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ATLANTA – Longtime Atlanta star and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Freddie Freeman wants you to have a good time visiting his home.
Even when you are on the other side, he wants you to feel welcome. He can compliment you. He can make you laugh. He can have a supportive ear or make some suggestions. But you can’t take off your shoes and put your feet up because that’s not your real house, of course. It’s the first base, his much-visited 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, ‘Nice job, nice hit,'” Freeman said recently.
“I just am. I know how difficult this game is. I know how hard it is to get a base goal in a major league baseball game. Regardless of whether you line up your team 5-4 in the ninth inning, I’ll come over and knock you right on the leg and say, ‘Way to swing it.’ “
Since the Hall of Famer Chipper Jones retired in 2012, Freeman has been the face of the Atlanta franchise. He was part of teams that made it to the playoffs in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He signed an eight-year extension for $ 135 million prior to the 2014 season and led the team through the years of lean rebuilding. Freeman, a five-time All-Star, has remained a steady force as Atlanta returned to competition, with four consecutive titles in the National League East Division from 2018 through this season. And on Friday, he’ll lead them again when they face the Milwaukee Brewers in a National League league series.
For his team, Freeman, 32, a powerful left-hander who anchors Atlanta’s lineup (he’s hit .300 or better in six seasons and made 20 homers or more in eight seasons), plays every day (he’s only got six of Atlanta’s 545 Playing for the past four seasons) and is the respected, smiling, hugging leader in the clubhouse. Even Freeman’s opponents feel the same way because he treats them when they visit him on the field.
“He’s a competitor, but he also values the game,” said Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a friend and longtime rival from his time with the Chicago Cubs. “It’s not easy to be successful in this league, and when the guys manage to congratulate them, it’s good athleticism. And he always seems to have a good time. “
While some first basemen are quieter, Freeman is talkative, funny, and attentive. He makes sure that he compliments his opponents for their small achievements and remarkable achievements. He remembers how nervous he was when he made his Major League debut on September 1, 2010, so he pays attention to who is playing his first game and congratulates him.
“There’s not a person in the league who doesn’t like Freddie Freeman,” said Miguel Rojas, the Miami Marlins shortstop and a frequent opponent of Freeman because they share a division. Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar added, “Part of the first basemen is that you have to be a bit sociable and you can tell the mood of most of the first basemen by their previous at-bat or performance. Not Freddie. “
When the Philadelphia Phillies’ third baseman Alec Bohm made his first home run of his career on the street last season, Freeman later recalled and praised the game. Sometimes, Freeman said, his opponents are baffled by his compliments, even for mundane hits, but they quickly understand why he gives them.
“It’s fun and it’s a game,” said Freeman. “I know we’re trying to hit each other – believe me, just because I say ‘good job’ doesn’t mean I’m not trying to hit you. I know I’ve been into this game for a long time, so I want you to just enjoy it too. The game is so tough and we put so much pressure on ourselves. “
In August, the Cincinnati Reds visited Atlanta’s Truist Park, and Atlanta-based rookie catcher Tyler Stephenson played at home for the first time in his career. Although Stephenson didn’t score a hit in his first two games, he reached base on a walk and an error. Even so, Stephenson’s family and friends cheered, and Freeman noticed. At first, Freeman offered some encouragement.
“I was like, ‘Just think about what happens when you actually get a hit? I hope you get a hit, ‘”he said. “And the next day he gets three hits and hits a homer, I told him, ‘Not that. I do not need that.’ I just wanted him to get a hit because they’re going crazy without him getting a hit at all. “
About once or twice in each game, Freeman said, an opposing player will ask him for advice on hitting. When Atlanta was in San Diego late last month, Padre’s second baseman Adam Frazier, an all-star this season at Pittsburgh, wanted to talk about approaches to beating.
“Oh, I’ll be giving hitting tips all day,” he said. “I want people to be successful. I never want anyone to fail. “
Older generations of gamers would likely shy away from it – Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson famously hated fraternizing with rivals. But the game, Freeman said, has changed for good reason.
Freeman sees all of his opponents as part of a larger baseball family. He is close friends with many. They often share the same agency or live close together in the off-season or have mutual friends or one day become teammates. And, he said, if he talks about basic path hitting, maybe he can learn a thing or two from them.
“If you don’t try to learn in this game you’ll be in quicksand,” he said, later adding, “If you do something in your approach or plan on the record that might click for me and unlock something why shouldn’t I want to hear this? If you are drafted you are not forced to be enemies. “
But Freeman doesn’t just help his rivals. Sometimes he just laughs with them or plays with them.
When pitcher Julio Tehran was at Atlanta, Freeman said he tried to target opposing base runners he didn’t know well to distract them enough for Tehran to pick them up at first base.
Cameras recently caught Freeman and Mets superstar pitcher Jacob deGrom messing up during the Games. (Freeman said they have been doing this for at least four years.) On days when deGrom is out of pitch, he signals Freeman at first base from the dugout and tells him where to stand, as a coach does would – but on the same team.
“He’s going to tell me to go over and things like that,” Freeman said. “I’ll do it as long as it’s not drastic. I think he likes to tell the people in the dugout, ‘Look at what I’m doing.’ “
The two have grown closely together over the years, with Freeman and deGrom texting and video calling each other. Freeman said he wouldn’t do anything against deGrom on the field but joked, “I just make fun of him because he can’t stay healthy.”
Even as Freeman slowly started the 2021 season on the record, his opponents said he maintained the same behavior. With a hot summer, he finished the regular season with a goal of 0.300 with 31 home runs and 83 runs. When he won the 2020 NLMVP during the 60-game season shortened by the pandemic, he hit 0.341 with 13 home runs.
However, this season will be the last in Freeman’s contract. At the weekend he said he was “shocked” that he was approaching free representation without a new deal, especially since both sides have repeatedly expressed an interest in staying together.
When team managers tore down the squad and rebuilt it with young prospects like shortstop Dansby Swanson, second baseman Ozzie Albies and outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., Freeman believed in their plan. As those players blossomed into stars, showed up (like pitcher Max Fried and third baseman Austin Riley), and Atlanta won, the lucky first base prankster wants nothing more than to stay.
“Unfortunately this is a business and I am 32 years old and you have to weigh that up,” he said. “But as long as I play well, that’s how it is. We have this group here, and how good it is and how good it continues to be, how do you not want to be there? “