Originally published on March 22, 2013
By Bob Elliott
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. _ How many countries have a comprable replacement for a MVP winner?
Had Joey Votto’s knee prevented him from playing in this month’s World Baseball Classic, Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was ready and willing to wear the maple leaf.
“I told the Player’s Association to make sure they let the WBC know both my parents were born in Canada,” Freeman said Thursday before the Washington Nationals met his Braves at Champions Stadium.
“Canada was set with two good first basemen in Justin Morneau and Votto, both former MVP winners.”
Some scouts say Freeman, 23, may have an MVP in his future. He hit .259 with 23 homers, 94 RBIs and a .796 OPS in his second full year in the majors last year.
This spring Freeman has seven homers and 15 RBIs while batting .373, while Atlanta hitting coach Greg Walker calls him the best young hitter he’s ever worked with.
“I want to wear a Canadian uniform to honour my late mother, I think it would be a good gesture,” said Freeman, who was born in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Freeman’s father, also named Fred, was born in Windsor, Ont.
His mother, Rosemary, was born in Toronto, grew up in Peterborough and then her family moved to Windsor. WBC eligibility rules allow players to play for countries of their parents birth.
“I told Votto last year when we both were at first base how my parents were born in Canada,” said Freeman. “I’ve never met Morneau, but man he and Michael Saunders went off during the WBC.”
Saunders earned MVP honours in the Phoenix pool and a berth on the all-tourney team.
What about Freeman playing the outfield?
“Ah, I’m not really that fast,” said Freeman, who has played 324 games in the majors, 398 in the minors -- all but five at first when he played third with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Braves as a 17-year-old.
His father explained the Freeman family travels on the phone from Villa Park, Calif. (“four miles from where the Angels play.”)
Edwin Freeman, grand father of the Braves first baseman, was an accountant. He worked for Revenue Canada, then TRW and was transferred to California in 1967. Three years later it was a move to Detroit, the Freemans choosing to live in Windsor. And in 1972 another transfer to California, causing the first baseman’s father to make friends in a hurry.
“For grade 10, 11 and 12 I went to three different schools,” said the father. “Assumption College in grade 10, Vincent Massey in grade 11, both in Windsor and then grade 12 in California.
“We were ahead in our schooling, so all I needed to graduate in January was driver’s ed and US history.”
Fred and Rosemary, daughter of Bud and Irene McDonald, were wed in Oshawa. By then Fred was attending Cal-State Fullerton and their honeymoon was supposed to be the drive to the coast.
“We got to the border, immigration said my wife couldn’t enter, I’m 21, what did I know?” said Fred. They stayed for two weeks in Windsor before Fred headed for class.
Five months later Freeman’s wife entered the US on the sly.
“Yep,” laughed Freeman in the first base dugout, “my mother was an illegal alien -- for a short time.”
Two years later Rosemary obtained her green card after presenting her papers to California Senator Alan Cranston.
The Braves visit Detroit April 26-28 and a Freeman family reunion is planned.
“I have plenty of cousins in Windsor, I haven’t seen some of my dad’s cousins in years,” said the first baseman. “The other day in Lakeland a fan screamed out ‘I’m your cousin from Windsor.’”
The first baseman’s last trip to Canada was in 2007 when he and his father flew to visit his great grandmother Bea Freeman before she passed.
Freeman went in the second round to Atlanta that June, 78th over-all in North America, receiving a $409,500 US bonus.
Hall of Famer, Nap Lajoie was born in Woonsocket, R.I. of French Canadian parents, Jean Baptiste and Celina Guertin, would have been WBC eligible 117 years ago, if there was a WBC then. Of course, his only major-league teammates would have been in Harley Payne, Billy Hulen, Albert Johnson and Gus Yost.
Arriving in the Braves dugout early we spoke with retired manager Bobby Cox and recalled the day he brought two 6-foot-5 giants, Jason Heyward and Freeman, to Dunedin in 2009.
“They’re both 19, headed to (class-A) Myrtle Beach to play for Rocket Wheeler and they’re going to be special,” Cox said that day.
Cox was right.
After being introduced to country legend Whispering Bill Anderson (Ontario Terriers former coach Danny Thompson, Whispering’s biggest Canadian fan, was at the Opry, the night of his anniversary) and noticing Freeman had finished batting practice, I departed.
“Where you headed?” Cox asked.
“To steal Freeman?” I answered.
“WHAAAAT!” said the future Hall of Fame manager.
“For the 2017 WBC.”
“Oh, OK,” said Cox.