Baseball

Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman Has a Hug Ready at First Base

ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman, the longtime Atlanta star and the reigning winner of the Nationwide League Most Invaluable Participant Award, needs you to have a superb time once you go to his residence.

Even in case you’re on the opposite aspect, he needs you to really feel welcome. He could praise you. He could make you snicker. He could lend a supportive ear or provide just a few strategies. However you possibly can’t kick off your sneakers and put your ft up as a result of, after all, this isn’t his precise home. It’s first base, his much-visited residence on the sphere for the previous 11 main league seasons.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the most important recreation on this planet, in case you get a base hit and also you come to first base, I’m going to inform you, ‘Good job, good hit,’” Freeman stated lately.

“That’s simply who I’m. I understand how arduous this recreation is. I understand how arduous it’s to get a base hit in a significant league baseball recreation. Regardless of in case you simply put your group up 5-4 within the high of the ninth inning, I’ll come over and pat you proper on the leg and say, ‘Technique to swing it.’”

Because the Corridor of Famer Chipper Jones retired in 2012, Freeman has been the face of the Atlanta franchise. He was a part of groups that made the playoffs in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He signed an eight-year $135 million extension earlier than the 2014 season and guided the group via lean rebuilding years. Freeman, a five-time All-Star, has remained a gentle drive as Atlanta surged again into rivalry, with 4 straight Nationwide League East division titles from 2018 to this season. And on Friday, he’ll information them once more as they tackle the Milwaukee Brewers in a Nationwide League division sequence in step one in Atlanta’s pursuit of its first title since 1995.

To his group, Freeman, 32, is a robust left-handed hitter who anchors the Atlanta lineup (he has hit .300 or higher in six seasons and 20 residence runs or extra in eight seasons), performs day-after-day (he has missed simply six of Atlanta’s 545 video games over the previous 4 seasons) and is the revered, smiley, hug-giving chief within the clubhouse. Even Freeman’s opponents really feel the identical method about him due to how he treats them once they go to him on the sphere.

“He’s a competitor however, on the similar time, he appreciates the sport,” stated Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a friend and longtime rival from his time with the Chicago Cubs. “It’s not simple to have success on this league and, when guys do, congratulating them is nice sportsmanship. And he at all times appears to be having a superb time.”

Whereas some first basemen are quieter, Freeman is chatty, jokey and observant. He makes certain to go with opponents on their small successes and notable achievements. He remembers how nervous he was throughout his main league debut on Sept. 1 2010 so he makes certain to note who’s enjoying his first recreation and congratulate him.

“There is no such thing as a person who doesn’t like Freddie Freeman within the league,” stated Miguel Rojas, the Miami Marlins shortstop and a frequent Freeman opponent as a result of they share a division. Added Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar: “A part of being first basemen is it’s important to be a bit of bit outgoing and you may inform most first basemen’s temper by their earlier at-bat or how they’re doing. Not Freddie.”

When Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm smashed his first profession residence run final season, on the highway no much less, Freeman remembered later that recreation and praised him. Typically, Freeman stated, his opponents are greatly surprised by his compliments for even mundane hits, however they shortly perceive why he provides them.

“That is enjoyable and it’s a recreation,” Freeman stated. “I do know we’re making an attempt to beat one another — imagine me, simply because I say ‘good job’ doesn’t imply I’m not making an attempt to beat you. I notice I’ve been on this recreation a very long time so I would like you to simply get pleasure from it, too. The sport is so arduous and we put a lot stress on ourselves.”

In August, the Cincinnati Reds had been visiting Atlanta’s Truist Park and rookie catcher Tyler Stephenson, an Atlanta native, was enjoying at residence for the primary time in his profession. Despite the fact that Stephenson didn’t get successful in his first two video games, he reached base on a stroll and an error. Nonetheless, Stephenson’s household and buddies cheered, and Freeman seen. At first base, Freeman supplied some encouragement.

“I used to be like, ‘Simply consider what occurs once you really get successful? I hope you get successful,’” he stated. “And the subsequent day he will get three hits and hits a homer, I advised him, ‘Not that. I don’t want you to do this.’ I simply needed him to get successful as a result of they had been going nuts with out him even getting successful.”

Roughly a couple of times each recreation, Freeman stated an opposing participant will ask him for hitting recommendation. When Atlanta was in San Diego late final month, Padres second baseman Adam Frazier, an All-Star this season with Pittsburgh, needed to speak about approaches to hitting.

“Oh, I’ll give hitting suggestions all day lengthy,” he stated. “I would like folks to succeed. I by no means need anyone to fail.”

Older generations of gamers would seemingly cringe at that — the Corridor of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson famously hated fraternizing with rivals. However the recreation, Freeman stated, has modified for good purpose.

Freeman sees all of his opponents as half of a bigger baseball household. He’s shut buddies with many. They usually share the identical company or stay close to one another within the low season or have mutual buddies or find yourself being teammates sooner or later. And, he stated, when speaking about hitting on the basepaths, possibly he can study a factor or two from them.

“In case you’re not making an attempt to study on this recreation, you’re going to be in quicksand,” he stated, including later, “In case you’re doing one thing in your method or your plan on the plate which may click on for me and unlock one thing, why wouldn’t I need to hear that? If you get drafted, it’s not such as you’re pressured to be enemies.”

Freeman doesn’t simply assist his rivals, although. Typically, he merely shares amusing with them or toys with them.

When pitcher Julio Teheran was with Atlanta, Freeman stated he tried chatting up opposing base runners he didn’t know effectively to distract them sufficient to permit Teheran to choose them off at first base.

Cameras recently caught Freeman and the Mets famous person pitcher Jacob deGrom messing with one another throughout video games. (Freeman stated they’ve been doing this for at the least 4 years.) On days when deGrom is just not pitching, he alerts from the dugout to Freeman at first base and tells him the place to face, like a coach would — however on the identical group.

“He’ll inform me to scoot over and stuff like that,” Freeman stated. “I’ll do it so long as it’s not drastic. I feel he likes to inform folks within the dugout, ‘Have a look at what I’m doing.’”

The 2 have grown shut over time, with Freeman and deGrom texting and video calling one another. Freeman stated he doesn’t do something again to deGrom on the sphere however quipped, “I simply make enjoyable of him as a result of he can’t stay healthy.

Even when Freeman started the 2021 season slowly on the plate, his opponents stated he maintained the identical demeanor. With a torrid summer time, he completed the common season hitting .300 with 31 residence runs and 83 runs batted in. When he received the 2020 N.L. M.V.P. through the pandemic-shortened 60-game season, he hit .341 with 13 residence runs.

This season, although, is the final in Freeman’s contract. Over the weekend, he stated he was “shocked” that he was nearing free company with no new deal, notably since each side have expressed repeated curiosity in staying collectively.

As group executives tore down the roster and rebuilt it with younger prospects, like shortstop Dansby Swanson, second baseman Ozzie Albies and outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., Freeman believed of their plan. As these gamers blossomed into stars, extra emerged (like pitcher Max Fried and third baseman Austin Riley) and Atlanta received, the joyful jokester at first base needs nothing greater than to stay.

“Sadly it is a enterprise and I’m 32 years outdated they usually acquired to weigh that,” he stated. “However so long as I hold enjoying effectively, it’s what it’s. This group we have now right here, and the way good it’s and the way good it has continued to be, how do you not need to be part of that?”

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