ATLANTA – Longtime Atlanta star and National League Most Valuable Player award winner Freddie Freeman wants you to have a great time when you visit his home.
Even if you’re on the other side, he wants you to feel welcome. He can praise you. He can make you laugh. He may lend a helping ear or offer some suggestions. But you can’t take off your shoes and put your feet up, because of course, this isn’t his real home. It is first base, their much-loved home on the field for the past 11 major league seasons.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the biggest game in the world, if you get a base hit and you get to first base, I’m going to tell you, ‘Good job, good hit,'” Freeman recently said. said.
“I am who I am. I know how tough this game is. I know how hard it is to hit base in a major league baseball game. It doesn’t matter if you put your team at the top of the ninth inning.” 5-4, I’ll come up to you and pat you on the straight leg and say, ‘Way to swing it.'”
Since the retirement of Hall of Famer Chipper Jones in 2012, Freeman has been the face of the Atlanta franchise. He was part of the playoff teams in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He signed an eight-year, $135 million extension prior to the 2014 season and guided the team through years of lean rebuilding. Freeman, a five-time All-Star, remains a steady force as Atlanta is back in contention with four straight National League East Division titles from 2018 to this season. And on Friday, he will guide them again as they take on the Milwaukee Brewers in a National League Division series in the first leg of Atlanta’s quest for their first title since 1995.
For his team, Freeman, 32, is a powerful left-handed hitter, anchoring the Atlanta lineup (he has hit .300 or better in six seasons and 20 home runs or more in eight seasons), every day. plays (he just missed six of Atlanta’s 545 games over the past four seasons) and is the respected, smiley, hugging leader in the clubhouse. Even Freeman’s opponents feel the same way about him because of how he treats them when they visit him on the field.
“He’s a competitor, but at the same time, he appreciates the game,” said Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a friend and longtime rival from his time with the Chicago Cubs. “It is not easy to achieve success in this league and when people do, it is good sportsmanship to congratulate them. And it seems like he’s always having a good time. “
While some first basemen are quiet, Freeman is talkative, witty and observant. He makes sure to congratulate opponents on their small successes and remarkable achievements. He remembers how nervous he was when he made his major league debut on September 1, 2010, so he makes sure to see who is playing his first game and congratulate him.
Miami Marlins shortstop and frequent Freeman rival Miguel Rojas said, “There isn’t someone who doesn’t like Freddie Freeman in the league because they share a division. Mets outfielder Kevin Pilar added: “It’s a good idea to be a first baseman.” The part is you have to be a little bit outgoing and you can tell the mood of the first basemen or how they’re doing from your last batting. Not Freddy. “
When Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm scored his first career home run last season no less on the road, Freeman later recalled and praised that game. Sometimes, Freeman said, his opponents are stunned by his admiration for even mundane hits, but they quickly understand why he gives them.
“It’s fun and it’s a game,” Freeman said. “I know we’re trying to beat each other – believe me, just because I say ‘good job’ doesn’t mean I’m not trying to beat you. I realize that I have been in this game for a long time so I want you to enjoy it too. The game is very tough and we put so much pressure on ourselves.”
In August, the Cincinnati Reds were visiting Atlanta’s Truist Park and rookie catcher Atlanta native Tyler Stephenson was playing at home for the first time in his career. Even though Stephenson failed to get a hit in his first two games, he reached base on walk and error. Still, Stephenson’s family and friends rejoiced, and Freeman noticed. On first base, Freeman offered some incentive.
“I was like, ‘Just imagine what happens when you get really hit? I hope you get a hit,'” he said. “And the next day he got three hits and hit a homer, I Told him ‘no’ He. I don’t need you to do this.’ I wanted him to get a hit because they were going crazy without him hitting him.”
Roughly once or twice in every game, Freeman said that an opposing player would ask him for advice. When Atlanta was in San Diego late last month, the Padres wanted to talk with second baseman Adam Frazier, an All-Star this season in Pittsburgh, about his approach to hitting.
“Oh, I’ll give hitting tips all day long,” he said. “I want people to be successful. I never want someone to fail.”
An older generation of players would probably scoff at him—Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson hated fraternity with rivals. But the game, Freeman said, has changed for good reason.
Freeman views all of his opponents as part of a larger baseball family. He is close friends with many people. They often share the same agency or live near each other in the off-season or are mutual friends or one day become teammates. And, he said, when it comes to attacking basepaths, maybe he can learn a thing or two from them.
“If you’re not trying to learn in this game, you’re going to be in quicksand,” he said later, “if you’re doing something in your approach or your plan on the plate that could click for me. And unlock something, why wouldn’t I want to hear that? When you draft, it’s not like you’re forced to be the enemy.”
However, Freeman doesn’t just help his rivals. Sometimes, he just laughs or shares toys with them.
When pitcher Julio Tehran was with Atlanta, Freeman said he tried to chat up the opposing base runners he didn’t know well enough to distract them enough that Tehran could get them to first base.
Cameras recently caught Freeman and Mets superstar pitcher Jacob deGrom playing with each other during games. (Freeman said they’ve been doing this for at least four years.) On days when DeGrome isn’t pitching, he signals Freeman from the dugout at first base and tells him where to coach. Have to stand – but on the same team.
“He’ll tell me to do scooters and stuff like that,” Freeman said. “I’ll do it until it’s rude. I think he likes to say to people in the dugout, ‘Look what I’m doing.'”
The two have become closer over the years, with Freeman and DeGrom texting and video calling. Freeman said he doesn’t do anything to deGrom on the field, but quipped, “I just make fun of him because he can’t stay healthy.”
Even as Freeman started the 2021 season slowly at the plate, his opponents said he maintained the same performance. With a sweltering heat, he finished the regular season scoring .300 runs with 31 home runs and 83 runs in bat. When he won the 2020 NLMVP during the pandemic-less 60-game season, he scored .341 runs with 13 home runs.
This season, however, is the last in Freeman’s contract. Over the weekend, he said he was “shocked” that he was close to free agency without a new deal, especially since the two sides have repeatedly expressed interest in staying together.
As team officials tore up the roster and rebuilt it with younger prospects, such as shortstop Dansby Swanson, second baseman Ozzy Albiz and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Freeman believed in his plan. As those players rose to the stars, more emerged (like pitcher Max Fried and third baseman Austin Riley) and Atlanta won, wanting nothing more than to be a happy jokester at first base.
“Unfortunately it’s a business and I’m 32 and they have to weigh it,” he said. “But as long as I keep playing well, it’s the same. We have this group here, and how cool is it and how well it continues to be, how come you don’t want to be a part of it?”