Ex-Brave Freddie Freeman overwhelmed with emotion in return to Atlanta

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The Atlanta Braves faced a difficult decision this offseason.

Retain the face of the franchise on the heels of a World Series win or opt for a younger, cheaper option at his position. The Braves chose the latter.

Atlanta traded for first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland A's in March, signaling the end of the Freddie Freeman era after 12 seasons. Freeman ultimately signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who made their first trip to Atlanta this season on Friday. Prior to the game, Freeman was overwhelmed with emotion.

When he faced a media corps in the Braves press room for the first time as a visitor, he initially walked away from the podium without saying a word.

He returned moments later in tears, struggling to express his emotions.

"I don't even know if I can get through this, Freeman said. ... "I don't know — all the emotions — it's hard to put into words. I'm just happy to be back. This organization, the people, the media people who have covered my family with grace and love over the last 12 years. It's hard. ...

"I've always told you guys how much I love the Braves and this city. I thought I loved this city and organization a lot, but — you can tell how much I really do love this organization and this city. I don't even know how I'm gonna get through this weekend to be honest."

Freeman receives World Series ring, standing ovation

Prior to the first pitch, Freeman received his World Series ring to a standing ovation and chants of "Freddie, Freddie" from the home crowd.

His voice cracked as he addressed fans following the ring presentation.

Fans responded with another standing ovation prior to Freeman's first at-bat.

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 24: Freddie Freeman #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers takes the field prior to the game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on June 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Freddie Freeman takes the field prior to his first game as a visitor at Truist Park. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Freeman was a franchise cornerstone in Atlanta, where he played the first 12 seasons of his MLB career from 2010-21. During his tenure he made five All-Star teams and won five Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove and was named NL MVP in 2020. He helped the Braves to their first World Series victory since 1995 last season. His contract status as a pending free agent loomed over the championship run.

Freeman, 32, entered the offseason without a new deal, and the Braves traded for Olson on March 14. Olson, 28, slugged 39 home runs last season while making his first MLB All-Star appearance. He signed an eight-year, $168 million extension with the Braves a day after joining the team. The next day, Freeman signed a six-year, $162 million deal to join a Dodgers team that the Braves defeated in last season's NLCS.

Freeman's maintained his high level of play in Los Angeles, slashing .308/.386/.494 with eight home runs, 45 RBI and six stolen bases through 68 games. Olson, meanwhile, has slashed .247/.347/.461 with 10 home runs and 38 RBI in 71 games with Atlanta.

The Dodgers entered Friday's game with a 43-25 record, good for a one-game lead over the Padres in the NL West. The Braves have ridden an 18-3 surge to a 41-30 record to pull within four games of the NL-East leading New York Mets. Both teams project to make this season's expanded playoff field and could very well face off again in the postseason.

But for now Freeman's just worried about making it through the weekend. The Braves and Dodgers are slated for a three-game series through Sunday. The Dodgers won Friday's Game 1, 4-1. Freeman went 1 for 3 at the plate with two walks and a run scored.