Freeman thrust right into Braves' lineup
Rookie called up, gets start at first base in place of ailing Lee
ATLANTA -- When Freddie Freeman arrived at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon and saw his name in the Braves' starting lineup, he laughed and wondered which of his new teammates had chosen to pull a prank on him during his first day as a Major Leaguer.
After being assured that he was indeed batting sixth and starting at first base during Wednesday night's game against the Mets, Freeman called his father, Fred Freeman, who had flown from Los Angeles to share in the excitement surrounding his youngest son's first day as a big leaguer.
"I would have been happy just to see him lean over the [dugout rail]," the elder Freeman said.
With veteran first baseman Derrek Lee needing a chance to rest his ailing back, Braves manager Bobby Cox had no problem introducing Freeman to the Major League scene by immediately throwing the highly regarded 20-year-old prospect into the heart of a pennant race as a member of his starting lineup.
"It felt like the day went really, really slow," Freeman said while admitting he had pregame butterflies. "But when I got out there, it was like usual."
While Freeman went hitless in three at-bats during a 4-1 win over the Mets, he made a solid impression on Cox and came away with even more reason to believe he's ready to compete at the game's highest level. He was greeted with a loud ovation before his first-inning at-bat.
"That was a pretty special ovation and I'll never forget that," Freeman said. "Obviously, I didn't get any hits, but we won. I felt good up there and I felt comfortable. That's all you can really ask for."
While doing some opposite-field damage against the Mets' Triple-A affiliate this year, Freeman might have denied himself the chance to record a hit in his first career at-bat. His sharp first-inning grounder seemed destined to reach center field before it landed in the glove of shortstop Ruben Tejada, who was positioned directly behind second base.
Two innings later, Freeman laced a line drive directly to Mets third baseman David Wright, who threw to first base to complete a double play.
"I saw the shift, but I hit it hard, so I didn't know if it was going to get through or not," Freeman said. "Then I saw him put his glove out. When I hit the second one, I was like, 'That's got to go through.' It went right to David [Wright]. That's baseball."
When Freeman exited Spring Training, there was reason to wonder if the Braves should allow him to prove himself at the Double-A level. Six months later, the young first baseman had passed all of the necessary tests at the Triple-A level and been named the International League's Rookie of the Year.
Now, before Freeman experiences his true rookie season as Atlanta's first baseman next year, he'll have the opportunity to truly prove he is ready for the Major League level. He batted .319 with 18 homers and an .898 OPS in 124 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
"It's hard to believe," the elder Freeman said. "He was just in high school it seemed like yesterday."
After taking Jason Heyward with their first-round selection in the the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the Braves grabbed Freeman in the second round. Since then, they have seen the two form a close friendship and develop into two of the game's best prospects.
"It's awesome," Heyward said. "I'm happy for him. It's great to see any of your friends realize their goal, whether it's in baseball or whatever."
It's been quite a week for the Freeman family. Five days after becoming a grandfather for the first time, Fred Freeman got to share in a dream that he has helped produce while throwing countless hours of batting practice to Freddie.
When his eldest son, Andrew, was a member of a 12-year-old All-Star team, 6-year-old Freddie had no problem practicing with the team and providing the earliest indications that his baseball skills might be something special.
"I'm not going to say he was better than Andrew at that age, but he was as good as a lot of those other kids," Fred Freeman said.
With his youngest son being a right-hander who has always batted from the left side of the plate, Freeman sent his wife to Freddie's first T-ball practice with the instructions to pull him off the field if the coach attempted to make him bat from the right side of the plate.
As fate would have it, Rosemary Freeman found herself walking to the plate grabbing Freddie's hand and pulling him off the field that day. Freddie would return a few days later and spend a portion of that summer confined to the right-field line, where he wouldn't be able to prolong his habit of trying to catch everything that was put in play.
"You think those are special until you get here and make your Major League debut," Freeman said. "This tops it all. It's everything I could have hoped for."
Unfortunately, it's been 10 years since Rosemary Freeman has been able to provide her love to her three sons, who continued to prosper under the care of a father, who provided a regular diet of Subway sandwiches before learning how to cook such things as a chicken and rice dish that Freddie still calls his favorite.
Rosemary Freeman lost her battle against melanoma in 2000. Ten years later, as her husband stood proudly in Turner Field, her youngest son could take pride in the fact that he had realized a dream that his mother had helped develop.
"I was talking to her the whole game, saying, 'Wish you were here,' and 'I know you're watching,'" Freeman said. "She wasn't here physically, but I know she was here spiritually, and it was something special for her to be able to see that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.