Freddie was the one to count them.
He buried his face in his towel again, his cheeks reddening and his eyes welling. As he drove into Truist Park, he saw the jerseys that were on the other side of the park. It was the second time that his emotions would overwhelm him when he saw them.
The first came about an hour earlier, when he took his son, Charlie, to Cupanion's, the cafe he visited religiously for his "Freddie Omelet" -- which was still available.
He almost lost it again when he pressed the towel against his nose to suppress a cry.
The rest of the day was filled with emotion for the former Atlanta Braves icon and current LA Dodgers first baseman. The ceremony that was staged in his honor moments before Friday's first pitch started with him walking away to collect himself and he fought back tears during the news conference. A three-minute tribute video was shown on the big screen in center field, triggering a loud ovation that culminated in a hug from Braves manager Brian Snitker, who waited near the pitcher's mound with the World Series ring that Freddie Freeman only wanted to receive in Atlanta.
At that point, it seemed impossible that Snitker would pat him on the back so many times.
"Snit being Snit," he added. I'm very thankful for it. Over the last few months, we have had a lot of discussions.
Snitker sat in his condo in North Port, Florida, as news about the Braves acquiring a new first baseman spread. Snitker's thoughts went to the man who was drafted by the organization 15 years ago. He knew he wouldn't survive.
Snitker said he would wait and call. I'm going to call right now.
The events that left him scrambling to join a new team four months after he won a World Series with the organization he grew up with has been a roller coaster of emotions. When the Braves visited L.A. in the middle of April, the emotions were still raw, but they were thinking about how the ring would look, how the fans would react and how he would process it all.
Nothing could have prepared him.
By the time he came back to address the crowd, his eyes were swollen and he was very emotional. His legs became numb when he came to bat in the top of the first. The fans rose to their feet when the organist welcomed him with "We are the champion." At one point, he stood just outside the batter's box with his helmet in his hands, looking off into the distance.
It took more than a minute for the applause to end.
Ian Anderson said that he deserved every second of it.
Braves history goes back to the 1870s, and only five players have accumulated more home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits than Freddie. He won the Most Valuable Player in 2020 and led the Braves to the Championship in 2021. During the second half of the regular season, he hit.332/.408/.520, then. 304/.420/.625 in the playoffs.
He became the fourth player in franchise history to win an award and a title, joining Hank, Chipper, and Johnny Evers.
"He solidified a legacy here, man, and it's so rare when that kind of thing happens," said Dansby You don't appreciate players until they're gone.
There is a black Marucci bat in Matt Klug's basement that was once used by Freddie Freeman. Four summers ago, it was delivered by the man himself, and he said it changed the trajectory of his life.
Stay strong, remember the good times, and always remember the good times.
"That's something that I will never let go of," Klug said. I will carry it with me no matter what.
His mother died of lung disease. His father died of cancer in the middle of his senior year of high school. Klug, a Braves fan who lost his mother to cancer at the age of 10, used his favorite player's story to motivate him to play out his high school baseball career. He was drafted in the 38th round by the Chicago White Sox as a goodwill gesture. The Braves found out about the story and set up a meet-and- greet for him.
The rules of baseball are being changed by theBananas.
Klug started a charity called November Smiles to help children cope with the loss of their parents by taking them to Braves games, buying groceries, and giving them a sounding board. Klug thinks the organization wouldn't exist if it weren't for his brief meeting with the man.
"That's my favorite player," Klug said.
It's not easy for many other Braves fans.
Grant McAuley, who has covered the Braves for about a decade and currently works for one of the local sports-talk radio stations, has heard fan reaction that covers the entire spectrum over the last few months. There are people who don't like that he joined the rival and people who are happy that he's going to play his home games in his hometown. The front office is blamed for not giving enough, the player is blamed for being too greedy, and the agent is blamed for handling it all. Those who think the Braves will be better off with Matt Olson and those who don't think they will ever be the same again.
The tension subsided when the Dodgers arrived. The Braves' 14-game winning streak, which vaulted them back into a division race, helped. Time did the same thing.
Chris Dimino has worked in the Atlanta market for nearly 30 years and he believes there is a dead nerve. It was a hot topic in this town and people were upset. It was on the other side. The people were upset. I think that has stopped.
About an hour before the start of Friday's game, the first baseman stood in foul territory on the first base side and signed for fans who had lined up. He ran to the other side and did the same thing for those on the third base side. He said that they did so much for him.
It was correct when Klug arrived. He found his seat in Section 426, behind home plate in the upper level of the stadium, and was happy to see so many Freeman jerseys around him. The crowd of 42,105 started chanting "Fre-ddie!" as soon as the pitcher left the field.
He went from a chubby kid with a sweet swing to a rising star who beat out the organization's best prospect. He was the only one who survived the fire sale that took place after the season ended. The way he set the tone for a string of titles. He hit the ball where it was pitched, ran out every ground ball, and didn't take a day off. He smiled and hugged.
"I think No. 5 should stay in Atlanta for the rest of his life," Klug said. I think that what he did was more important than his departure.
Jeff Francoeur played for the Braves for half of his career. The two formed a friendship when they played together. Francoeur went to L.A. on April 19 to check in on the actor. A man was still absorbing the shock of playing elsewhere and still looking for a path forward.
Francoeur said there was a "perfect storm" of events that caused the Braves' first baseman to not come back. Francoeur thinks that if the fan-less, COVID-impacted season of 2020 hadn't caused Braves ownership to reduce spending, or if the 99-day Lockout hadn't prevented teams and players from communicating this past offseason, Freddie would be a Brave today. He thought it was fate when he first saw the man in blue.
Francoeur said he told him there was a reason he was here.
Though he has decided against going public with details about the negotiations, he is still angry. The Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos was given an hour to respond to two aggressive offers from the Braves' first baseman's agent, according to reports. Anthopoulos thought it was a take-it or leave-it scenario. The Braves sent a package of prospects to the A's. He signed a six-year contract with the Dodgers three days later.
Some people wondered why he didn't take more control of the negotiations. He didn't want to leave, and his actual demands weren't so far removed from the Braves' best offer, so why didn't he just get on the phone with Anthopoulos? Anthopoulos should have reached out to the middle man.
It seems that there's a lot of blame, but the man is trying to put it behind him.
It's only going to affect your happiness in the future if you think about the past. We have decided on that. Nothing can be changed that happened. I have learned a lot from my experience. Some of you know what I'm talking about, but I'm not going to say anything in quotes right now. I'm just moving on.
Over the past three months, it has become clear that Freddie is very sensitive to what the baseball fans in Atlanta think of him. Many of the people closest to him were hoping for a warm reception.
A long time Braves coach said that if he gets booed, that will hurt him. That's going to be a big deal.
As the weekend went on, it seemed as though Braves fans were processing this a little more quickly. The Dodgers trailed by a run when the bases were loaded with two outs in the seventh, but Apathy did not greet them before every plate appearance. Another crowd booed at that point. They treated him like any other opposing player on a fierce rival when he struck out.
A lot of Braves fans seem to have moved on by now and are content with a new first baseman who is four years younger. Some believe that he struggles with it all.
He might need to get this series out of the way.
Maybe a part of him is somewhere else. Franceour still believes that Freddie will return and finish his last year here. I definitely do.