Should we feel bad for Freddie Freeman?


By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

These things can vary from person to person, obviously, but it isn’t generally in our instinctive nature to feel sorry for someone who just landed a $162 million contract.

The wells of pity don’t typically flow for a guy who just moved into a lavish new home in Studio City, one of Los Angeles’ trendier enclaves.

The mere reality of someone being a professional athlete is likelier to elicit envy than sympathy, especially a baseball player who just got showered with love for an entire road series, of all things.

Yet here we are, midway through an increasingly compelling Major League Baseball season, and I’m moved to reach out and give Freddie Freeman a giant, virtual, journalistic hug.

Come here big guy, it’s going to be OK.

The past week made a few things very clear. Despite growing up in Orange County, Calif., Freeman would rather be back in Atlanta, still with the Braves, living in the home-away-from-home where he spent 15 years before actually returning home with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Freeman’s contract with the Braves came to an end the moment he helped the franchise secure the World Series, back in November. The ensuing MLB lockout put negotiations over a new deal on hold and, by March, he had inked a six-year agreement with the Dodgers, which is where the $162 million figure comes in.

So far, so normal. Pro athlete gets a big free-agent payday and moves away from the place where he made his name and was happy and successful.

However, when the Dodgers headed for Georgia for a three-game stand last weekend, it was no typical homecoming. Freeman spent much of his brief stint in Atlanta in emotional flux, spending an entire eight-minute press conference in tears.

“I don’t know all the emotions, it is hard to put into words,” he wept. “I’m just happy to be back.”

There was more stuff to get you in the feels when he was presented with his World Series ring from last season by Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, and more again when he was lauded by the Atlanta crowd at every at-bat.

He played well through the series, hitting a couple of homers, but by the end of the third game – when it was time to leave – the emotions were still on display.

It was getting a little awkward, in truth, a fact not lost on Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who pointedly stated he hoped “we’re not second fiddle” in Freeman’s mind.

By Tuesday it was being reported Freeman had fired his agent, Casey Close of Excel Management, who led offseason negotiations for the slugger.

Regardless, the takeaway from the trip was not particularly hard to decipher. Freeman wishes he was still with the Braves and the return there as a visiting player reminded him just how much he misses it.

Not everyone liked the sideshow. Plenty of Dodgers supporters must have hated it.    

I can’t lie, I loved it. Maybe it’s because I’m not as young as I wish I was, or because baseball seems to bring out the sentimental side in all of us, but it felt like a throwback to a different time.

One-team loyalty is largely dead. Players have bonds with cities, sure, but in most cases they depart for greener and wealthier pastures, giving no more than a cursory look back over the shoulder.

Freeman came to cherish a place, and an organization, so much, that you get the sense he’d hand back every penny of his Dodgers deal. Sports doesn’t allow much for things like that, and it would be a stunning turn of events were he to somehow leave and end up back in Atlanta now.

It might all seem ungrateful to L.A., but this is what we want from athletes isn’t it, loyalty?

“Over time, Freeman might come to love L.A.,” wrote Mark Bradley in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He might write off his first months as a Dodger as a case of buyer’s remorse. He might hit seven homers against the Braves in the NLCS, which would make even Brian Snitker less eager to hug him.”

For now, we just have the fascinating story of how one of the most important players on one of the best teams in baseball is pining for another. And that’s why I feel bad for him.

Emotional sympathy isn’t typically something that professional athletes get much of these days, probably because they receive so much in other ways.

It is hard for the public to truly extend its heart’s pity to someone who makes millions, is a hero to millions, and who, from the outside looking in, appears to have a much cooler life than the rest of us do.

Sports lovers have the collective capacity to sympathize with their favorite sportspeople, notably in cases of misfortune such as a nasty injury and definitely in instances where they may experience some personal tragedy.

But feeling sad for a football or baseball or basketball or soccer player, just because they’re feeling unhappy – or homesick? That’s not really a thing.

There is always an exception. Freeman is that. If nothing else, he’s just stepped up the “I’ll always love you (insert appropriate city name)” game to a whole new level.

Athletes have given heartfelt speeches and interviews, taken out full-page newspaper ads, declared themselves (insert appropriate team name) for life, before.

Freeman, with his tears and actions, did something more. He is hurting, and he showed it. The locals felt it — and relished it.

Freddie Freeman, .308-hitting first baseman for the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, might be the most popular man in Atlanta.

Where he visits only sometimes, but where his heart — it seems — will always be.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.


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