As the Braves entered their rebuild at the start of the 2015 season, Freddie Freeman was attempting to grow comfortable with his status as the cornerstone of a franchise that had suddenly assumed a much different look and unabashedly punted a few seasons of success away.Freeman's close friend Jason Heyward
As the Braves entered their rebuild at the start of the 2015 season, Freddie Freeman was attempting to grow comfortable with his status as the cornerstone of a franchise that had suddenly assumed a much different look and unabashedly punted a few seasons of success away.
Freeman's close friend Jason Heyward had just been replaced by Nick Markakis, the club's only long-term addition, who just happened to be recovering from neck surgery at the time. His familiarity with newly acquired Mike Foltynewicz was limited, and he knew even less about Ozzie Albies, an 18-year-old prospect less than 60 games into his pro career.
Given how mentally taxing the past three despair-filled seasons were, Freeman certainly has even greater reason to celebrate as he spends these next couple of days sharing a spot with Markakis, Foltynewicz and Albies on the National League's All-Star roster. The surprising Braves have become legit contenders a year earlier than expected, and as a result stand as one of two NL teams with as many as four representatives chosen to compete in this year's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard at Nationals Park (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
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"Recently, it's been only one of us going to these All-Star Games," Freeman said. "We have a lot of great young talent on our team. Pitchers have taken a huge step. We're all clicking through the first 94 games. It's been fun to come to the park knowing you have a chance to win every night."
Freeman arguably stands as the NL's top MVP candidate, and Albies could garner serious attention during what is his first full season. Markakis could also garner votes during a rejuvenated season that has already earned him the distinction of being the most experienced first-time All-Star in MLB history. As for Foltynewicz, his ability to stay in contention for the Cy Young Award will influence whether the Braves will end up on top of the NL East standings.
"These guys have come a long way," Markakis said. "This is the first time for Albies and Folty. Freddie has been here multiple times. It's awesome. It shows you what level these guys are playing, and it's fun to be a part of it on a daily basis."
When Tuesday night's All-Star Game begins, Freeman will bat cleanup and serve as the NL's starting first baseman. This is the first time he's drawn this starting honor, but he'll have some familiarity when he turns around and sees Markakis serving as the starting right fielder.
More than 2,000 hits and nearly 500 doubles into his career, Markakis is experiencing his first All-Star Game less than an hour from his family's Baltimore-area home. The 34-year-old veteran's excitement centers on the joy this experience will bring his three sons, Taylor, Tucker and Toby, who all joined their father as he sat on a platform and spoke to media members on Monday afternoon.
"These guys are my life right here. For them to be able to go through it and realize it now, it makes it better for this to happen later in my career than early in my career," Markakis said. "These guys can remember it and take it all in. That's what it's all about."
When asked who they were excited to see, the young Markakis boys said Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who coincidently Foltynewicz hopes will one day be a role model for his five-month old son Jett, who is in Washington, D.C., to share this special occasion with his parents.
"This is something you dream about," Foltynewicz said. "It's going to be awesome just to hang out with these guys."
Albies will savor this opportunity to catch up with fellow Curacao native and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. He's also appreciative of the chance to spend time with reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve, whose status as the game's most talented vertically challenged player will be contested by the Braves' second baseman over the next few years.
"He tells me to keep doing what I'm doing," Albies said. "He's my role model right now, so it's good to be able to talk to him."
While the strong representation at this year's All-Star Game validates the belief the Braves are primed to be playoff contenders for many years to come, Freeman, Markakis, Albies and Foltynewicz hope extended success over the next couple months allows them to enjoy a greater celebration at season's end.
"I'd say a lot of people didn't expect us to be in the playoffs, but that's what our goal is," Albies said. "We'll keep playing hard every day, and hopefully we'll make it."
While watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX on Tuesday, fans can submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote.
The 89th Midsummer Classic, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.
For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.