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Freeman: Ovation in L.A. debut 'special as it gets'

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Published in Baseball
Friday, 15 April 2022 05:56

LOS ANGELES -- The baseball ricocheted off the warning track and sailed into the stands, prompting a pitching change, sending a capacity crowd into a frenzy and leaving Freddie Freeman by himself on second base, in the middle of Dodger Stadium, with his family roaring from a luxury suite and his new fans boisterously chanting his name.

Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!

"I got goosebumps in the dugout," Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger said late Thursday night. "I really did."

It was the eighth inning of the Dodgers' home opener, the score was tied, and Freeman had launched a ground-rule double into the left-center-field gap, on a cutter that followed a slider near his head. Play stopped, but the chants continued, growing louder as a new Cincinnati Reds reliever checked into the game.

Freeman, the local product who felt spurned by the Atlanta Braves and signed a six-year, $162 million contract with the Dodgers largely so his family could be present on nights like these, couldn't help but acknowledge it.

He raised his left hand to the sky, grabbed the top of his helmet with the other and patted his chest in appreciation.

"That's as special as it gets right there," Freeman said moments later, after his leadoff double ignited the six-run inning that sent the Dodgers to a 9-3 victory. "You have those feelings before, coming out on the line for the intros, but usually once the game starts those feelings go away. For the fans to be able to create a moment for me in the eighth inning is something I'll never forget."

Freeman's wife, Chelsea, handled ticket requests for the home debut and packed a suite along the third-base line with Freeman's father, grandfather, aunts, uncles and siblings. Freeman didn't know how many family members ultimately came out but said he knows it was a lot -- just like it was throughout his abbreviated spring training.

"This is what it's all about for me -- family," Freeman said. "And for them to be able to share that moment with me tonight was a special thing."

Freeman attended high school in Orange, California, about 30 miles south of Dodger Stadium, before the Braves drafted him in the second round of the 2007 draft. As his career progressed and he established himself among the greatest hitters in the sport, Freeman was mostly reviled in the Dodgers' home ballpark. He batted .296/.353/.512 in 33 regular-season games as a visitor there and continually terrorized the Dodgers in the postseason, batting .308 over the course of four separate meetings -- including the 2021 National League Championship Series, which the Braves won while on their way to a championship.

The ensuing offseason was as stressful as it was uncertain. A 99-day lockout prevented teams from engaging with players. Before it and after it, Freeman claimed, the Braves checked in only twice, both times informally, though Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos disputes that accounting.

When the Braves traded for his first-base replacement, Matt Olson, Freeman described being "blindsided." When Anthopoulos shed tears in the wake of it, Freeman dismissed them. He's here now, in a new place that in some ways feels familiar, doing his best to move forward.

Thursday was a big step.

"It's definitely been nice," Freeman said. "The last month has been pretty special, from the first game at [the team's spring training complex] to tonight, they've been welcoming me with open arms.

"First game at Dodger Stadium with the Dodgers, I don't think it could've gone much better than that."

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