GLENDALE, Ariz. — For new Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, the unthinkable started to become a reality last season as the face of the Atlanta Braves for 12 years began to contemplate life on another team with Atlanta just not showing the interest he desired.
« As the season went on, there were no talks, so you figure this is what was going to happen, » Freeman said Friday. « When you get to free agency, all things are kind of off. »
And when he got there, Atlanta’s interest didn’t exactly increase. Freeman only heard from them twice, and neither time was with any urgency, at least as Freeman saw it.
« The communication wasn’t all there in the offseason, » Freeman said. « I got two phone calls. … I got more from [Dodgers president] andrew [Friedman] to my agent in a matter of a couple hours.
« I didn’t know what was going on. I got one call [from the Braves] the day before the lockout, just checking in, and got one call when the lockout was lifted, just checking in. I didn’t know how to interpret that. »
Friedman and Freeman spoke on a sun-drenched deck overlooking Freeman’s new spring stadium, Camelback Ranch. After a dozen years of reporting to Florida in February, he quickly recognized the dry heat of Arizona — instead of the humidity he’s used to — as he asked for a bottle of water. That kind of change became possible once Atlanta traded for Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson on Monday.
« I had no idea that was going to happen, » Freeman said. « When I got told, my emotions were all over the place. You see that chapter close right then and there. I couldn’t speak for a couple hours, trying to figure it all out. »
Freeman was asked if he saw reports of Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos shedding tears after trading for Olson, essentially ending Freeman’s run as the face of his former team.
« I saw them, » Freeman said. « That’s all I’ll say. »
Whatever negative emotions Freeman was feeling after the trade, they were quickly replaced by excitement about the idea of coming home to play for the Dodgers. A Southern California native, Freeman warmed to the idea of playing in front of his father, grandfather and extended family.
« I don’t think I’d ever get to free agency, if we’re being honest about it, » Freeman said. « I tried to take a step back and take it all in. It came down to wanting to come home. If it wasn’t the Braves, this was going to be the best decision. »
The courtship began around Thanksgiving, in a Zoom call with Freeman, Friedman and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. At that point, Friedman thought signing the five-time All-Star was a long shot, but that didn’t stop him from placing one more call right before the lockout.
« We knew the ties he had [with Atlanta] and respected it and appreciated it, » Friedman said. « At Mookie’s [Betts] wedding, Doc [Roberts]Justin Turner and I walked outside, 10 minutes before the deadline [and called him]. … Before everything went dark, we said, ‘Don’t forget about us.’
« We actually left a live music performance of Nelly to walk out and call. It took us a lot to do that. »
Said Freeman: « I was feeding my baby at the time. … We have to give an assist to Justin Turner. His name popped up on my phone quite a bit. »
The dream for the Dodgers became a reality on Wednesday night when Freeman signed for $162 million over six years. He joins a potent lineup for a team that keeps churning out talent — both from their farm system and the marketplace.
« I can’t say enough about ownership, the position they put us in on an annual basis, to go out and be in a position to win the last game of the year, » Friedman said. « Our chances for that just went way up. »
Fans cheered Freeman’s every move on Friday, from his first batting practice to working on bunt defense, and chanted his name during his news conference.
It’s a different uniform, city and spring home, but it’s where Freeman wants to be after saying goodbye to the past.
« The last week has been a little bit of a whirlwind, » Freeman said. « It’s so exciting to come home. »