World Baseball Classic invites carry significance for Braves stars

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Earlier this month, Freddie Freeman expressed his gratitude for a specific 15-month span. The Braves first baseman traces his entire life, especially his decision to play for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, back to this interim in Windsor, Canada.

As Freeman’s grandfather on his father’s side moved repeatedly between the Ontario city sitting directly south of Detroit and California due to job transfers, there was a 15-month stopgap in their native city where Freeman’s father, Fred, met his mother, Rosemary, who was born in Toronto. As the two-time All-Star explained, “Long story short, my parents got married in Oshawa a few years later and made their home in California.”

Freeman’s decision to play for Team Canada in March is a tribute to this twist of fate.

By donning the uniform of his parents’ native country, the 27-year-old is offering a tribute to his roots.

“It’s something I always wanted to do to honor her and it’s going to be a big day for my family,” Freeman said of his late mother, who died from melanoma when he was 10 years old. “I don’t think my dad ever thought he’d see his son in a Canadian uniform, ever. I’m going to fly him out for it and he’s going to be sitting in the stands, watching his son in a Canadian uniform on.

“Just the emotions that are going to be going through for that, not only for me, but for him … obviously going to be thinking about my mom a lot during that time.”

Freeman’s sentimental decision highlights a group of 10 Atlanta Braves players, both top-level and minor-league names, who could potentially suit up for their countries this spring. All-Star starter Julio Teheran will play for Colombia while leadoff man Ender Inciarte will patrol the outfield for a talented Venezuelan roster. Starting pitchers Jaime Garcia (Mexico) and Bartolo Colon have yet to fully commit to the process, though Colon plans to pitch if the Dominican Republic reaches the second round.

Inciarte, in particular, anxiously awaited the phone call to join Team Venezuela, which will boast the likes of MLB standouts Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Jose Altuve, Rougned Odor and Odubel Herrera. The Braves’ defensive wunderkind had to wait until around Christmas, after he captured his first career Gold Glove, to receive his invite. He accepted immediately.

Standing in the same sports complex where his late father, an avid Braves fans, once brought him on a trip from their home in Venezuela, Inciarte explained why it was an easy decision.

“It means a lot,” the 26-year-old said. “I love my country. I love my teammates from Venezuela. I mean, we all got together in this offseason and we are pulling for the same (thing): We want to win it all. Venezuela, we have tough fans over there. They don’t want to see us coming back to spring quick.”

Love of country is not the only crux in the decision, though.

Take Jaime Garcia, the franchise’s newly acquired left-hander. The former Cardinals starter explained his hesitancy to play in the tournament on the first day of camp, while also revealing his long-held desire to play for Team Mexico.

As Garcia, a 30-year-old with a notable injury history entering a contract year, continues to discuss options with his agent, he made one thing crystal clear: His priorities lie in Atlanta.

“With how much they invested in me and they believe in me, that’s what I’m focusing on, on being ready in April,” said Garcia, who noted it would be especially difficult to skip the WBC with Team Mexico playing its first-round games in Guadalajara. “Right now we’re trying to make the best decision for everybody. Not just for myself and my future, but for the Atlanta Braves. That’s my priority right now.”

Aside from key professional decisions and heartfelt tributes, the worldwide tournament, spanning six host cities from Tokyo to Miami, has opened up a new avenue for clubhouse mischief.

On his first morning in camp, Freddie Freeman began plotting against his longtime No. 1 pitcher, Teheran. The plan? To drape a Canadian flag over Teheran’s locker when pitchers beat the hitters out onto the back fields.

Canada and Colombia will meet in Miami on March 11.

Fred Freeman will be in attendance.