LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman always wears long sleeves, even on the hottest days. He does it to honor his mother, Rosemary, who died of skin cancer. He also wears a cross-shaped locket around his neck with her hair inside.
Beginning March 6, though, he's going to pay tribute in a way he wasn't sure would ever be possible. That's when he'll put on the uniform of Team Canada for the first workout in preparation for this year's World Baseball Classic.
And the fact he was born in Southern California doesn't make it any less of a thrill.
His parents are both native Canadians, which makes him eligible. In fact, he informed Major League Baseball and Canadian baseball officials of his interest four years ago, but his path was blocked by Joey Votto and Justin Morneau. This year, however, Votto isn't participating. And Morneau is penciled in as the designated hitter.
"I didn't want to step on anybody's toes. It just so happened that [a chance] came a lot earlier than I expected," Freeman said before the Braves opened their Grapefruit League schedule against the Blue Jays at Champion Stadium on Saturday. "Just being there is going to be the greatest thing for me. Being able to put on a Canada uniform with my dad in the stands, knowing what it means to my whole family, makes it even more exciting for me.
"I've heard it all, this and that. That I'm a fake Canadian. I get that, believe me. But I am not fake when it comes to this. Anything you can do when it comes to honoring family, in my opinion, is the greatest thing you can do. This is all about honoring my mother, and obviously winning this whole thing would be even more special. So this is going to be a very emotional time [in the opening game against the Dominican Republic on March 9]. Hopefully I can put those emotions aside and play a good game."
Work took his father's family from Windsor to California when he was 12. The family went back to Canada three years later and stayed 15 months before moving back to the United States permanently. It was during those 15 months that his parents met.
"My mother never became an American citizen," Freeman said. "She was Canadian through and through until the day she died. So it means a lot. I don't think my dad ever thought I'd be putting on a Canadian uniform in our lifetimes, so it will be a special day for us.
"I have played for U.S. national teams, but I'm Canadian when it comes to this. I'm all for helping Team Canada win the championship. It's going to be pretty cool saying 'us' to my dad when we're talking about his country."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.