June 24 was a date circled on the calendars of Atlanta Braves fans once the schedules were released months ago. After all, how often does a beloved member of a team leave that organization after it won its first World Series championship in more than 25 years and then return with a rival organization the following year?
That is the scenario facing the Braves when first baseman Freddie Freeman and the Los Angeles Dodgers return to Truist Park for the first time since losing in the National League Championship Series last year.
This will be one of the most highly anticipated regular season games in Atlanta in recent memory.
This encounter with Freeman will be much different for the Braves compared to when they traveled to Los Angeles for a three-game series in mid-April to play the first-place Dodgers. The once-loyal Freeman fans will have their say this weekend in how they view Freeman's departure out west. Will they respond with cheers rather than jeers? Will Freeman receive a standing ovation when he steps into the batter's box for the first time or will there be 'boo' chants?
You might respond that Braves general manager Alex Anthopolous made the first move in the offseason dominoes by trading for first baseman Matt Olson, and that Freeman's only counter was to move back home. Not so fast.
If Freeman really wanted to return to Atlanta, he would have called the Braves GM the first chance he got once the Major League Baseball lockout was lifted. But he didn't, and Anthopolous' only recourse was to trade for the team's first baseman of the future.
It set off an incredible series of events that will lead to Freeman receiving his well-deserved championship ring this weekend.
The Braves fans will respond with cheers and adulation for a once long-time face of the franchise when he steps into the batter's box and runs to first base for the first time.
Freeman's decision or lack thereof to commit to the Braves for the remainder of his career should be in the past. I'm sure the Braves have no regrets, not with Olson on a record-setting pace for doubles in a season and the Braves not far removed from a 14-game winning streak. But lets not forget the contributions that Freeman made during his All-Star career with the Braves.
Freeman was loved that much and deserves the respect he is likely to receive this weekend.
Once the postseason begins, all bets are off. But for now, lets allow Freeman to have his moment. He was as much a reason the Braves won the championship last year as anybody else.
Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.