ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman wore a pair of Gucci dress shoes to his news conference Wednesday, but they were scuffed. He had on a navy jacket and pants, plaid shirt and no tie, from a suit he had owned for a while.
Freeman had just agreed to an eight-year $135 million contract to become the highest paid player in Braves history and didn’t bother with a new suit.
“I dry-cleaned it,” Freeman said with a smile. “At least I did that.”
The wardrobe figures to change some. What else will? The earth had already shifted a little under the feet of the 6-foot-5 first baseman 24 hours in, even as he was trying to be the same ol’ guy.
Freeman and his fiancee Chelsea Goff had 7:30 p.m. dinner reservations Wednesday with the previously highest-paid Brave Chipper Jones and his girlfriend, and one of his highest paid teammates, Dan Uggla and his wife, at a Roswell steakhouse. When Freeman left Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon, his intent was to let Jones pick up the tab.
“We went to dinner four or five days ago and I paid,” Freeman said. “So I’m going to make him pay tonight.”
Funny though, when the waiter brought their check that night at Little Alley Steak in Roswell, Jones, whose biggest contract extension was $90 million in 2000, and Uggla, who signed a $62 million extension with the Braves in 2011, pointed to Freeman sitting at the end of the table.
“He tried to pawn it off like he wasn’t making that yet (with a backloaded contract),” Jones said. “But once you sign on the dotted line, it’s guaranteed, so yeah, we made him pay.”
“It’s little unfair for him because he has to start paying for meals a lot earlier in his career than the rest of us,” said Jones, who was quick to add: “He deserves it. He’s a good player.”
Jones was 28 when he signed his mega-deal with the Braves and coming off his National League MVP award in 1999. Freeman finished fifth in last year’s MVP voting, yes, but he’s only 24. He won’t turn 25 until September.
Of the 49 major league players who have signed contracts of $100 million or more, only one was younger than Freeman at the time of the signing: Albert Pujols.
Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, had just turned 24 a month before the Cardinals inked him to a seven-year, $100 million extension in February 2004. He was bought out of his first three years of arbitration (like Freeman) and his first four years of free agency (for Freeman it was five).
Like Pujols, Freeman went from the cusp of making his first million-dollar salary to signing for $100 million. Talk about your national signing day.
“For them to believe in me with this kind of contract, to happen this young, I never thought that would be possible or imagine that,” Freeman said.
He paused for a moment or two, then leaned back into the microphone from his seat on the dais and said, “But I’m happy.” That drew the biggest laugh of the afternoon from the media and assembled Braves staff.
Chuckling from his front-row seat was Freeman’s father, Fred, who flew in from Villa Park, Calif., for the news conference. Fred Freeman is a CPA by trade. He and his brother run an accounting firm. It’s probably a good thing.
“I told him, ‘You went from being my freebie client to maybe one of my richest clients overnight,’” Fred said.
Fred Freeman has access to his son’s checking account and has always kept tabs on his spending. Fred does his taxes and advises him on savings and investments.
“I call him up once a week and yell at him if he spent something he shouldn’t have spent money on,” Fred said and then he laughed. “Not that he listens to me, but yeah, he’s really really good with money. I’m not too worried about that.”
Fred said Freeman has driven the same car he bought with his signing bonus in 2007, a used Cadillac Escalade.
“Not many baseball players can say that,” Fred said. “They have the same car for seven years.”
The only reason he’ll encourage his son to buy a new one now is to get something with four-wheel drive. Freeman made national news during Atlanta’s recent snowstorm when he was stranded for 10 hours on the road and was picked up by Jones for a seven-mile trip home on the back of his all-terrain vehicle.
Freeman can probably buy a couple of ATVs for himself now. Or follow in Jones’ footsteps by purchasing a ranch in Texas. Maybe a beach house?
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” Freeman said when asked what kind of dream purchases he might make.
His first priority is to pay for a wedding. He and his fiancee Chelsea are to be married in her hometown of Miami on Nov. 22. Freeman had bought her stunning engagement ring before Braves general manager Frank Wren called him in mid-January to tell him the Braves wanted to start talking with his agent about a long-term deal.
Freeman said his strategy now is to keep doing what got him here, in terms of his work ethic in baseball. As for how to handle his new fortune? He wants to keep doing what his father taught him, and that’s focus on family.
Freeman learned a long time ago the value of things no amount of money can buy. His mother, Rosemary, died of melanoma when he was 10.
“I know she’s watching. I know she’s thrilled,” Freeman said. “This kind of money can change a lot of people. But I’m very family-oriented. I know she wouldn’t want me to stray off that path that my dad put me on. Hopefully I can stay on it and keep going and just make her happy.”