ATLANTA -- Rosemary Freeman never had the opportunity to hug her youngest son as he progressed through those rough adolescent years or celebrate as he became one of baseball's top prospects.
But as Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman thinks about the significant loss he suffered 12 years ago, he is comforted by the belief that his deceased mother has never lost sight of him during a journey that has allowed him to already realize many of his Major League dreams.
"I think about my mom every day," Freeman said. "Before I go out there on the field, I look up at the sky and just say, 'Thank you, look out for me and keep me healthy.' It's something I've always done since she passed away. She loved baseball and she was always there for me. So that's the least I can do -- to think about her every day."
This marks the 12th year in which Mother's Day will pass without Rosemary Freeman, who lost her battle against melanoma in June 2000.
But her memory will be celebrated as her youngest son takes the field for the Braves on Sunday wearing pink wristbands, shoes and other accessories to promote the fight against breast cancer and the many other forms of cancer that could cause other young children to experience the anguish of losing a parent.
"It's something that means a lot to me," Freeman said. "It's something I'd never wish anybody to have to go through, having a mother pass away at a young age. But it's made me realize that people need help. I have a platform to be able to do something to help other people beat cancer."
Freeman was just 4 years old when his mother was first diagnosed with melanoma. But with the skin cancer in remission through most of his earliest cognitive years, he really did not know anything about the disease until doctors determined the cancer had returned less than a month before Rosemary would have celebrated her five-year remission mark.
This marked the start of the worst chapter in Freeman's life. Most of the nights during the following weeks and months were spent at St. Joseph Hospital in the family's hometown of Orange, Calif.
With his concerns squarely focused on his mother, Freeman stopped studying and struggled to get excited about playing baseball. He remembers hitting just one home run during that 10-year-old Little League season.
"I didn't care," Freeman said. "I was just going to the hospital every day after school. I was just going out there because I felt obligated and my mom wanted me to go out there and play. I didn't care. I was eating hospital food every night. I was getting big. It just wasn't one of those priorities in my life. I didn't care about baseball or much of anything else."
There is still a break in Freeman's voice when he talks about that day that he was called out of his fifth-grade classroom and instructed to go to the office. At 10 years old, he knew what awaited him even before he entered the office and found both his older brother and uncle crying.
"I remember that day like it was yesterday, when I got called out of that class," Freeman said. "My uncle and my older brother, Phillip, were in the office, and they were balling already. I'm just thankful that my dad was there [with my mom]. My dad was right next to her when she passed away."
Along with mourning the loss of his wife, Fred Freeman was given the task of serving as both a father and mother to two teenage sons and young Freddie. With fast-food meals now serving as a staple of the family's diet, the eldest Freeman ballooned to 330 pounds and nearly lost his own life to congestive heart failure.
As he was watching television with his youngest son approximately two years after his wife's passing, Fred Freeman stood and struggled to catch his breath. When this occurred nearly 30 minutes later, young Freddie packed some clothes and convinced his father that they had to get to a hospital immediately.
"The doctor said if he had not come in that night, he would have died in his sleep," Freeman said. "I just broke down. It was just so hard to think I was going to lose both of my parents in two years. Then a year later, my grandmother, her heart collapsed."
The health scare led Fred Freeman to a weight-loss clinic, where he lost 100 pounds and gained the companionship of a nurse named Alma, who is still his wife. There are still times that he mistakenly says "Rosemary" when attempting to get the attention of his second wife.
"There are pictures of my mom all over our house," Freeman said. "[Alma] loves my mom, even though she never got the chance to meet her. It's just a testament to how amazing she is."
Twelve years later, Fred and Freddie Freeman are enjoying life and savoring the memories of the loving mother that they dearly loved.
It was Rosemary who pulled her 6-year-old son off the baseball field when a T-ball coach attempted to make him bat right-handed simply because he was throwing right-handed. Two years later, before the cancer returned, she saw the potential of that left-handed swing.
Freeman's most vivid memory of his mother is of the day she was walking the family dog beyond the outfield fence after one of his baseball practices. With his father throwing him extra batting practice, the 8-year-old slugger hit a ball over the fence for the first time in his life. It hit the light pole that stood just a few feet from his mother.
"When you lose a mother or father, it's still the hardest time of your life," Freeman said. "All we can do is think about her and all of the positives and have fun with it. We know she's watching. So all we can do is make her proud up there."