ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman was expected to get emotional during his highly anticipated return to Atlanta.
He wasn’t prepared for the rush of feelings — and tears — that came before his first game as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
A rush of them forced him to leave his pregame news conference before it even started. Freeman had to compose himself several times when talking about his continued love for the Braves and Atlanta. He then wondered how he would make it through the three-game series.
“I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this weekend,” Freeman said.
Receiving his 2021 World Series championship ring, presented by Braves manager Brian Snitker at a pregame ceremony, brought more emotion to Freeman. After a tribute video, Freeman walked slowly onto the field to join Snitker, who was standing next to the World Series trophy in front of the mound.
Braves fans rose to their feet and cheered, some chanting “Freddie! Freddie!” Freeman responded by removing his cap and raising both arms to the fans. Freeman hugged Snitker twice, including once after putting on the ring. He smiled and kissed the ring.
Minutes later, Freeman flashed his batting helmet to fans after another cheer before his first at-bat. Braves right-hander Ian Anderson walked Freeman, who then scored on Justin Turner’s sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead. Freeman struck out in the second inning.
Freeman homered in their first reunion game, a 7–4 victory over the Braves in Los Angeles on April 18.
Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP, led the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995 last season. He was widely expected to re-sign with Atlanta, but instead he signed a six-year, $162 million deal with the Dodgers after he failed to reach a deal with the Braves.
After 15 years in the Braves organization, including 12 years with Atlanta, the 32-year-old has enjoyed a productive first half with the Dodgers. He was hitting .303 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs entering Friday and is third in NL All-Star voting among first basemen.
Atlanta’s Matt Olson, acquired from the Oakland Athletics two days after losing Freeman, is fourth in the voting.
Freeman constantly battled his emotions and did not make eye contact with Braves reporters for the first few minutes of his news conference.
“I can’t even look at them because I don’t know how I’m going to get over it,” he said.
Even starting the press conference was difficult. When he first entered the interview room, Freeman said “give me a second,” and then turned and left the room for several minutes.
After returning, Freeman said, “Man, I love the Braves organization with all my heart. That will never change.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he wasn’t surprised by Freeman’s statement about his continued love for the Braves.
“I think it’s something that Freddie has been looking forward to for a long time,” Roberts said. “Everybody here loves him. I still know he’s going to be ready to play a baseball game.”
When he saw the large group of reporters before the game, Snitker joked, “Is something wrong?”
Snitker has had other ring ceremonies for returning players, including San Francisco’s Joc Pederson earlier this week.
“I’m happy just like I’m happy for all the guys we’ve given it to,” Snitker said of Freeman.
One of Freeman’s friends, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, said Thursday, “It’s always good to see old friends, but I’m still itching to beat him.”