Postseason hero Freese gets comfortable in new city
Angels third baseman reflects on 2011 World Series that made him a St. Louis star
SEATTLE -- They painted the town red, as if it already wasn't. And when they returned from the jubilance and the madness of an entire city living vicariously through its resurgent baseball team late into the night of Oct. 27, 2011, this tight-knit group of 20-somethings found the man who caused the celebration, sitting in silence, trying to take it all in and waiting for that front door to burst open.
"I remember seeing my buddies' faces when they walked in, and they're like, 'You gotta be kidding me with this,'" said David Freese, the new Angels third baseman and forever Cardinals hero, from a wooden bench in the visitors' dugout of Safeco Field that wasn't much more uncomfortable than where he slept for most of that October.
Freese moved into a new apartment in St. Louis' Central West End in September 2011, but it would take three weeks for cable to be installed, and he wasn't having that. So in the meantime, he crashed in the living room of his college friend's apartment in Brentwood, Mo., on a faded light-brown leather two-seat couch that was nowhere near big enough to support his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame.
In the meantime, the 2011 Cards -- 8 1/2 games out of a playoff spot as late as Sept. 5 -- clinched a postseason berth. And so hunkering down on that couch evolved into necessary superstition that took Freese all the way through a magical postseason, up until he hit the game-tying triple with two outs in the ninth inning and then the 11th-inning walk-off homer to crush the Rangers' spirits in Game 6 of the World Series and set up an improbable championship clincher the next night.
Come to think of it, that couch was pretty darn comfortable.
"You're trying to comprehend what happened, because the game went from the worst emotions ever to pushing for a Game 7," said Freese, who took a pop fly off the tip of his glove earlier in Game 6. "We made, like, three errors early on in the game, we were down and came back. I went back to my buddy's place and we were just sitting there, kind of in awe of what's going on."
Freese's life -- the baseball part of it, at least -- will never be better than it was that October, while playing for his hometown team, hanging with his frat brothers and finding himself at the center of revelry, with a singular postseason performance that was arguably the greatest in history.
In that sense, Freese has already peaked.
"And you know what? I'm OK with that," Freese said, laughing a little and then composing himself. "I mean, let's be honest, there's nothing that's going to go down like that for me -- hometown, the way we did it, the way it all went down. You can't beat that. My friends and family even talked to me about how I don't reflect on that moment enough. I'm so in this moment, no matter where I'm at.
"I have yet to watch any of the games of that postseason. Maybe to a fault. But I'm just worried about now. New chapter in my life. It's about winning with this team. And two rings is definitely better than one."
It finally dawned on Freese that he was no longer a Cardinal when the Winter Warm-Up was storming through downtown St. Louis.
Every January leading up to Spring Training, the Cardinals host a massive fan fest that captivates the entire baseball-crazed city. Freese had moved again the previous October, settling into an apartment nestled in the heart of downtown and within walking distance from Busch Stadium. About a month after that, he was traded to the Angels, along with reliever Fernando Salas, in the Nov. 22 deal that sent center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk to St. Louis.
Freese would drive around that winter, and all he'd see was Cardinal red, none of which had anything to do with him.
"I don't know if this is good or bad," Freese said, "but I turned the page pretty quick.
"People who don't know me would always say, 'Hey, sorry about the trade.' People who do know me were like, '[Heck] yeah, that's sweet.' Because they just see the excitement of change. People talk about fresh start and this and that, but I just see it as a new opportunity. Everything that comes with being an Angel is pretty sweet."
Freese admittedly dwells on negatives a little more than he'd like, but getting traded so early in the offseason allowed him to quickly "turn the page" on a 2013 playoff run that saw him bat just .179, not to mention a regular season in which his OPS dropped from .839 to .721.
Regarding past off-field issues, specifically three alcohol-related charges from 2002-09, Freese, now 30 and no longer single, said: "I love where I'm at right now -- mentally, physically. People that know me see me as happy, [and] obviously sometimes I fight that. I'm in a good place right now."
Freese looks around the Halos' clubhouse -- with Salas, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson all taking part in that 2011 Series -- and sees a winning atmosphere.
Asked how he can possibly know that one month into his first season with this group, Freese perked up and said, "Because I've been around it. I've been around it enough to understand what a clubhouse atmosphere needs to be. There's a lot of guys in there that have been through it and understand it. Everybody in that clubhouse wants it, and you need that."
Freese didn't sleep the night that bled into Game 7.
When his friends stumbled in at about 2 a.m., Freese -- who wore Bob Gibson's No. 45 in Little League and now wears No. 6 partly because of the late Stan Musial -- was on an emotional high he couldn't come down from.
Freese hung out for a little while, and long after his buddies passed out, he was wide-eyed and watching TV -- some of it HBO, some of it "a little dig-me time" on MLB Network. Freese went to the local McDonald's for his usual breakfast burrito at 8 a.m., stayed up another four hours, took a nap around noon, woke up 45 minutes later, drove to the ballpark "and just tried to act like it was another day -- like we did the whole time, starting in August down 10 1/2 [games]," Freese said.
Freese is invested in the Angels now, two and a half years after being the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series and Fall Classic for the team that taught him to love the game.
But some things will never change.
"My buddy still has the couch," Freese said, smiling. "He moved it upstairs, but he still has the couch."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.