ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman is a hugging man, in general. But after Chipper Jones rescued him from his stranded vehicle on a snowbound Tuesday night? “He hugged me the whole way home,” Jones said.
Part of that was for practical reasons — Freeman was clutching onto Jones on the back of Jones’ all-terrain vehicle for an eight-mile ride to Jones’ Roswell home, and he was cold. Part was out of appreciation.
Freeman tried for nearly 11 hours Tuesday to make his way home from Turner Field after going on a Braves caravan visit to Clarkdale Elementary School in Austell. He joined thousands of metro Atlantans stranded on snowy and icy roads.
He endured the gridlock and managed to stop for gas on Holcomb Bridge Road. But he finally gave up after trying to navigate an icy hill near Mansell Road, about 10 miles from where he lives in Roswell, about a half-mile from Jones.
“(He said) he sat there and watched three people wreck cars trying to get up the hill and spinning back down,” Jones said. “He got out to start walking and almost blew out his knee, slipping on the ice. It was really treacherous. He wasn’t wearing enough clothes. He was wearing an expensive pair of dress shoes. It was a recipe for disaster.” By then, it was approaching 10 p.m. Freeman was in contact throughout his trip home with his fiancee, Chelsea Goff. Goff spent the day with Jones and his girlfriend, Taylor Higgins, after she got stuck trying to drive past Jones’ house on the way to take her cats to the veterinarian. She realized she was locked out of the house and that Freeman had the only key. As she continued to worry, so did Jones.
He has an all-terrain vehicle he uses for yard work and decided it was the only way.
“Tay didn’t want me to go,” Jones said. “She said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But he was going to sit out there all night. The four-wheeler was the only thing to do.” Jones layered himself in clothing and gear and packed a backpack with warm clothes for Freeman. He knew the ride back would be rough on Freeman, traveling at 30 or 40 mph with wind chill. He said he spun out several times on his way to get Freeman.
“He was laughing his rear end off when I pulled up,” said Jones, who was decked out in camouflage and ski goggles. “I came around the corner, and I was hauling the mail. I locked up the brakes and slid around right in front of his truck, and he lost it — especially the way I was dressed.” Freeman told him to stay right there, so he could get his phone and take a picture of Jones, which he promptly posted to his Twitter account.
“It was a funny moment,” Jones said. “I told him, ‘We’re going to be talking about this forever.’” “A moment I’ll never forget!” Freeman posted on his Twitter account, @FreddieFreeman5.
While Freeman was warming in front of a fire in Jones’ living room, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was trying to get to his home in Marietta. He left Turner Field about 3 p.m. and didn’t arrive home until after 3:30 a.m., spending nearly 13 hours in the car on what was his 50th birthday.
“How about that?” he said.
Gonzalez stopped at a Shell Station on West Paces Ferry Road about five hours into it, filled up with gas and got a snack, not realizing he was in for another seven hours in the car.
“In retrospect, I would have gone to Taco Bell,” Gonzalez said. “Instead I got a bottle of water and some pork rinds.” When his daughter, Gigi, called him in distress, stuck on a hill on Johnson Ferry Road after a 10-hour trek from Buckhead, he couldn’t get to her. But Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, a neighbor of Gonzalez’s, drove his four-wheel drive truck to pick her up.
Braves assistant visiting clubhouse manager Fred Stone was stuck on the side of the road and able to walk to Gonzalez’s house. He spent Tuesday night there and with roads near his Cherokee County home still treacherous, planned to spend Wednesday night there as well.
“I consider myself lucky,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been hearing some of the horror stories, people still out there.” Braves president John Schuerholz drove for six hours to get from a meeting in Buckhead to his Vinings home. He ended up leaving his car and walking the last three-quarters of a mile.
“I feel sorry for all those people that are still stuck out there,” Jones said Wednesday morning. “It’s terrible they can’t do anything. The road in between my house and Mansell Road is nothing but two-inch-thick ice.” Staff writer David O’Brien contributed to this report.