GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Freddie Freeman admits he’s still bewildered and hurt by how his 15 years with the Atlanta Braves ended.

The star slugger is also thrilled that the messy breakup has allowed him to begin the next chapter of his impressive career close to home with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Freeman joined the Dodgers on Friday for his first practice since agreeing to a six-year, $162 million contract to be a centerpiece on the Los Angeles roster.

“Everyone just welcomed me with open arms,” Freeman said from the balcony of the Dodgers spring training complex after hundreds of fans below cheered him on as he donned a white Dodgers jersey. for the first time.

“They know how much I care about winning and about family,” Freeman added. “If I had to leave a place where I had been for 15 years, coming home and being part of this organization is probably the best thing that could have happened.”

Freeman arrived at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch practice facility in a suit and tie, but immediately received high spirits from his new, more laid-back teammates. Freeman is a Southern California native who probably should have known better, but he’s looking forward to fitting in back home.

“It’s not really a costume organization, I guess,” Freeman said with a laugh.

The 32-year-old slugger quickly transformed into Dodger Blue for the first showcase of his famously consistent swing in the batting cages.

The Dodgers paid top dollar to get Freeman after his impressive career with the Braves, including a 12-year run with the big league club that resulted in the 2020 NL MVP award and the 2021 World Series title.

Freeman was the face of the Braves, but they turned their backs on him, feels the slugger.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to be a free agent,” Freeman said.

Although he received only two phone calls from the Atlanta front office during the offseason, he still believed he would return to the only team he had ever adapted for – until Monday, when the Braves traded a dramatic trade with Oakland for Matt Olson. , who was awarded a $168 million contract a day later.

Freeman was working at his home in Orange County when he heard about Olson’s business, which completely blindsided him.

“I had no idea what was coming, anything like that,” Freeman said. “When I was told, emotions were everywhere. I couldn’t really speak for a few hours, trying to figure out what was going on.

Once he got together, Freeman and his agent received offers from multiple teams. The Dodgers easily made the most sense.

“I spoke to my wife and said, ‘I think it’s time to go home,'” Freeman said. “I have my 67-year-old dad and 86-year-old grandfather who will now be able to watch me play every day, like 15 years ago in high school, so that’s what’s special for me. Putting on a uniform that cares about winning and strives to win every year is all you can ask for.

The five-time All-Star first baseman is expected to be an immediate staple at the heart of the Dodgers’ batting order and at first base as they seek their second championship in three seasons.

“We couldn’t be more excited to add him as a staple of our roster for years to come,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.

Freeman hit .300 with 31 homers and 83 RBIs while playing 161 regular season games last year. He then hit .304 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in the playoffs while leading the Braves to their first title since 1995, with a six-game victory over the Dodgers in the NLCS along the way.

The Dodgers have made the playoffs in nine straight seasons, and they ignored their normal aversion to lavish long-term contracts to lock in Freeman, who lives in the Costa Del Mar neighborhood of Newport Beach during the offseason, around 25 minutes from his childhood home. .

Freeman never really thought he would leave Atlanta, but the Dodgers have been looking at him for a long time, Friedman acknowledged.

“For the past few years, every time he came to first base, Justin Turner had a conversation with him about how good he looked in Dodger Blue,” Friedman said with a smile. “I think there could definitely be forgery charges against Justin Turner.”

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