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Editor’s note: A previous version of this column was edited to remove the team name after it had been originally published. Due to an editing change, the team name was inserted without the author’s knowledge.
ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman was sitting in front of his locker Saturday night, too numb to move as he watched his Atlanta teammates celebrate their World Series berth.
They were spraying champagne everywhere. They were dousing one another. They were guzzling beer. They were pouring wine. They were screaming and hollering for all of Georgia to hear.
Freeman, 32, who has been with the organization longer than any active player, left everyone while he quietly slipped away.
He walked through the clubhouse, past the dugout and onto the field to find his wife, Chelsea, and their kids. He grabbed her hand, and they slowly walked to center field.
They reached their destination, far from everyone, softly kissed, and posed for family pictures.
It has been 14 years since Freeman was drafted by Atlanta: 11 full seasons, 1,601 total games (including postseason) and 6,818 plate appearances.
Now, for the first time, he can call himself a National League pennant winner as Atlanta reached the World Series for the first time since 1999 after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in Game 6 of the NLCS.
So, forgive him for not knowing just how to act.
“I don’t even know how to feel right now," Freeman softly told USA TODAY Sports. “You work so hard all year, and fail for 11 years. All of a sudden, on the 12th one you make it. I don’t even know how to describe it."
Freeman paused, momentarily closed his eyes, and tried, anyway.
“This means the world to me," he said. “It’s just been such a long time. ... Everything we’ve been through, the rebuild, coming up through the organization, going from 90-some losses to the World Series in six years ...
“Usually we're sitting in our locker, just thinking about the whole season and getting ready for next year. We actually did it. All I can tell you is that it’s well worth the wait."
Freeman’s eyes were misty as he spoke. He has seen it all in Atlanta. He came along just after the end of the Atlanta dynasty in which it posted 15 consecutive seasons. Atlanta won a wild-card berth in his rookie season. They also lost 90 or more games in three consecutive seasons, finishing a combined 74.5 games out of first place. They came back to win four consecutive NL East titles.
But now, for the first time, he gets to experience the World Series.
This is why he signed his first extension with Atlanta in 2014. This is why he never asked to be traded. And this is why he wants to stay put instead of leaving elsewhere as a free agent this offseason.
“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side," Freeman said. "I love it here. I really do."
Atlanta has talked about a five-year, $130 million deal, the same the St. Louis Cardinals paid to keep first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from 2020-24 seasons, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Still, there remains a gap in the talks. The person requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. If Freeman is not signed in two weeks, he’ll be a free agent.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Freeman somewhere else. He is the lifeblood of the organization, revered not only as a player, winning the MVP award a year ago, but as a person.
“We’re the happiest for Freddie," Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley said. “He’s been through the dog-days here, not wanting to leave, and be a Brave. I think it makes it that much sweeter for all of us. You ask any player, and they’ll tell you how much it would mean for us to get a World Series [ring] for him."
Said catcher Travis d'Arnaud: “Playing here for 11 years, and playing against him for so many of those years, I’m so happy for him to go to the World Series. He deserves this, he really does."
Freeman kept the faith all along, and only now he concedes, there was a crack in the confidence when they lost Ronald Acuna Jr. before the All-Star break. He wondered if they had reached a breaking point.
“When you lose the best player in the National League in July, there’s a lot of doubt, especially when we couldn’t go over .500 at all," Freeman said. "You’re just wondering how we were going to do it, and [GM] Alex [Anthopoulos] goes out and just trades for the world. And they came up huge for us.
“It’s really amazing, two different teams, really, but once we went on that road trip and won nine in a row, we said, “All right, we got a chance to do something special."
Then again, even after trading for players such as Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler, the Braves believed they could do something big simply because of Freeman.
“We’re a rag-tag, misfit bunch," Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson said. “When Alex went out and made those trades, nobody knew. We thought maybe he just wanted to salvage the team for Freddie. Really, it’s unbelievable."
Now, here they are, after all of the injuries they’ve endured, including slugger Jorge Soler testing positive for COVID-19 during the postseason, ready for the Houston Astros.
“We have had like 40-foot potholes that we've hit, like humongous speed bumps," Freeman said. "Everything you could possibly see in a road, we hit it. And we still somehow overcame all that. Anything that got thrown at us, we overcame. We kept getting back up, and just kept hitting punches back."
Again. Again. And again.
Said Freeman: “We’re not going away."
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Braves' Freddie Freeman at a loss for words in reaching World Series