By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – As the clock counted down to the first pitch of the World Baseball Classic in Miami between the reigning-champion Dominican Republic squad and Team Canada, Freddie Freeman anxiously awaited the chance to stand on the first base line and hear the national anthem of the country north of the border.
Playing in honour of his late mother Rosemary, who was born in Oshawa and passed away when he was 10 years old of melanoma skin cancer, and representing his father Fredrick, Freeman’s emotions have been at the forefront as he’s approached the chance to represent their home country on the international stage.
“I haven’t been nervous for a game in I couldn’t even tell you how long, not even in the playoffs,” the Atlanta Braves first baseman said. “Just excitement when it comes to those games. But I actually think I’m going to be nervous for Thursday. You’ve got a whole country on your back pretty much.
“And then there’s the extra little motivation of wanting to do well, because I know she’s up there watching and I want to make her proud. So there are going to be nerves, there’s going to be anxiety about it, just wanting the game to start.”
The roster spot occupied by the Fountain Valley, California-born infielder has been a long time coming. Earlier attempts were made to join Team Canada, but with former MVPs Joey Votto and Justin Morneau representing their home and native land, there hadn’t been room for Freeman until the current tournament.
“In Freddie’s case it was obviously having a familiarity with him directly in terms of the interest level, and then for us – as crazy as it sounds – on the front end, unfortunately it didn’t fit because we had our first baseman and DH locked in,” said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. “The nice part is, you go through the process and realize how well he’ll fit just because of the fact that he understood that and was respectful of that.
“Freddie Freeman is obviously good enough to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, it was just the positional challenge. For him to be understanding of the process, be patient with the process, in my mind really reflects well of bringing somebody in here of who’s going to fit; really fit in our clubhouse.
“You don’t win in your clubhouse, but you can kind of lose if your clubhouse is all over the place. We pride ourselves over the years on having a group of people who fit and work together, and they compete together and they care.”
In constructing the roster and adding a player in Freeman who Hamilton was less familiar with than guys who had come through the Canadian Junior National Team program and who have represented Canada on a number of occasions, he gained an understanding of how much the opportunity really meant to the 27-year-old.
“A lot of that is trying to get to know the player and trying to get to know the player’s motivations,’ Hamilton said. “You’re bringing in – and I want to talk about this word because I’ve got to make sure it’s the right word – a creative Canadian, in the sense that he wasn’t born here, and the flexibility of the WBC allows you to do that.
“So when you’re doing that you want to make sure that the player fits too, and the player’s motivations are – we all have self-motivation – but that the player understands that you’re coming into an environment where playing for your country has to matter. It can’t be superseded by playing for yourself. You have to truly want to do this.
“If you’re bringing in players to this environment who are not fully invested, kind of divided in the thought process about wanting to do it, and it doesn’t fit the makeup on the team, it becomes challenging. A big part of that process is getting to understand why the player wants to do this and why he’s interested in playing for Canada. Freddie had some very strong emotions about doing that, very genuine emotions.”
Those feelings escalated for Freeman when he stepped to the line for the first time in the road greys with Team Canada for the Canadian anthem before the squad squared off against the Toronto Blue Jays in an exhibition game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Tuesday.
“Right after it finished, I looked up to the sky,” Freeman said. “I’m doing this for my mom and I know she’s watching. I know she has a front-row seat, sitting in a lounge chair watching every game. I don’t know what my emotions are going to be on Thursday, I really don’t. My dad is going to be in the stands.
“A lot of the media have been asking me what I’m going to feel like and I can’t really answer that question because once I stand on that field and six o’clock rolls around, and we’re out there on the field and the national anthem’s going, I really have no idea what the emotions will be. I’ve always wanted to honour my mom and every day I live it’s kind of for her. So it’s going to be a special, special day, not only for me but it’s something to be able to share with my dad makes it even that much more special.”
Freeman has enjoyed the opportunity he’s had with the Canuck squad to share stories about his mother, reliving some of the fondest memories he has.
“One of my favourite stories is, my first day at t-ball, I dad couldn’t take me to practice,” the two-time all-star said. “I was hitting left-handed obviously and my dad told my mom, ‘If the coach tries to switch him around to right-handed, you take him right off that field because he’s going to hit left-handed. First,
“I walked out there and stood left-handed, coach tried to turn me around, and my mom came walking out on the field and goes, ‘My husband told me to take him off the field if you tried to turn him around.’ So she grabbed me by my shirt and we walked right off the field.”
He later added: “My favourite thing about my mom is she would play catch with us, and she caught the ball left-handed, and had to take off the glove and throw it left-handed too. She was lefty all the way. I like telling you guys these stories because telling her memories and the memories I have of her, that makes her live on. So it’s nice just being able to talk about it.”
Being welcomed with open arms by the rest of Team Canada, despite some joking reminders that he’s not a real Canadian, Freeman is looking forward to getting the tournament underway and making his newly-adopted country proud.
“I’m starting to feel more Canadian,” Freeman said. “The guys are letting me know that I’m not, but I understand. I get it, but I’m playing for Canada and I’m all about Canada at this tournament, so it’s going to be a special day and I’m going to sing the words loud and proud of the Canadian national anthem, because I really want to win this thing.”