TAMPA, Fla. — Freddie Freeman was born and raised in Southern California and blossomed into a star with the Atlanta Braves.

Starting this week, he’s proudly playing in the World Baseball Classic. For Canada – and for a special reason.

The All-Star first baseman is honoring his mother, Rosemary, who died of skin cancer when he was 10.

“Every day here, it’s about my mom because I’m doing this for her,” Freeman said this week. “My mom never became a U.S. citizen, she was Canadian through and through. It’s pretty special.”

“I know she’s watching, I know she has a front row seat. I want to make her proud. I think there’s going to be nerves, there’s going to be anxiety about it, just wanting the game to start.”

Freeman and Canada open the WBC on Thursday night against defending champion Dominican Republic.

The 27-year-old Freeman made his debut with Canada on Tuesday in an exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays that Canada won 7-1. He looked skyward following the playing of the Canadian national anthem.

“Hearing the anthem had a little extra meaning to me,” Freeman said.

Freeman can play for Canada because of a WBC rule that allows a player to compete for a country if at least one parent was born in that country.

Freeman’s father, Fred, will be attending Thursday’s game. He also was born in Canada.

“It’s going to be a special day, not only for me but it’s something to be able to share with my dad,” Freeman said.

Freeman had a gleam in his eyes when he talked about his mother – how they’d play catch and she would glove the ball with her left hand, then take off the mitt and throw the ball back left-handed.

“I like telling these stories because telling the memories I have of her, that makes her live on,” Freeman said. “It’s nice just to be able to talk about her.”

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES

NETHERLANDS 6, TAIWAN 5: Jurickson Profar drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Netherlands to a win over Taiwan at Seoul, South Korea.

The Netherlands improved to 2-0 in Pool A and advanced to the second round in Tokyo along with Israel, which is also 2-0.

South Korea and Taiwan failed to advance.

Netherlands designated hitter Didi Gregorius contributed three doubles, including the tying hit in the eighth. The Yankees’ shortstop had three RBI.

JAPAN 4, AUSTRALIA 1: Japan improved to 2-0 in Pool B with a victory over Australia at Tokyo Dome. Sho Nakata hit a solo home run in the seventh and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo added a two-run homer in the eighth for the two-time champions.

CUBA 6, CHINA 0: Roel Santos hit a two-run triple as Cuba scored four runs in the fourth inning in a Pool B win at Tokyo.

Former major leaguer Bruce Chen held Cuba scoreless over the first 2-2/3 innings but a pitching change gave the Cuban batters the spark they needed.

Cuba improved to 1-1 to keep alive its chances of advancing.