Freeman gets out of the cold, arrives in camp early

Braves first baseman escapes winter storm, ready to work with new eight-year deal

Freeman gets out of the cold, arrives in camp early

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Instead of being victimized again by yet another Atlanta winter storm, Freddie Freeman packed his car on Monday and traveled to Florida, where he basked in the sun with some of his Braves teammates on Tuesday morning.

"How about this weather?" a smiling Freeman said in between the swings he took in the batting cages at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, which has served as the Braves' Spring Training home since 1998.

Two weeks after navigating icy roads during an 11-hour trek from Turner Field to his suburban Atlanta home and one week after gaining a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract, Freeman found himself among the Braves' players who were thrilled with the chance to make an early arrival to Spring Training.

Pitchers and catchers are not required to report until Thursday. Position players do not need to report until Feb. 18. Many of the players opted to head south a little earlier than expected, once they learned a winter storm was expected to begin in Atlanta on Tuesday.

"It's awesome to get down here," Evan Gattis said after playing catch in the bright green outfield grass. "You get to see all the familiar faces you haven't seen in a while. The weather is great here. I'm just looking forward to a good spring and a good season."

Freeman, Gattis, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters, Ramiro Pena and Ryan Doumit were among the most noteworthy "early arrivers" who were in camp on Tuesday. The always affable Freeman appeared to click immediately with Doumit, a versatile utility man who was acquired from the Twins in December.

As they stood side by side, Freeman asked for a picture to be tweeted to determine whose legs are whiter, his or Doumit's. The first baseman laughed when told that a few fans suggested he now has plenty of money to afford a good spray tan.

"It's good being around all the like-minded people and just getting ready," Gattis said. "It's an exciting time."

Beachy, Venters and Pena will be spending the next few weeks attempting to prove they are ready to bounce back from the season-ending surgeries that sidelined them last year.

After his return from Tommy John surgery was delayed from June until late July, Beachy made just five starts before right elbow inflammation sidelined him again and led Dr. James Andrews to perform a cleanup surgery in late September.

While Beachy will not be under any restrictions when camp opens, he says he will make a conscious effort to moderate his effort during the early portion of the Grapefruit League season.

As he attempts to return from his second Tommy John surgery since 2005, Venters will be limited throughout Spring Training. The veteran left-handed reliever is still aiming to return to Atlanta's bullpen in late May or early June.

Venters has gained some encouragement as he recently has been throwing from a distance of 150 feet without any discomfort. He expects to begin throwing off a mound within the next two weeks.

"I haven't had any setbacks," said Venters, who compiled a 1.89 ERA in the 164 appearances he combined to make in 2010 and '11. "But you know how it is, you can't really predict these kinds of things."

Pena proved to be a highly-valuable utility man before he was forced to undergo right shoulder surgery in June. Like Beachy, the versatile infielder said he will not be restricted from any activities during Spring Training.

"I just need to keep working and get more strength," Pena said. "I feel good though. The ball is coming out of my hand well, and there is nothing bad when I swing, natural movement and everything. I think it's good."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.