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There is no requirement that any member of the Braves wear a mask during his remote interview sessions, it being such a highly controlled setting. Thus, they don’t. But Saturday, Freddie Freeman wore his as he spoke for the first time since returning to the team after his coronavirus ordeal.

For all the nearly 25 minutes he answered questions – with no one else in sight – Freeman fidgeted and fussed with the powder blue mask that is the fashion statement of our time. It’s hot. It’s uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. And Freeman obviously was feeling every bit of that. But he wore it, even though not required.

Because Freeman has been there, struck with a 104-degree fever back on July 3, testing positive for the virus and wondering if he’d play any part at all in this abbreviated season. As well as the art of hitting, he can now speak expertly on the pernicious randomness of this virus among us. He earned the right to make a point the hard way.

“I’m going to take every precaution,” he said Saturday.

“I’m going to wear my mask. It’s important. If you do have (the virus) and you don’t know you have it and wear a mask, it’s very hard to spread it.

“You can still do everything right, (you) just got to hope everyone else is doing everything right as well. That’s the most important thing for me. Everyone has to take care of everybody. (Teammate) Adam Duvall is a type 1 diabetic. You’ve got people who are older in our clubhouse. I don’t know if an older person could make it through a 104.5 fever. You got to look out for everyone else and wear your mask.”

Freeman had returned to his home in California after spring training was shut down and hunkered down believing he was doing all the right things to stay healthy. He and wife Chelsea and young son Charlie remained near home, had their groceries delivered, cut the socializing to the bone. And, still, the virus found him.

He has a theory he may have picked it up at a small family gathering at his home shortly before departing for Atlanta. But the family member in question never developed serious symptoms and was never tested. Freeman’s just guessing, who knows? Who knows much of anything about the course of this disease?

So, to be safe, he wears a mask.

In the short term, this weekend was a godsend for Freeman and the Braves. “Obviously when you get your best player back it’s a good thing,” manager Brian Snitker said with no-duh emphasis.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves manager Brian Snitker on Sunday, July 19, 2020, talks about Freddie Freeman's workload since recuperating from having the coronavirus.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Freeman kept reading about how it can be months before someone who is seemingly recovered to test clear of the virus. And Freemen needed consecutive negative tests before returning to the team.

As his symptoms disappeared, a frustration grew. “I kept telling my dad, can you believe I’m going to miss opening day for the first time in 10 years and I’m 100% healthy?” Freeman said.

Following his second negative test for the virus, Freeman underwent another battery of tests on his heart and lungs at Emory. An hour after acing those, he was on the field at Truist Park working out on his own. What a slacker – couldn’t he have had a helicopter waiting and gotten there quicker?

The Braves open Friday in New York, and most parties seem to feel that Freeman made it back just in time to be ready for that. The team’s still awaiting closer Will Smith, who tested positive around the same time as Freeman, developed no symptoms but has yet to be cleared.

Freeman will see all the at-bats he can handle over the next few days of scrimmages and two warm-ups against Miami. He can even bat every inning if he wants; he has contacts in high places.

“I know he’s going to be ready,” Snitker said. “If he’s out there he’s going to be ready. In spring training he’d be ready by like the end of the first four or five games and getting bored for three weeks and then amp it up to get going. A swing like that, what he’s got going on, he’s hitting line drives all over the place yesterday. It doesn’t take him a lot as far as the timing element.”

Meanwhile, Freeman, because of his status on this team and throughout baseball, has, through the quirks of coronavirus, become a spokesman for navigating a new, perilous landscape responsibly. And this is not someone who takes his responsibilities lightly.

Consider the clubhouse a microcosm of the wider America. If baseball can’t conduct itself any better than we have, then there is no chance that it can pull off even a 60-game season.

With its access to testing and its power to mandate mask-wearing while within the confines of the ballpark, baseball has certain advantages over the chaotic outside world.

But Freeman is here now to serve a reminder that being able to function through this pandemic is still very much up to the individual – whether that’s in the clubhouse or the grocery store:

“I think Major League Baseball has done a great job with the protocols in place,” he said. “I have to wear a mask everywhere I go in the clubhouse. There’s testing every other day. There are temperature checks. You have to complete a home screening right when you wake up every morning.

“You still have to be truthful with yourself. That’s going to be the hard part: When someone is thinking they just have a little bug and they don’t say anything and still come to the yard and they might not even have a fever. That’s the biggest thing, you have to be accountable. Major League Baseball has done an amazing job with their protocols, but it still has to be yourself, taking care of yourself and your teammates and your friends to make this work as well.

“I think if people take a step back and look out for each other it’s going to work. Yes, there are going to be people who test positive – I did everything right and still got it. There’s no way around it. It’s not if someone tests positive, it’s when as the season goes on. You have to try to minimize it. And if people really take care of themselves and look out for themselves, you’re going to look out for other people as well.”

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