You see, this was him just a few years ago. Freeman came up at age 20 in 2010 with a 91-win Braves team that featured Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and all-time great closer Billy Wagner. He was the kid; the top prospect with a chance to become a great player. They were the veteran leaders.
Now, Freeman looks around the clubhouse and sees a litany of young studs and he couldn’t help but laugh when discussing it.
“Everyone thinks I’m old now,” he said with a laugh. “When I look at Ronald (Acuna) and Mike (Soroka) it makes me feel old.”
I interjected, “and Ozzie (Albies) and Austin (Riley) … ”
“Yeah, you can just keep going and going,” he said, again with a laugh.
The Braves enter play Tuesday at 70-50 with a six-game lead in the NL East. SportsLine gives them a 74.6 percent chance to repeat as division champs.
Ronald Acuna leads the team in WAR. He’s a budding superstar slashing .298/.378/.538 with 33 homers and 28 steals. He’s 21 years old. Ozzie Albies is hitting .300 with 31 doubles, seven triples, 18 homers and 11 steals. He’s 22 years old. Mike Soroka is 10-2 with a 2.32 ERA. He’s 21 years old. And as Freeman said, we could just keep going and going. The Braves are loaded with good, young talent.
“It’s amazing how the game has changed for me,” he said. “These guys are coming up at 21 years old, 20 years old, 19 and producing at such a high level. Back when I first came up at 20 I was trying to get my bearings. These guys are already making an impact and being at the All-Star Game. It’s so fun to watch, but yeah, they are making me feel a little old.”
As he alluded to, Freeman isn’t exactly old, either. He’s 29. He’s putting up yet another superstar season. He finished fourth in NL MVP voting last season and he shouldn’t be much off that this time around. He’s slashing .309/.402/.567 with 29 homers and an NL-best 95 RBI. If it’s been quiet, it’s because of guys like Acuna and Albies surrounding him. If we want to add bonus points for things like clubhouse leadership, Freeman fits the part after coming up with contending teams and then going through a rebuild.
Remember, Freeman came up in 2010 when the Braves were a wild-card team. They made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013, too, with Freeman playing a key role. They regressed to 79 wins in 2014 and went into an extreme rebuild prior to 2015, dealing everyone with value except Freeman and Julio Teheran. Freeman believes he’s grown from the situation.
“I feel like you grow into situations,” he said. “I came up and we were winning and we had Billy Wagner, Chipper Jones and all those kinda guys. Then like three years later everyone gets traded except me and I’m the old guy. Everything has come full circle. You’re gonna be an old guy in this league eventually. I didn’t think I was gonna be considered old at 29, but that’s kinda where we’re at. I guess I’ve got a couple of old guys in Nick Markakis and “B-Mac” (Brian McCann).
“Sometimes you get thrown into certain situations and you’ve got to grow and learn from it. It makes you better as a person. Now I get to take some of them under my wing the way others did for me. It’s fun.”
Winning is obviously part of the equation when it comes to Freeman believing this is fun. If they were 50-70, he probably wouldn’t be having near as much fun. This group has a different feel than some of the teams in years’ past for Freeman.
“To be with such a great, young group that’s going to be good for a long time, that’s the most exciting thing,” he said with a pretty large grin. “To come to the ballpark expecting to win now instead of hoping to win, that’s what we’ve got going on.”
The latter part is something I cling to. The Braves show up each day at the ballpark expecting to win. That’s the mindset of a championship core and that’s what the Braves have — starting with Freeman, their veteran leader who has come full circle.