Hollywood story: Emotional Freeman homers in 1st AB vs. Braves

Dodgers extend win streak to 7 games in opener vs. World Series champs

April 19th, 2022

LOS ANGELES – Freddie Freeman said it was going to be weird seeing Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud standing behind the plate as he came up to bat. He also said it would be strange to see Huascar Ynoa and the rest of the Braves’ pitching staff trying to get him out.

The Braves, on the other hand, said they “loved” Freeman, but would love to see him go 0-for-4 in each of the three games against Atlanta. That wasn’t the case.

Instead, in the Dodgers’ 7-4 win over the Braves on Monday at Dodger Stadium, Freeman wasted no time showing his former teammates something they’ve seen time and time again over the course of the last 12 seasons. Freeman lined an opposite-field homer off Ynoa in his first at-bat against his former team. It was his first homer as a member of the Dodgers, who have won seven straight.

“There’s no storyline or anything like that, there’s no poetic justice or anything like that,” Freeman said with his usual smile. “I love the Atlanta Braves. I will always love the Atlanta Braves. I’m just happy I was able to help the Dodgers win a game tonight.”

While Freeman said his homer against his former team didn’t feel any different, everyone else in a nearly sold-out Dodger Stadium felt the moment. Once again, Freeman was serenaded with “Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!” chants as he crossed home plate. His family, led by his older son Charlie, was jumping up and down uncontrollably in the suite.

“It feels like we’re in Hollywood,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “And you couldn’t script it any better for him."

Before the game, it didn’t take long for Freeman to realize that Monday’s game against the Braves, the organization he spent the last 15 years with, wasn’t going to be a typical regular season game.

By 3:30 p.m. PT, Freeman said he was already at about 25 hugs. He had also teared up four different times. As the day went on, that hug count increased. It was the first time Freeman saw his former teammates since they all celebrated a World Series championship during a parade.

Then, Freeman reminded the Braves of what they were missing, going deep in his first at-bat against Huascar Ynoa for his first home run with the Dodgers, giving them a 1-0 lead.

“Emotions are all over the place. Emotions are running big time,” Freeman said before the game. “A lot of people that know me, it’s emotional for me. I’m just happy to be able to see all the guys. We won a championship together last year.”

Before he got on the elevator to head down to his new home clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, Freeman ran into Braves head athletic trainer George Poulos. The two embraced, giving Freeman an instant glimpse of the wave of emotions he was in store for.

The first deep conversation came with Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos. The two went down into the tunnel near the Braves’ dugout in order to keep it private. Freeman did, however, share that it was a moment both of them needed, though maybe not for the reasons the public thought. 

After Freeman shared some displeasure with how he believed the Braves handled his situation during free agency, the star first baseman said the relationship between him and Anthopoulos was strong. Last month, the two had a three-hour FaceTime call. Freeman expressed his feelings. Anthopoulos did the same. On Monday, the exchange between the two was more emotional and just about connecting with an old friend. 

“Hi, World Champion,” Freeman told Anthopoulos. “We spent so much time together over the last four years, working to win a World Series, and we were able to accomplish that. … It was a huge hug and that’s what I wanted. And I think that’s what he wanted, too.”

Following his conversation with Anthopoulos, Freeman went into the Braves’ clubhouse to meet his old teammates. He met with Charlie Morton, Dansby Swanson, Travis d’Arnaud and others. On the field, Freeman shared an embrace with third-base coach Ron Washington. At one point, Freeman and his former teammates were waving into a suite where Fred Freeman, Freddie’s father, sat.

“Just a lot of good memories coming back, seeing all the guys,” Freeman said. “Then I saw Tyler Matzek and had to remember that I’m going to have to face those guys, and A.J. Minter, oh man. But it was good to see everybody inside and obviously looking forward to seeing them on the field.

“Some choked-up moments. There’s just a lot of emotions going on right now. But a lot of good emotions. It’s been good to see each other.”

Freeman’s emotions carried over during his meeting with Snitker. Once again, tears were shed. Snitker and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer presented Freeman with his 2021 Silver Slugger Award before the game.

“We all went through a lot with Freddie,” Snitker said. “We had some really great experiences and some things that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Freddie is a good friend to all the guys and myself.”

It was a long and emotional offseason for Freeman. Some miscommunication likely kept him from finishing out his career with the Braves. He’s still trying to move on, though he said Dodgers fans embracing him with chants every at-bat has “meant a lot.” It might take some time. 

But on Monday, Freeman couldn’t help himself. He was around his friends again. The organization that saw him grow into a man. Then he homered off them. And he flashed his big smile through it all. 

“Today was just special,” Freeman said. “Our ultimate goal was to win the World Series and we were able to do that. So it was nice to see the guys I did that with. … The only storyline for me today was that I was just happy to see my friends again.”