and Mets had sexy winters that made each an appealing playoff pick.

The Braves ran away with the East, backing up Freeman’s proclamation that the 90-win 2018 Braves got better. Freeman has never wavered in his love and faith in the organization, even in the franchise’s dark ages.

The player-empowerment era is dominating the modern sports scene, though to a significantly lesser degree in baseball. While the NBA and NFL are seeing free agency and trade demands turn their agencies into real-life fantasy leagues, baseball is just hoping it can capture one-fourth of the excitement after back-to-back tepid offseasons.

Which takes us to Freeman. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado changed teams. Mookie Betts and Kris Bryant might don new jerseys soon. There will be continued change in the majors, even if it’s not to the degree of other sports. But when Freeman said he’s going nowhere, believe him.

“I’ve been here forever,” Freeman said in spring training. “I love the Braves. This is all I want to be. I care about the team.”

While the Braves were losing 90 games in three consecutive seasons, while the roster was being flipped over every few weeks, while the stadium had lots of empty seats and the front office was banished because of a humiliating scandal, Freeman never complained.

Freeman didn’t request a trade. He didn’t voice his displeasure with the franchise. He kept a positive attitude. He believed in what the Braves were selling. He wanted to see it through with one team, just like Chipper Jones did. Freeman became the franchise’s pillar.

It doesn’t always happen that way. Joey Votto’s Reds are still stuck in mediocrity. Felix Hernandez never once pitched in a playoff game for the Mariners. Many times the so-called franchise player is sent packing, such as the Diamondbacks dealing Paul Goldschmidt, the Rays trading Evan Longoria or the Pirates bidding farewell to Andrew McCutchen.

Turns out, patience really is a virtue. Last season was  Freeman’s reward, but 2019 brought even more satisfaction. Donaldson is a star, hitting behind Freeman and paving way for the best season of Freeman’s career. Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies are young superstars who will be in their primes when Freeman exits his.

The organization is oozing pitching talent, led by 22-year-old Mike Soroka, who earned an All-Star appearance this season. The franchise had the flexibility to add Dallas Keuchel in June, to acquire three good relievers at the deadline and to bolster depth in August.

Everything the Braves said – and Freeman believed in – has been realized. Years of patience was rewarded: The Braves put a ridiculous amount of talent around their face of the franchise. Freeman’s faith paid off.

“It just excited me again, what we did last year,” Freeman said, wrapping up his first interview of the spring. “I’m ready to go. I feel great. Hopefully we’ll get back to work and win the division again.”

Fittingly, in what’s a recurring theme of Freeman’s tenure with the Braves, his hope again came to fruition.

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