ATLANTA -- When Freddie Freeman reflects on how he turned things around after a couple of months of struggles this year, he goes back to the early hours of a May morning, when he found himself bonding with the twin sons, who were finally getting a chance to get to know their father.
“I was up at like 5 o’clock, and I had them both in the double pillow you use when you have twins,” Freeman said. “They both woke up at the same time. It was like the first time they had ever done it. I was doing like a choo-choo train around the room, and they were just cracking up and laughing. I was like, 'This is it. I’m good.' Then I just started hitting, hitting and hitting.”
As the Braves open their National League Division Series against the Brewers on Friday at American Family Field, a healthy portion of the baseball world will already be familiar with Charlie Freeman, the 4-year-old who is Fernando Tatis Jr.’s friend. Charlie gained a pair of brothers this past offseason, when Freddie and his wife Chelsea welcomed Brandon and Maximus into their family.
Maximus was birthed by a surrogate in December, and Brandon entered this world a week before Freeman had to leave his California residence and report to Spring Training. As camp neared its end, he discussed how emotionally draining and stressful it had been to spend that much time away from his wife and his two new sons. Those mental struggles carried over into the regular season for the reigning NL MVP.
“I was able to figure out one kid, but now I have three, and now I’ve got to figure this out,” Freeman said. “It took me six or seven weeks before I started feeling good at home about the relationships with my kids and actually having them look at me and smile. That’s what I needed.”
While Freeman hit .195 with a .733 OPS through May 7 and .224 with a .784 OPS through June 9, there was reason to wonder if he was bothered by not receiving a contract extension, or even being a part of serious negotiations. Naturally, he didn’t understand why something had been done, but he was at least comforted over the course of the season by the regular interactions he had with president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos either face to face or via FaceTime.
“They expressed they want to keep me here, and I’ve expressed I want to stay here,” Freeman said. “Did I think I’d be here with no extension? No, I didn’t think that at all. I thought this would be long gone. But I’m here. I was able to put the contract stuff behind me, because what I had at home was way harder.”
Once Freeman began to develop that bond with his two new sons near the end of May, he started to become himself again from both a personality and production standpoint.
From June 10 through the end of the regular season, Freeman ranked second in the NL with a .342 batting average and sixth with a .960 OPS. He ended the season hitting .300 with 31 homers and an .896 OPS. His strong finish made him the only Major Leaguer (minimum 250 plate appearances) to record a 130 OPS+ each of the past nine seasons. Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt are the only players to have done it seven times within that span.
Freeman also joined Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones, Eddie Mathews and Dale Murphy as the only players in Braves history to hit 30 homers with a .300 batting average in multiple seasons.
“My dad said, ‘Freddie, if you would have hit .270, I think I would have been happy after the start you had.' It’s more satisfying because I had a whole other chapter of my life that started this year.”
Now the question is whether Freeman will be able to go through this postseason without being burdened by thoughts of these possibly being his final days for the Braves, who drafted him in 2007.
“I love this organization, and that’s all I’ve ever known,” Freeman said. “But I’m literally four weeks from possibly being a free agent. So I did take a few extra minutes when I was taken out [of Sunday’s regular-season finale] and just kind of looked around.”
Freeman will play at least one more game at Truist Park this year, and there’s still reason to be optimistic that he'll remain with the Braves for many years to come. But don’t expect him to become a father again any time soon.
Freddie and Chelsea would like to add a daughter to their family. But they’re both aware of the fact that he struggled at the start of 2016, which was when Charlie was born, and again this year.
“A couple months ago, I asked her when are we going to [try to have a daughter],” Freeman said. “She said, ‘When you retire.’”