ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman expected to be emotional during his anticipated return to Atlanta.
He wasn’t prepared for the flood of feelings — and tears — that came before his first game back as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
A rush of them forced him to walk out of his pregame news conference before it began. Freeman had to gather himself several times when discussing his continued love for the Braves and Atlanta. He then questioned how he would make it through the three-game series.
“I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this weekend,” Freeman said.
He was surprised how well he fared in the series opener. He reached base three times, on two walks and a single, and scored twice in the Dodgers’ 4-1 win.
“I did all right,” he said. “I’ll take three times on base and two runs scored. … The best thing that happened was walking in that first at-bat.”
Receiving his 2021 World Series championship ring, presented by Braves manager Brian Snitker in a pregame ceremony, produced more emotions from Freeman. Following a tribute video to Freeman, he made a slow walk to the field to join Snitker, who stood beside the World Series trophy in front of the mound.
Braves fans stood and cheered, some chanting “Freddie! Freddie!” Freeman answered by removing his cap and raising both arms to the fans. Freeman hugged Snitker twice, including once after putting on his ring. He grinned and gave the ring a kiss.
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Minutes later, Freeman held up his batting helmet to the fans following another ovation before his first-inning at-bat. Braves right-hander Ian Anderson walked Freeman, who later scored on a sacrifice fly by Justin Turner for a 2-0 lead. Freeman struck out in the second inning.
Freeman hit a homer in his first reunion game, a 7-4 win over the Braves in Los Angeles on April 18.
Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP, led the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995 last season. He was widely expected to re-sign with Atlanta but instead signed a $162 million, six-year deal with the Dodgers after he was unable to reach an agreement with the Braves.
After 15 years in the Braves’ organization, including 12 years with Atlanta, the 32-year-old has enjoyed a productive first half with the Dodgers. He was hitting .303 with eight homers and 45 RBIs entering Friday and is third in the NL All-Star voting among first basemen.
Atlanta’s Matt Olson, acquired from the Oakland Athletics two days after losing Freeman, is fourth in the voting.
Freeman constantly fought his emotions and didn’t make eye contact with Braves reporters through the opening minutes of his news conference.
“I can’t even look at you guys because I don’t know how I’m going to get through it,” he said.
Even starting the news conference was difficult. When first entering the interview room, Freeman said “give me a second” and then turned and left the room for several minutes.
After returning, Freeman said, “Man, I love the Braves organization with all my heart. That will never change.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he wasn’t surprised by Freeman’s declaration of his continued love for the Braves.
“I think it’s something that Freddie long awaited,” Roberts said. “Everyone here adores him. I still know he’ll be ready to play a baseball game.”
When he saw the large group of reporters before the game, Snitker joked, “is something going on?”
Snitker has had other ring ceremonies for returning players, including San Francisco’s Joc Pederson earlier this week.
“I’m happy just like I’m happy for all the guys we’ve given them to,” Snitker said of Freeman.
One of Freeman’s friends, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, said Thursday, “it’s always good to see old friends, but I’m still looking forward to beating him.”