To break the “fourth wall,” so to speak, it’s tough to write this particular piece without something of a cloud hanging over it.

In fact, it’s difficult to put in perspective just what Freddie Freeman has meant to the Atlanta Braves. He was drafted in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft, technically before my wife and I were even a couple – by a day, to be exact. We dated for a year, were engaged for a year and have since been married for more than 12 years.

Since he debuted in the Major Leagues in September of 2010, I’ve changed jobs twice and moved three times in two states. We’ve had two kids, become foster parents and adopted another child. I say all this to say that I’ve had time to do a whole lot of living while Freddie has been in the Brave’s organization.

For his part, Atlanta’s veteran first baseman has also had his share of experiences.

He came up during the team’s Wild Card push in 2010 but wasn’t part of the playoff roster that year. Freddie’s first full year was the collapse of 2011, and then he was around for playoff runs in 2012 and 2013 before the crash-and-burn 2014 season that led to a rebuild. He experienced what had to be three LONG losing seasons, which included injuries and even a temporary position switch to play third base.

So it had to be extra sweet for Freeman, specifically, to be part of these four straight division titles that culminated in the 2021 World Series title. The added sugar on top was that when his team needed a hero, Freddie stepped up.

To be fair, his season had already started turning around after some early frustrations at the plate, but Freeman carried a .270/.379/.478 slash line into the July 10 game in Miami. That’s the game when Ronald Acuna injured his knee, went down for the season and everything went dark for a lot of Braves fans. From July 11 on, Freeman notched a line of .338/.408/.522 line. In fact, July was Freddie’s best month of the season, as the veteran lefty went off to the tune of a .371/.479/.588 line with 36 hits, 19 walks and just 14 strikeouts in 27 games.

As if that weren’t enough, Freeman was everything the Braves needed him to be in the playoffs. Overall, he hit .304 with a 1.045 OPS in the 2021 postseason, and he added five homers with 11 RBIs. Two of those homers came in the World Series, the latter of which felt more like a celebration than anything as he rounded the bases to give the Braves a 7-0 lead in the decisive Game 6.

And this is where this piece gets a lot less fun to write.

If you’re reading this, you already know why that is. The face of the franchise, the 2020 Most Valuable Player, the unquestioned captain of the reigning World Series champion, is a free agent. That home run in Houston may be the last one we ever see Freddie hit as a Brave, and frankly, that sucks more than a little bit.

As one of the longest-tenured members of “Braves Twitter,” I feel like I’m supposed to understand why the team would balk at just giving Freeman whatever it takes to keep him home in Atlanta. He turns 33 this season, meaning any rumored six-year deal would lock him up past his 38th birthday. Freddie’s buddy Chipper Jones played 137 games in his age-32 season and then played more than 135 just once after that. The story is similar with plenty of other hitters: You don’t want to pay guys for too many years after their 30th birthday.

Really, though, I just don’t care. And neither do teammates like Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud, who openly campaigned for the team to “re-sign Freddie” during the World Series celebration.

Sports, at least for fans, are often about connecting with players. Plenty of people will tell you that they’re fans of the name on the front of the jersey, but that fandom is only deepened by the names on the back. And that’s even more true for the fans that matter the most – the kids.

So if the 2022 season eventually starts, and Freddie isn’t a Brave, I’ll understand. The money that could go towards paying him over the next several years could easily yield greater results if spent in multiple other spots, and I get that. But sometimes, decisions like this need to be made with the soul of the franchise in mind more than the numbers in the box score.

And I’m not ready to be done watching Freddie in a Braves uniform.