Brothers in baseball and bereavement

Jose Iglesias, Freddie Freeman

Iglesias mourned his father after his first hit of the season Friday; Freeman hugged and empathised with him.

José Iglesias signed with the Rockies in March. For the first ten seasons of his career, his father, Candelario, who’d played professionally in Cuba, saw over three thousand of his plate appearances. The elder Iglesias died a few weeks before Opening Day; the son still grieves even as he plays the game father and son loved together.

The son tagged his first base hit against Dodgers starter Walker Buehler in the bottom of the second Friday. He couldn’t fight his emotion as he arrived, nor could he resist a gesture heavenward. And the Dodgers’ new first baseman, Freddie Freeman, wouldn’t let him fight or resist either.

Freeman asked what was wrong. The Rockies shortstop acknowledged his grief over losing his father. Freeman—the defending World Series MVP with last year’s Braves, who has never been shy about his own grief following his mother’s death when he was ten—hugged Iglesias by his head, leaned it against his shoulder a moment, then gave him a few fraternal pats on the shoulder and head before play continued.

Iglesias had just knocked a run home to stake the Rockies to an early 2-0 lead (he went 1-for-4 on the day) that would turn into a 5-3 Dodgers win, with no small help from Freeman, who struck out, was hit by a pitch, then had a hand in the Dodgers’ five-run fourth by walking, going first to third on an RBI base hit, and scoring on a wild pitch, before he beat out an infield hit in the sixth (he was stranded) and looking at a third strike in the eighth.

But in the second inning, Freeman and Iglesias weren’t opponents but brothers in parental bereavement. “There’s nothing harder than losing a parent,” Freeman said to Iglesias before the game resumed.

“He was everything to me,” Iglesias said of the father who’d once played shortstop, too,  but would come home to play ball with his son after long post-baseball days labouring in a factory for $10 a day in Castro’s Cuba. [The younger Iglesias defected in 2008.] “His dream was to watch me in the big leagues. He told me once ‘If I can watch you play for one day, I’ll be good to go after that.’ He watched me play for ten years . . . he’s in a better place now, watching me play every day.”

“We’ll never know what any of us are going through in life,” Freeman told reporters postgame.

I think it just kind of reminds you to just have some compassion, some humility, and just be kind to others. That’s what’s so special about baseball too is you get to be around so many great people and so many people that just care about and love the game of baseball. His father was shining down on him to be able to get that single.

“You never forget your dad. All I could do is give him a hug. You know, when you lose a parent, all you can do is just give that person a hug. There are no words. No word is really going to be enough. Just let that person know you care about him.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Iglesias said, “beyond baseball, we’re human beings. That was very nice of Freddie.”

Freeman’s mother, Rosemary, died of melanoma in 2000. The son who was ten at that time can never forget climbing aboard her hospital bed despite his size for his age just to stay close to her, believing to his ten-year-old soul that she’d recover.

“Her pain was a twenty out on a scale of ten and she never said one word,” Freeman told ESPN’s Buster Olney for a profile a year ago. “She let us crawl in bed and she tried to be as much as she could to us, even though she had to lay there. And she was more than that, a mom, even in those times. We obviously thought she was going to beat it . . . She did everything she could to beat that disease.”

So Freeman eventually held on to his father. Now, an opponent pulling up to first base let his grief over his father’s death, over his father no longer seeing him play except from a heavenly perch, overcome him. Freeman more than most understands such loss, no matter what age parental bereavement comes, and cares. He cares enough not to give a damn who’d object to his comforting a stricken opponent.

“We have different uniforms on,” Freeman said, “but you take the uniforms off and we’re all friends in this game. That’s the key. That’s the beauty of this sport. We all switch teams throughout our careers so you get to come across a lot of amazing people. From the looks of it, [Iglesias’s] family loves baseball just as much as we do, so I’m just glad to be able to be a part of anything I could do for him.”

Bet that Rosemary Freeman and Candelario Iglesias sat together in the Elysian Fields exchanging hugs and agreeing that there’s one word for what Rosemary’s son did for Candelario’s in the second inning. The word is class.

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