'Right decision': Dodgers' Freddie Freeman honors late mother by playing for Canada in WBC

MESA, Ariz. – It is 76 degrees outside Wednesday afternoon, there’s not a cloud in the sky, fans are wearing shorts and T-shirts, and Canada’s starting first baseman Freddie Freeman is wearing red long sleeves under his jersey.

Freeman has worn long sleeves in every game he has played, and no matter how hot the temperature becomes, he always will.

It’s in honor of his late mother, Rosemary, who died of melanoma when Freeman was just 10 years old.

She is also the reason why Freeman, the Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star first baseman, is playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic instead of Team USA.

“I love doing this,’’ Freeman says, “because it keeps my mom’s memory alive. …

“As long as we keep Rosemary Freeman’s name alive, that's what means the most to me.’’

Freeman speaks about his mother before the start of their exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs.

“I’m not sure this is what she’d want me to do,’’ Freeman says, “but in my heart, this is what I feel I should be doing, to honor her. I don’t know if she would say, ‘I want you to put on the Canadian uniform and go play.’ I don’t know. But in my heart, this is what I feel is the right decision.

“She’s cheering for me no matter what uniform I have on. I think she would be proud I’m doing this. We don’t really know, but you go with what your heart says, and I think this is the right move.’’

Former NL MVP Freddie Freeman is playing for Team Canada in the WBC.
Former NL MVP Freddie Freeman is playing for Team Canada in the WBC.

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Freeman, an MVP winner, World Series champion, six-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove winner, is easily the most decorated player on Team Canada.

He was born in California, the son of Canadian parents, and has dual-citizenship. He could have easily played for the United States, who won the World Baseball Classic the last time it was played, with Canada failing to win a single game, but he knows Canada needs him more.

This is where his heart belongs.

This is his mom’s country.

How can he possibly play for anyone else?

“It’s a hard decision,’’ Freeman says, “there is no right decision. Whatever decision you make, is your right decision. If you want to put on the Canadian uniform, Costa Rica, USA, that’s the right call. If you want to stay, that’s the right call, too. ..

“But this one means a whole lot to me, because of my parents. Putting on a uniform that represents a whole country, I don’t know if there’s something bigger than that.”

The Canadian team is ecstatic that Freeman chose to represent their country, knowing just what he means to their baseball program, letting the world know how proud he is being a Canadian.

“His status, his desire, his passion that he has for the game of baseball,’’ Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt says, “and of course his love for his mom. You see it. When he’s out there, he wants to win. He’s very proud to represent the country.

“Just his presence in the locker room is unbelievable. Everybody loves talking to him.’’

The entire Canadian team showed their respect for Freeman from the moment they arrived for their first workout Tuesday at the Cubs’ complex. They had some issues with their pants and shirts not quite fitting right, so they decided to simply wear shorts for the workout.

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Freddie said, “Nope. I’m going to wear pants.’’

Whitt looked around.

“All right boys,’’ Whitt said, “so we’ll all wear pants.’’

Yes, this is how much Freeman means to Canada.

“We've got a potential Hall of Famer playing here,’’ Whitt says, “and he's playing here because he wants to represent the country. He could have very easily pulled the plug after our last WBC when we didn't win a game.

“He could have said, 'Well, maybe I'll just go back to the Americans.'

“But he's committed to us.”

So, if Freeman can wear long sleeves and pants even during an informal team workout, the rest of the team can, too.

Besides, when you have a parent die of melanoma, with his brother also having undergone procedures for melanoma, and you happen to be fair-skinned yourself, you take precautions.

“The sleeves are to honor her,’’ Freeman says, “but I am redheaded and fair skinned, so it plays a little bit of both.’’

Freeman smiles, looks around, and thinks of his mother again.

“I remember a lot of positive stuff now,’’ Freeman says. “Obviously, when I was younger, she was very passionate about her boys. If she was here in the stands, she’d have every pin you can have and have signs. That’s how she was.

“The most important thing I remember is she loved gardening. Always in the garden. We’d come home from school and she’d have spent four hours in the garden. She loved animals.

“She was just a wonderful person that got taken away too early.

“God needed an angel.’’

Freeman talked about how much this WBC means to him at dinner last week with former teammates and longtime friends Jason Heyward and Brian McCann and Mark DeRosa, manager of Team USA. DeRosa joked that he planned to intentionally walk Freeman every time they face him Monday night.

If he tries that, Freeman says, expect a whole lot of boos from the Canadian family section where Freeman will be well-represented.

You see, representing Canada means not only everything to him, Freeman says, but to his entire family.

He still remembers going to an Angels game as an 8-year-old kid against the Toronto Blue Jays. They began playing the Canadian national anthem over the Angels Stadium loudspeakers, and Freeman remained seated.

But, oh, not for long.

“I was eating popcorn, and all of a sudden the Canadian national anthem was playing, and I was sitting,’’ Freeman said. “And it felt like someone ripped me up and I was hanging. I look, and it was my mom.

“She lived in California for 20 years, but there was still Canadian in her.’’

The Canadian players who have never played with Freeman, and many barely know him, are even inspired by his story. If representing Canada means this much to a man who was born and raised in Southern California, imagine what it means to those born and raised in their country.

“I know where Freddie’s heart is,’’ says reliever John Axford, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021, and has pitched only ⅓ inning since 2018. “Having him here, and honoring his mother, is such a heartfelt and emotional piece that people don’t see often.

“This encapsulates the feeling, being able to represent your country, and having Canada across your chest. It’s a big deal. It’s a big moment.

“It’s huge for Freddie, and with him here, it’s huge for all of us.’’

Freeman hears the compliments from his teammates, the praise from Canadian citizens and acknowledges the appreciation, but feels compelled to deliver much more than memories.

“Everyone likes the story of my past,’’ Freeman says, “but I think Canadians want wins.’’

He laughed, joined his teammates in the visitor’s clubhouse, and started getting ready for the game.

They’ve got a medal to win.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Freddie Freeman honors late mother by playing for Team Canada in WBC