Earlier this week, Bleacher Report had an exclusive opportunity to speak with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Aside from Freeman's stellar play and National League All-Star status, the five-year professional has teamed up with the ACE Brand, helping to launch the ACE My Ace All-Stars baseball player card app that allows Little League players to have their own digital baseball card.
I had the opportunity to represent Bleacher Report in a wide-ranging conversation with Freeman that touched on Atlanta's new stadium, his recent contract extension, what it means to be a face of the franchise and how Chipper Jones influenced the way he approaches the game.
B/R: How did you feel when hearing about the new stadium that the Braves are building in Cobb County?
Freeman: At first, very surprised. The team kept the plans and idea hidden, even from us. Really, from everyone around the game, too. I'll miss Turner Field. We have made so many great memories, walk-off wins and great, successful seasons in this park.
It's an opportunity, though. We can hopefully attract more fans and play in a stadium that can be easier for people to get to on a nightly basis. It's bittersweet, but I know it's probably best for the long-term interests of the Braves organization.
B/R: You signed a long-term contract extension (eight-year, $135 million deal) prior to the season. How did that come about? Tell us about the process.
Freeman: Frank Wren called my agent and then me personally with the idea and thought of discussing an extension. I was shocked and surprised. Young players have been signing deals prior to free agency often lately, but it really hadn't crossed my mind until he rang the phone.
The actual negotiation was really easy and smooth. My agent talked to Wren, and we were sitting with the media discussing the details within three weeks. Both sides really wanted to get it done and had no reason to drag it out.
B/R: Has there been added pressure since signing the deal?
Freeman: It's there, but you try to put it aside and just play the game. I really try not to think about money, contract or anything but baseball when I'm around the game and my teammates. I have tried to play like I don't have a contract or as if I am still looking to earn one. As long as I keep that mentality, my effort can't diminish or be allowed to change because of pressure.
B/R: Have you changed anything about your game? Your numbers are similar, with the exception of more walks and fewer strikeouts, both positive outcomes.
Freeman: Some players may try to hit more homers or drive in more runs, but I've tried to be myself and follow a routine. That's more about what I do before the game than during the actual nine innings each night. I found a pregame routine that worked for me a few years ago and won't deviate from that. It allows me to prepare, stay in shape, watch film and get ready each day.
Hopefully the walks keep going up and strikeouts down even more! [chuckles] I hadn't realized that, but it means that I am seeing the ball well out of pitchers' hands and bringing a good approach to the plate in each at-bat.
B/R: Over the last 25 years, the Braves franchise has been synonymous with long-term stars who became faces of the franchise: the trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz to Chipper Jones to Brian McCann. Now, after signing your deal, the franchise has positioned you to be the next in line. How does that feel?
Freeman: It's an absolute honor. Really, it's a thrill to even hear my name with the great Braves that you just mentioned. This organization cares so much about its players that it's so nice to be a part of this lineage and hopefully follow in the footsteps of those greats. I truly hope to be here my entire career the way Chipper Jones was for all his great seasons.
B/R: What did you learn from Chipper Jones?
Freeman: His mindset was amazing. It was simple, yet telling. He strove to be the best player he could be using a simple process and simple hitting mechanics. He wasn't a guy that tried to re-invent himself or out-think everyone. He just worked hard and truly studied opposing pitchers.
He really knew pitchers and what the opponent was trying to do out there. I tried picking up on some of that, but it might have been a gift that can't just be passed along. He would set up pitchers, not the other way around.
Have you ever talked with him? He'll make you feel dumb about your baseball knowledge. You know the game as a writer, I know it as a player. He knows it more than both of us combined! He kept it so simple and precise from both sides of the plate.
I can't take away his knowledge, but his ability to not make hitting too complicated will always be part of my game now.
Heading into play on July 10, Freeman owned a 145 OPS+ and .500 slugging percentage. Those marks were eerily close to his 2013 output of 146 OPS+ and .501 SLG, making him one of the most consistent sluggers in the game. For the Braves, that type of consistency and talent is what likely made Wren's contract offer and long-term gamble so easy to swallow.
If you are interested in teaming up with ACE and Freeman's digital baseball card initiative, visit MyAceAllstars.acebrandsports.com or text ACEALLSTARS to 44844 to get the link to create a keepsake digital baseball card for your little leaguer.