As Opening Day finally approached, Freddie Freeman had far bigger concerns than perfecting his swing and practicing his scoops.

Just being able to walk a few steps was hard enough.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to start, with COVID,” the Atlanta Braves first baseman said. “I was able to beat it.”

And then some.

Freeman easily won the National League MVP award Thursday, topping off a trying year that saw him become so ill with COVID-19 that he prayed, “Please don’t take me.”

He received 28 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts got the other two firsts to finish second, and San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado was third.

In a season affected from spring training to the World Series by the pandemic, perhaps it was fitting the final major award of the year went to someone infected by the coronavirus.

Three weeks before the delayed Opening Day in late July, Freeman’s body temperature spiked at 104.5 degrees and he lost his sense of taste and smell. At one point, he recalled saying a little prayer because “I wasn’t ready.”

“It impacted me pretty hard,” he said.

Freeman said it took him a couple of weeks into the season to find his footing. He tried to conserve his energy, skipping the daily routine of batting practice and cutting down how much he hopped off first base while holding on runners.

The 31-year-old Freeman soon found his stride, batting .341 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs while playing all 60 games. A powerful lefty batter with the ability to spray the ball all over the field, he led the majors with 23 doubles and 51 runs.

Boosted by the four-time All-Star, the Braves won the NL East for the third consecutive season and came within one win of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1999.

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