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, Freeman arrived to the team’s spring training complex early Friday, 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 for a workout to a chorus of cheers from hundreds of fans.
Then, during an introductory news conference, Freeman slipped into his new uniform, showing off the No. 5 freshly sewn 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 was when the subject of his old Atlanta Braves team came up. The former National League most valuable player, just days removed from his official goodbye, still was 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.”
Freeman’s doubts about returning to the Braves slowly set in during the last year. He said the Braves made one formal offer for a contract extension last season at the trade deadline, then never countered his representatives' proposal.
He said that while the Dodgers wooed him heavily from the start of the offseason, Braves officials called him only twice, once before the lockout and once after simply to check in.
And he said that when the Braves traded for Oakland 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 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 his contract — which includes roughly $57 million of deferred money to be paid between 2028 and 2040, according to a person with knowledge of the deal not authorized to discuss it publicly — on Wednesday, passing a physical on Thursday, then jetting 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 grandfather still live in the area — played a major factor in his decision. He also was drawn in by the Dodgers’ pitch.
“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.
“His name popped up on my phone quite a bit throughout this whole process,” Freeman said, laughing, and Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman added: “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 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, having lost to the Braves in a six-game NL Championship Series.
“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.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.