GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was a weekday game in late March, a time when spring training is normally winding down, so the crowd at Camelback Ranch was noticeably sparse for Freddie Freeman’s debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday afternoon. A « Fre-ddie! » chant materialized nonetheless, filling the Dodgers’ spring training complex with a sound that was exclusive to the people of Atlanta for the past dozen years.
« Usually Dodger fans aren’t chanting my name, » Freeman said. « It was nice. »
Freeman, a product of Orange County, has gone from tormenting his hometown team to joining it with a six-year, $162 million contract that has probably solidified the Dodgers as the fiercest offense in the sport. Freeman himself, however, is still sorting through it all. For the first time since becoming a second-round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves in 2007, the 32-year-old first baseman is learning a new organization, meeting an entirely new set of teammates, getting acclimated to a new group of coaches and navigating through spring training in a new state.
« Everything’s just new, » Freeman said after lining an opposite-field single and grounding out in his two plate appearances against the Cincinnati Reds.
« Once he’s here, it’s pretty easy — it’s baseball, » Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. « But there’s a heavy heart in there, there’s a lot of emotions. You’re with a team for 15 years, so I still think that he’s still trying to sift through those emotions. But I know he’s happy to be here, I know that the guys are happy, and each day gets a little bit easier for him, I think. »
Roberts has about a half-dozen iterations of his lineup written out, but all of them include Freeman batting either second or third. The only question at the top, it seems, is whether Mookie Betts and Trea Turner will hit back-to-back or get split up by a left-handed hitter, as they were down the stretch last year with Corey Seager.
Freeman, who had eight family members in the stands on Tuesday, batted in the No. 3 spot the vast majority of his time with the Braves but has told Roberts he’d be comfortable hitting second, too. At this point, what he needs is to merely reside somewhere in the lineup, with only one game under his belt and Opening Day just 16 days away. Freeman found himself early on fastballs and spinning off breaking balls, as is usually the case when he hasn’t seen enough live pitching.
Eventually, that will get sorted out.
Eventually, Freeman’s presence will make the Dodgers’ lineup even scarier than it has been in recent years.
« He looks good in blue, » Dodgers starter Walker Buehler said after recording 14 outs and throwing 53 pitches in his spring training debut. « I don’t like throwing to him, so I’m glad he’s on our team. »