PHOENIX — When Team USA takes the field for the World Baseball Classic with a star-studded roster Monday night at Chase Field, Freddie Freeman will be in the other dugout wearing a red uniform with Canada written across his chest.
The Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman turned down the option to play for the United States in this year’s WBC, choosing instead to represent the country where his late mother was born and grew up.
It’s the same decision he made in 2017, when the U.S. won the tournament. Like then, Canada is a long shot, while Team USA is a favorite to take the title, but that’s not what’s important to Freeman.
“I’m not sure this is what she would want me to do, but in my heart, this is what I feel I should be doing to honor her,” Freeman said before the WBC. “I think she would be proud that I’m doing this. I think this is the right move to honor Rosemary Freeman.”
Rosemary Freeman died of skin cancer when Freddie was just 10 years old, but he knows what Canada meant to his mother even at that young age, even though he was born and raised in Southern California after his parents had moved from Ontario.
“I was 8 years old and we were at an Angels game,” Freeman recalled. “I was eating popcorn and the Canadian national anthem is playing and I’m sitting. [Then] it felt like someone just ripped me up. It felt like I was just hanging and it was my mom [who pulled me out of my seat]. It’s those little things that I remember.”
Honoring his mother means Freeman will be facing a team with many familiar faces, including fellow Dodger Mookie Betts and many other major league All-Star teammates on Monday night. The game has heightened importance in the Pool C standings after Canada started its WBC schedule with a win over Great Britain and Team USA fell to 1-1 with a loss to Mexico on Sunday. Freeman called it a hard decision to forego Team USA, but one he has no regrets about.
“Leaving your team to play for your home country, there’s no right or wrong decision in that,” he said. “Whatever you feel is going to be the right decision, is the right decision.”
Among those Freeman knows well who will be in the other dugout Monday night is Team USA manager Mark DeRosa, who resides in Atlanta, where Freeman was a star for over a decade. The two dined together this spring, and the U.S. skipper has no plans of going easy on Freeman when their teams meet.
“Completely understand what he’s doing,” DeRosa said. “I’ve known Freddie forever … watching him become one of the best players in the game. [And] certainly based on what we see, I’m not going to let Freddie beat us.”
It’s the same feeling players like Betts or former teammate Trea Turner will have taking part in the unique from-friend-to-rival matchup that the WBC produces. Both would have loved to see Freeman suit up for the U.S., but they understand the importance of honoring his mother’s heritage.
“We’d love to have him over here, but I know he’s [played for Canada] and he sticks with it,” Turner said. “It’s going to be weird being across the dugout from him again like early in my career. But he’s a stud, and we’ve got to watch out for him. He’ll be a tough at-bat for us.”
Said Betts: “That describes what Freddy is all about. And if I get on first base, yeah, we’ll have some fun. Freddie and I have that bond, but that bond with a mom is special.”
Freeman honors Rosemary more than just once every few years in international competition. He wears sleeves under his uniform in remembrance of her as well. Melanoma runs in his family, so it’s also for his own health.
“I’d rather be hot for a few hours than go through chemotherapy,” Freeman said. “I’m redheaded and fair skinned, so it plays a little bit of both [honoring her and protecting myself].”
Freeman also wants to shine a light on Canadian baseball. Anyone from the country who picks up a bat instead of a hockey stick knows they aren’t likely to get nearly the same attention on the diamond as a star on the ice.
“If everyone was healthy and played, there’s a lot of really good Canadian baseball players,” Freeman said. “I’m happy to jump in with them.”
He has already made a big impression on younger Canadian teammates who normally wouldn’t be sharing a locker room with a former MLB MVP. Easily the biggest name on a team that features just five current major leaguers on the roster, Freeman has many eyes on him inside the Canada clubhouse.
“In the cage, Freddie was talking about his routine, his approach, how you have to keep the routine and don’t stray from it because that’s one thing that you always have to have,” Team Canada outfielder and Chicago Cubs prospect Owen Cassie said. “It’s cool because not many 20-year-olds get to play for their country, so I’m just very, very grateful for the opportunity that I can actually be around these guys and know that I can ask questions and not be scrutinized for it.”
If Canada can pull off an upset Monday, Freeman will have undoubtedly accomplished his goal of getting his team some attention. And he would probably take a moment to think of his mom, who passed away long before her son would grow to dominate the sport like few others have in his era — and do it as a proud son of her native country.
“Everyone likes the story of my past, but I think Canadians want wins, and so do we,” Freeman said. “She was a wonderful person that got taken way too early. God needed an angel. It was unfortunate, but she was a wonderful person.”