The Rise of MVFree! (Daryll – obviously)

In many ways the career of Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is one of patience, trust, and a belief in himself and those he surrounds himself with.

Freddie went to high school in Southern California and it was clear he was very good at baseball. Perfectgame.org had this to say about the tall first baseman “Freeman is one of the top pure hitters in the ’07 high school class and was ranked #7 among PG National Top 100 position players. When he is swinging the bat well, he is a fun to watch hit as anyone in this class. Freeman has plus plus hands for hitting. The one thing that he loves to do on the field is to get in that batters box and hit.”(emphasis added). Freeman had verbally committed to play for baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, but knew he had a chance to go in the first round of the draft.

The Braves in 2007 instead drafted Jason Heyward in the first round, and Freddie was drafted in the 2nd round. He was the 78th overall and two spots behind Giancarlo Stanton. It was great, but he was overshadowed by the Atlanta area product Heyward who many dubbed the next Hank Aaron.

Just wait Freddie, your time will come.

Freddie came onto the scene in the latter half of 2010 – the first year the Braves had made the playoffs after their major professional sports record of 14 consecutive division titles ended in 2005. First base that season was manned by Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee, though certainly it was clear that the job was Freddie’s headed into 2011. The franchise future though appeared to be 2010 rookie standout Jason Heyward who homered in his first at-bat that season, made the All Star team and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to the Giants Buster Posey. Freddie was left off of the playoff roster, which the Braves lost to Buster Posey’s Giants in the first round.

The Braves had a lot to be excited for in 2011. Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones had a poor 2010 before tearing his ACL, but had vowed to come back in 2011 to make sure the fans last image of him wasn’t him in pain leaving the field. Chipper had started the 90’s Braves dynasty and now was getting ready to pass that torch of Braves leadership. His 2011 season was full of injuries as well, and the Braves sputtered to lose a playoff spot on the final day of the 2011 season. Chipper announced he would play out his contract – one more year. As for Freddie, he had a terrific rookie season in 2011 but once again was overlooked by teammate Craig Kimbrel who beat him out in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Just wait Freddie, your time will come.

The 2012 season was set up as Chippers final season and the Braves were eager to make the playoffs again , Chipper provided a career highlight moment with a walk off over Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies. I love how in this video you see the childlike Freddie awkwardly side bumping Chipper who seems oblivious.

They made the playoffs and played in the new one game wild card playoff, led by the sensational down the stretch pitching of Kris Medlen. Unfortunately, that success didn’t translate in the one game playoff, as well as the terrible “infield fly” ruling by umpire Sam Holbrook led to another first round playoff elimination.

The torch was passed now from Chipper – and the team was now Freddie’s with a nod to Brian McCann. What makes Freddie special isn’t just the on field performance but what he brings to the clubhouse. He is famous for his hugs, his smile, and his fun. From playing baseball with his son in the front yard, late this year flying to Atlanta for two hours to watch his first tee ball practice before flying up to Philly for a baseball game, trying to “fool” an umpire into his transcendent fielding abilities, to fitting an entire bag of sunflower seeds in his mouth.

Son:

Fun

The Braves went on to win the NL East in 2013 for the first time since 2005. He finished 5th in the MVP voting, made the All Star Team hitting .309 and surpassing 100 RBI. It was his turn to carry the team on his back, the same way Chipper carried him out of an Atlanta snowstorm in one of the most iconic photo of modern Atlanta Braves times.

Chipper to the Rescue – Freddie can’t stop hugging him

The spring of 2014 saw the Braves looking to lock up their core of young players to multi-year deals. Heyward signed a 2 year contract, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran all signed long term deals. Freddie became the acknowledged centerpiece as he signed an 8 year, $135M contract. Then came spring training. It appeared that Freddie’s time had finally arrived.

Then in the span of a week 3 Braves starters got hurt, 2 for the season and one for most of it and just like that the dynasty appeared to be ending. Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel left after 2014, Andrelton Simmons after 2015, and all that remained from that exciting core was Freddie. He was told the team would build around him. That the losing would be harsh but the glory days were coming again.

Just wait Freddie. Trust us and your time will come.

2015 was an injury season and a bad one for the Braves, before a 2016 where he set a career high in home runs and OPS and finished 6th in MVP voting. He even played 3B for 17 games after his injury replacement Matt Adams played so well they couldn’t keep him out of the lineup. Unfortunately the Braves that year finished dead last in the NL East at 68-93. That is some terrible baseball, but Freddie was the bright spot.

After another poor Braves season in 2017 finishing 72-90, with a worse offseason with the annoucement of an international signing scandal spearheaded by GM John Coppolella, receiving the rare lifetime baseball ban last given to Pete Rose. Also gone was John Hart, replaced by former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous. Was the team about to hit a downward spiral even as they were stockpiling talent? How would the team respond?

With that hovering over them, on the field the team was once again excited to be on the rebound in 2018 with the emergence of Ronald Acuna Jr. Acuna Jr did not disappoint, winning the National League Rookie of the Year and along with best friend Ozzie Albies bringing a whole new energy into the clubhouse. The team rebounded to win the NL East with Freddie making another All Star Team, winning his first Gold Glove, and finishing 4th in MVP voting. The time for Freddie to be nationally recognized was so close. Unfortunately they were again eliminated in the first round of the playoffs against the Dodgers, with Freddie striking out for the final out of the series.

Sit tight Freddie. Your time is almost here.

In 2019 the Braves clicked into full cylinder, finishing 97-65 to win the NL East title for the second straight season. Freddie Freeman set a career high in HR (38), RBI (121) before the Braves were eliminated again in the first round of the playoffs. Close but no cigar.

Then came 2020 and Coronavirus. Freddie even tested positive for the virus and endured the worst night of his life fighting the virus and fever, thinking that he might actually die. He persevered, and came to spring training ready to fight on the field.

Wait Freddie, your time will come.

At last, in late July the 2020 season started amidst concerns about an outbreak despite safety protocols. How would Freddie respond to all the whispers he had heard over the years waiting for his time to come? For him to take the mantle of what Braves fans know he has been for some time now: the most valuable player. He would take those whispers and amplify them into yells. Battle cries! From his HS prospect showcase: “To watch him on one of his better days makes a scout imagine 40 dingers in the Big Leagues. One of Freeman’s attributes that serves him so well as a hitter is that he has a short memory”. Indeed. In the 60 game season, Freddie would lead the league in Runs scored, 2B’s, second in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, and had more walks than strikeouts. He is absolutely the front runner for the MVP Award. He slugged his first career grand slam this season, then two days later hit another one. He and his wife had just found out she is pregnant with twins, leading her to comment: “I guess everything comes in two’s now”.

As the season wrapped up – he hit a Chipper Jone-esque (but you know, with no fans) walk off home run in a game he didn’t even start!

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The Braves made the playoffs again, a place that Freddie is now familiar with being his 5th active playoffs and 6th overall. Yet this is a seasoned Freddie Freeman. In an epic Game 1 of the new NL Wild Card round, Freddie hit the walk off single before the Braves waltzed to a 2 game sweep to advance now to face the Marlins in the Division Series.

Freddie has waited. He has put in the time, now over 30. He has suffered through the losing seasons while the Braves promised him that they would build around him. They have delivered. He just keeps doing what he always loved doing: getting in the box and hitting. As the announcer yells below “Who else but Freddie Freeman?”.

Freddie has waited. His time has come.

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