LOS ANGELES — Once the Braves acquired Matt Olson in mid-March, Freddie Freeman knew his time in Atlanta was over and it was time to find a new home. Freeman, a first time free agent this offseason, admitted that the process was overwhelming at times. A trio of teams were in on him right until the end.
But as Freeman remained torn in his search, his decision ultimately came down to one simple thing: coming home. Freeman, an Orange County native, couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to have his father, grandfather and the rest of his family attend as many games as they wanted.
In the Dodgers’ 9-3 win over the Reds on Thursday, Freeman’s large group of friends and family enjoyed his official return home. They were also joined by thousands of new friends in attendance at a sold-out Dodger Stadium, many of whom delivered a long and loud “Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!” chant after the first baseman led off the eighth inning with a double.
Freeman would come around to score the go-ahead run on a Trea Turner single, but not before the first baseman thanked his new home crowd by waving his left hand and patting himself in the chest multiple times.
“That’s as special as it gets right there,” Freeman said. “For the fans to be able to create a moment for me in the eighth inning, that’s something I’ll never forget. That was definitely a special moment for me and my family.”
Since he signed his free-agent deal, his teammates and everyone in the organization have raved about Freeman’s impact on and off the field. Despite being in a clubhouse full of stars, Freeman has a special ability to develop relationships quickly. His oldest boy, Charlie, is already on the same youth baseball team as Clayton Kershaw’s son, Charley.
“He is very unique in the sense that he can be a superstar player, but have no fear, anxiety and still be very affable and still have that ability to focus,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “It’s contagious.”
Freeman’s wide smile is infectious and his personality is uplifting. It’s what made him a popular teammate in Atlanta. It has become evident even in just a short time in Los Angeles. Not to mention that Freeman is one of the best players in the Majors, as he showed once again on Thursday by going 2-for-5 with two runs scored.
“I got goosebumps in the dugout. I really did,” said Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger, who wrapped up another two-hit day on Thursday. “He’s a great player, great teammate. So it’s easy to accept him as a fan base. That’s special.”
Just four months ago, a moment like the one on Thursday night seemed so improbable for Freeman. Despite being a free agent, Freeman admitted he believed he would be back with the Braves, the organization that selected him in the second round of the 2007 Draft.
But as negotiations stalled with Atlanta, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman lurked. A FaceTime call during Mookie Betts’ wedding with Roberts, Friedman and Justin Turner began the recruiting process. A few months later, Freeman signed with the Dodgers on a six-year, $162 million deal.
Since then, Freeman has been working on moving on from the most difficult offseason of his career. Freeman felt nearly every emotion during his free agency process. There was some joy, plenty of sadness and shock. There were plenty of tears shed by Freeman and his family.
But as Freeman stood on second base with the song “Baila Conmigo” — the walkup song chosen by his son Charlie — blaring through the Dodger Stadium speakers, he stared into a suite full of family and friends, and the reality finally set in. He’s back home. Maybe this was all meant to be.
“I think my dad probably gave four or five fist pumps. My grandfather probably did the same thing. Probably just a big smile on their faces,” Freeman said. “For them to be able to watch any game they want now, this is what it’s all about for me and my family. Tonight is a special thing for the Freeman family.”