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2022-06-25 07:24:38 By : Ms. Nancy Wong

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman spent the past three months looking forward to the chance to return to Atlanta. But as the Dodgers first baseman cried throughout a 13-minute press conference at Truist Park on Friday, he recognized these next few days will likely be filled with a lot of sadness.

“I was looking forward to today, but I’m hoping it’s Monday soon,” Freeman said. “Gosh, this is a lot harder than I thought.”

Freeman was showered with a long, thunderous ovation as he received his 2021 World Series ring before Friday night’s series opener between the Braves and Dodgers. Another standing ovation preceded his first plate appearance. Freeman then went 1-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored in Los Angeles' 4-1 win.

Atlanta fans will forever cherish Freeman’s contributions. But this will be a challenging homecoming for the Braves icon, who before signing with the Dodgers in March assumed he would spend his entire career in Atlanta.

“I thought I loved this city and this organization a lot,” Freeman said as he dabbed his eyes and bloodshot cheeks with a towel. “But you can tell how much I truly do love this organization and this city. I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this weekend.”

Freeman was back at Truist Park for the first time since the Braves’ World Series parade ended at this ballpark last November. That was the day Dansby Swanson and other Atlanta players led the fans to chant, “Re-sign Freddie.” Many, including the veteran first baseman, assumed a deal would eventually get done.

Yet seven months later, Freeman found himself wearing a Dodgers uniform as he hugged Braves manager Brian Snitker and received his ring. This was what he had aspired to since being a baby-faced 17-year-old who was taken by Atlanta in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft.

“We went through a lot of ups and downs, and then we reached the pinnacle last year,” Freeman said. “That ring is not just a ring to me. It’s all the sacrifices and all the missed family time, the broken wrist [in 2017], all the 14-hour bus rides [in the Minor Leagues] and then the grind every single year. Then, to finally win -- there’s no better feeling in this sport.”

While this weekend provides a chance to celebrate all Freeman accomplished during his 12 seasons with the Braves, it also reminds him of the pain he has felt since his days in Atlanta ended.

Should the Braves have re-signed Freeman before the end of the 2021 season? Maybe. Should Freeman have taken more control of the negotiations? Maybe. Did Freeman’s agents lead him in the wrong direction?

There’s been plenty of focus on who is to blame. But regardless, Freeman has had to deal with the reality he is no longer with the Braves.

“The regret question is a whole different side of the story I’m not here to talk about,” Freeman said. “If I got into that, we’d be here a long time and my emotion might change.”

1,565 games. 1,704 hits. 271 home runs. 5 All-Star appearances. 3 Silver Sluggers. 1 Hank Aaron Award. 1 MVP. 1 World Series title. Countless memories. Thank you, @FreddieFreeman5. pic.twitter.com/cmogk6Uxf1

Freeman debuted for the Braves on Sept. 1, 2010, just in time to play for Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, who retired a month later. Freeman earned five All-Star selections, received the 2020 National League MVP Award, won five NL East crowns and helped Atlanta win a championship last year.

When it comes to the Braves’ greatest icons, Freeman ranks up there with many of the club’s Hall of Famers. He stands with Chipper Jones and Hank Aaron as the only players in franchise history to hit .290 with at least 250 homers and a .890 OPS.

Freeman returned Thursday night to his Atlanta residence, which is about 15 minutes away from Truist Park. His daily diet when home over the past few years consisted of a trip to Cupanion’s, a restaurant in Sandy Springs that features a great chicken biscuit. Freeman goes the healthier route, choosing to eat the "Freddie Omelette," which includes egg whites and a variety of vegetables. You won’t find it on the menu. It’s a special-order item.

When Freeman entered Cupanion’s on Friday, he received a standing ovation from the nine people within the small restaurant. His heart was warmed once again when he counted 14 people wearing a No. 5 Freeman jersey on his drive to the ballpark.

“I’m not looking for closure,” Freeman said. “There’s nothing for me to close. Why would I close such a special time in my life?"