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03/29/11 10:05 AM ET

New start for Freeman, Braves nearly here

Rookie first baseman ready for first Opening Day experience

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Freddie Freeman arrived for the start of Spring Training in February, he was in rather familiar territory. This marked the third consecutive season the 21-year-old first baseman was part of the Braves' Major League camp.

Nor will Freeman be navigating a new path when the regular season begins Thursday. After last year's successful season with Triple-A Gwinnett, he spent the month of September in the Majors and in the process gained a lasting memory by hitting his first career home run at the expense of eventual National League Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay.

But as Freeman prepared to leave Braves camp Monday, he was feeling the excitement created by the journey that he'll begin Thursday, when the Braves open the regular season in Washington D.C., against the Nationals. This will mark the beginning of his much-anticipated era as Atlanta's everyday first baseman.

"This is the first Opening Day for me," Freeman said. "It's what you dream of, to be able to do it one day, and it's getting closer and closer."

Journey to Opening Day
• Pedro Alvarez, PIT, 3B
Part I | Part II | Part III
• Lance Berkman, STL, OF
Part I | Part II | Part III
• Carl Crawford, BOS, OF
  Adrian Gonzalez, BOS, 1B

Part I | Part II | Part III
• Freddie Freeman, ATL, 1B
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV
• Mitch Moreland, TEX, 1B
Part I | Part II | Part III
• Hunter Pence, HOU, OF
Part I | Part II | Part III
• Andres Torres, SF, OF
Part I | Part II | Part III

As Freeman has approached this dream opportunity to play in the Majors on an everyday basis, he has leaned on many of his Braves teammates, including his good friend Jason Heyward, who had no problem handling the extra attention he gained before making his much-anticipated debut last year.

"I'm excited for him," Heyward said. "It's all going to come full circle when he has that first game on the road, obviously we'll be in D.C. in front of a packed house. Then when we come back to Atlanta, that will be pretty special."

With Heyward and Freeman, the Braves will confidently place a pair of 21-year-old players in their lineup on an everyday basis this year. While young, both have gained great experience since coming to big league camp together at 19 years old.

Heyward ranked as the game's top overall prospect last year and finished second in balloting for last year's NL Rookie of the Year.

Freeman is hoping to find similar rookie success. MLB.com ranks him the Braves' second-best prospect and the game's 17th-best overall prospect.

"For me, I knew it was the time of my life and I needed to live it up," Heyward said. "You only get to play this game so long, so you've got to go enjoy it."

Always courteous and friendly, Freeman seemed to grow more comfortable with his surroundings as this past month progressed. Unlike the two previous camps, he and Heyward had their lockers positioned on the same side of the clubhouse as Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Brian McCann and many of the Braves' other veterans.

Freeman's locker is located next to those inhabited by David Ross and Eric Hinske, who he considers to be the team's two funniest characters.

"I think the best side of camp is being on this side of the locker room and hearing what these guys talk about," Freeman said. "You can't go without laughing constantly every day. These guys on the team are awesome. We have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, and that's what I love about this camp."

Once the Braves broke camp and returned to Atlanta on Monday, Freeman had little to worry about. His Atlanta residence was prepared for him to arrive and visit briefly before beginning his much-anticipated journey as a Major Leaguer.

"Everything will be ready to go so I can concentrate on baseball," Freeman said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.