NEW YORK – Marietta native Dansby Swanson attended occasional Braves games as a kid and said, “Every time I came to a game, Chipper hit a home run. That happened, like, five different times. It was pretty spectacular.”
Now that Swanson is playing for the Braves, he’s witnessing first-hand something else that’s left him in awe. Chipper Jones’ protégé, Freddie Freeman.
Specifically, the stunning hitting surge that Freeman is on, which began well before Swanson’s Aug. 17 major league debut and has only picked up steam in the rookie shortstop’s own impressive first month in the big leagues.
“Unbelievable,” Swanson said.
Monday night, Swanson had three hits and three RBIs in the Braves’ 7-3 win against the Mets, matching his career-bests in both categories. He's hit .400 (16-for-40) with three doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in his past 12 games to raise his average to .305 with a .358 OBP and .451 slugging percentage in his first 27 games (95 at-bats).
“I guess that’s a good first day in the city,” said Swanson, who had the first two of his three hits Monday against Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, the kind of pitcher the rookie rarely faced in his first few weeks in the majors, when Brian Snitker eased him in, carefully choosing spots to give the rookie a rest every few days.
“It’s always awesome to be able to play against these (top pitchers),” Swanson said. “It’s always going to be a challenge, a battle every time out against them. He’s got electric stuff – really, really good stuff. But I thought we did a good job of putting together some good at-bats tonight off of him.”
Meanwhile, Freeman had four hits Monday including two opposite-field extra-base hits off Syndergaard – Freeman’s 31st home run and 41st double -- while extending his hit streak to 23 games and on-base streak to 39, the second-longest on-base streak in the majors in 2016 and longest by a Brave since Chipper’s 41-gamer in 2008, when Swanson was 14.
Since Swanson joined the Braves, he’s seen Freeman play 29 games and get at least one hit in 28 of them while batting .360 with 12 doubles, eight homers, 29 RBIs and a .459 OBP and .685 slugging percentage.
Swanson was talking to a couple of us late Monday about his own big game and the Braves’ series-opening win when I asked, how good is this guy? as I nodded toward Freeman, who had just returned from the showers and was standing at his locker stall about 6 feet from us as Swanson spoke.
“Unbelievable,” Swanson said, his speech now reduced to a level just out of earshot of Freeman. “It’s pretty remarkable -- every day, all the time; he plays every day, plays hard, does his thing. Just the confidence he walks around with. Nothing over-the-top, just the belief in himself is special. It’s cool to be able to play with a guy like him, just because you can learn so much just from watching him and seeing how he goes about his business.
“It’s pretty incredible.”
When I mentioned that Freeman’s continued his streak despite becoming a first-time father Thursday and not getting more than a few hours’ sleep total in the past few nights, Swanson smiled and said, “I know. Unbelievable. It really is. Everything going on with him, it doesn’t affect him. He just comes in here and plays, and he’ll do it again tomorrow.”
During his 39-game on-base streak, Freeman has hit .380 (54-for-142) with 15 doubles, 13 home runs, 40 RBIs and a .497 OBP and .769 slugging percentage.
The Braves are 11-8 with a .313 batting average (and 4.55 ERA) and 110 runs during their streak of 19 games with at least eight hits, and they’ve hit .369 with 38 hits (one homer) and 20 runs during current three-game winning streak against the Nationals and Mets, getting 12 or 13 hits and six or seven runs in each of those games.
Matt Kemp is 19-for-44 (.432) with four doubles, three homers and a .480 OBP and .727 slugging percentage in an 11-game hitting streak, and in 45 games with the Braves he’s hit .296 with 13 doubles, eight homers and 30 RBIs with a .348 OBP and .503 slugging percentage.
• Let's close with this one by Wilco from five or six years ago.
"BORN ALONE" by Wilco
I have heard the war and worry of the gospel
Ferry fast across the void
I have married broken spoke chargin' smoke wheels
Spit and swallowed opioid
I am the driver at the wheel of the horror
Marching circles at the gate
Mine eyes have seen the fury
So flattered by fate
Tonight, I'd rather count the warm fuse internally
Subtract the silence of myself
I would rather choose the middle mind of mystery
Reverse a riddle for my health
I'll unwind strange rinds overpowering
Toss the chimneys in the sea
I believe I've seen
The finger divine extremity
Please come closer to the feather smooth lens fly
Sadness is my luxury
Will you weather, join the cold, come before I die
More aware of it than me
The valves are blowing stone
The kids are unabashed
Mine eyes deceiving glory
I was born to die alone