Freeman starts in first game for Braves

Freddie Freeman didn’t make the same splash as Jason Heyward in

his big league debut.

Still, the 20-year-old first baseman had no complaints about his

first game with the NL East-leading Braves. He hit a couple of

balls hard, made a nice scoop of a low throw and, best of all,

Atlanta beat the New York Mets 4-1 on Wednesday night for its fifth

straight win.

”I felt like the day went really, really slow,” Freeman said.

”But when the game started, it seemed normal.”

Heyward and Freeman were Atlanta’s top two hitting prospects

coming through the minors, and Heyward locked down the right-field

job in spring training. He homered on opening day, was voted a

starter in the All-Star game and had his third four-hit game of the

season Wednesday against the Mets.

Freeman spent the year at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he batted

.319 with 18 homers, 35 doubles and 87 RBIs. He’s expected to take

over as the starting first baseman in 2011, and Braves fans are

clearly looking forward to watching him team with Heyward in the

middle of the batting order for years to come.

When Freeman came up for the first time, he received a big

ovation from a crowd that included his dad, Fred, who hastily flew

in from California to see his son’s debut.

”It’s kind of nice that the fans think you can be that guy,”

Freeman said. ”Hopefully, I can keep up those expectations.”

Freeman went 0 for 3 before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in

the eighth. The first time up, he hit a hard grounder up the middle

– normally a hit – but the Mets had the shift on. Shortstop Ruben

Tejada fielded the ball and threw to first.

The youngster stroked it hard again in the third, but third

baseman David Wright grabbed the ball just above the dirt and threw

to first to double off Brian McCann.

”I was like, ‘That one’s got to go through,’ but it was right

at David,” Freeman said. ”That’s baseball. All you can ask for is

to hit the ball on the barrel. You’ll get some hits.”

Freeman, who struck out swinging in his final at-bat, was among

the players called up on the first day of expanded rosters. Braves

manager Bobby Cox thought it was best to get that first start out

of the way, though Derrek Lee will get most of the playing time at

first base down the stretch.

As for Freeman, ”he’ll play once in a while when Derrek needs a

day off, pinch-hit and drive in the winning run,” Cox said with a

smile.

Freeman was pleased to have his father in the stands – ”he

pretty much taught me the game of baseball” – and remembered his

late mother, who died of cancer when Freddie was 10.

”I was talking to her all game,” he said. ”I was telling her

I wished she could be here. But I know she was watching. She

couldn’t be here physically, but she was here spiritually.”