For most of his first day as a Dodger, a smile was planted on Freddie Freeman’s face.
Fresh off finalizing his six-year, $162 million contract with the team, Freeman arrived to the team’s spring training complex Friday early in the morning, wearing a dapper black suit and a glove as he walked into the facility.
He put on Dodger blue for the first time in the afternoon, taking the field in team athletic wear for a workout to a chorus of cheers from hundreds of fans.
Then, during an introductory press conference overlooking the stadium at Camelback Ranch, Freeman slipped into his new uniform, showing off the newly sewn No. 5 displayed across the back.
“I just wanted to get here and get going,” Freeman said. “Everyone just welcomed me with open arms.”
The only time Freeman’s expression changed Friday was when the subject of his old team came up. The former MVP, after all, once expected to spend his entire career with the Atlanta Braves. And just days removed from his official goodbye to the club, he was still struggling to make sense of the separation.
“I thought I was going to spend my whole career there,” he said. “But ultimately sometimes plans change, and plans did change.”
Freeman’s doubts about returning to the Braves slowly set in during the past year.
He said the Braves made one formal offer for a contract extension last season at the trade deadline, then never responded to a counterproposal from his representatives.
He said that while the Dodgers wooed him heavily from the start of the offseason, Braves officials only called him twice, once before the lockout and once after simply to check in.
And he said that, when the Braves traded for Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson on Monday — effectively ending Freeman’s time in Atlanta — he had no idea the news was coming.
“To be honest, I was blindsided,” said Freeman, who to that point still believed a return to Atlanta was possible. “I think every emotion came across. I was hurt. It’s really hard to put into words still.”
Freeman was also asked if he saw Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos tearing up while introducing Olson this week.
“I saw ‘em,” Freeman said. “Yup. That’s all I’ll say.”
Freeman’s deal with the Dodgers came together soon after, with Freeman agreeing to contract — which includes roughly $57 million of deferred money to be paid out between 2028 and 2040, according to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to discuss it publicly — on Wednesday, passing a physical in Los Angeles on Thursday, then jetting out to Arizona to join the team Friday.
“The last week has been a little bit of a whirlwind,” Freeman said. “But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.”
Freeman said the chance to go back to Southern California — he is an Orange County native and his father and grandpa still live in the area — played a major factor in his decision. He was also drawn in by the Dodgers’ pitch, which included Zoom calls with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts.
“I think everyone knew the situation I was in and they were very upfront and they cared about where I was coming from and how long I was there,” Freeman said. “They cared about family. I expressed family and winning. That’s all I care about and that’s what they care about, too.”
Third baseman Justin Turner aided in the pursuit, too.
“His name popped up on my phone quite a bit throughout this whole process,” Freeman said, laughing.
Added Friedman: “Over the years, every time Justin Turner got to first base, he’d have a little word with him about how good he’d look in Dodger blue”
For Friedman, going after Freeman was a no-brainer.
The five-time All-Star has established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball over the last decade. He filled a hole in the Dodgers’ otherwise loaded lineup, giving them another left-handed slugger to replace Corey Seager. The team had just seen first-hand how difficult Freeman is to play against, too, having lost to the Braves in a six-game NL Championship Series.
“I think what he does on the field is obvious to everyone,” Friedman said. “We’ve competed against them three of the last four years in the playoffs and the stress, [even in] the innings before he comes up, the lineup kind of orbits around him.”
Now, it’s the Dodgers who will benefit, their roster bolstered again by the arrival of another one of baseball’s biggest stars.
“If I was going to leave the place I was for 15 years,” Freeman said, “coming home and being with this organization is probably the best thing.”