Friday, June 28, 2013
For Freese, the moment in time has faded
By Anna McDonald
David Freese is focused these days on getting the Cardinals back to the World Series.
ST. LOUIS -- People say time is, what, money? An illusion? That it flies? For David Freese, time diminishes the memory.
Here in this great Midwestern baseball heaven, time has lessened what it felt like for him when the baseball, shining bright against the dark green grass beyond the outfield wall, sent the Cardinals to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.
"As far as that moment, it seems like it was light years away," Freese said.
Yet it was just two years ago.
"I think it kind of stamps me as far as Cardinals history because it was so much on the national stage," Freese said. "But personally, it fades. It fades a little bit."
Freese believes when he is retired that the memory will come back. He said it will mean more then, but now, in true Cardinals fashion, Freese has moved on.
"I want to do it all again," he said. "I want to get back to the World Series and try to win another one."
The Cardinals third baseman is 30 years old, but with a late start to his major league career, he will not become a free agent until after the 2015 season. This spring, in his first year of eligibility, he avoided arbitration when he agreed to a one-year, $3.15 million contract with St. Louis.
He is the hometown hero with no long-term commitment. This raises an interesting baseball question: In a team's formula for placing value on players, do October heroics factor in?
Freese was a primary reason for one of the greatest moments in World Series history -- while driving in 21 runs in 18 games that postseason -- yet the Cardinals have not given him a long-term contract. Baseball people understand this. The past, and even postseason stardom, is no longer a stepping stone to the future. Smart teams base contracts on future projections, not past performance.
"The bottom line, especially with a team that demands winning, you have to be productive," Freese said. "I understand going through arbitration that your cost rises, so you have to do your part. I think if I just do my part, I have the potential to be around for a while."
Freese knows one of the keys for him playing well is his health. He played a career-high 144 games last year but missed the start of this season with a back strain and then a few more games with a thumb injury.
"I had those surgeries a few years ago, and it just kept building," Freese said. "I think when I was coming up in the minors, I was proving that I was a guy that could handle third base. I had some injuries then got in the weight room and stayed healthy, and now things are coming together."
Freese enters Friday batting .276, but the interesting thing is what he's done in high-leverage situations (when the game is closest), hitting .326. With two strikes, he has a .348 OBP, fourth highest in the majors.
Most guys in the big leagues understand the physical aspect of an at-bat, Freese said, but he believes his ability to hit when the game, or an at-bat, is on the line is all mental.
Teammates mob David Freese after his 11th-inning homer won Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
"It just starts with confidence on the on-deck circle," he said. "That's something that you have to understand. You have to walk up to the plate with confidence. Just understand that you need to wait for a pitch and have patience. I think the key for every AB is to stay in your zone, to have an approach and understand, no matter the count, you still need to battle and focus."
Hitting coach John Mabry said Freese has a good approach at the plate in high-leverage situations because he's a good player in every situation.
"Good players have that unique ability to drive people in," Mabry said. "He's one of those players. He changes the game when he's in the lineup."
Talk about clutch ability being nonexistent, but Freese is earning a reputation as a tough out in big situations. The value in a hitter like Freese is not in how the memory of those clutch moments remains in the minds of the fans but how opposing teams remember them.
Ron Washington knows about this. He understands. Even now, the Rangers manager said that when Freese comes up to the plate in a high-leverage situation, he thinks, "I'm not going to let him beat me."
"I've seen him do it," Washington said.
The memory of Freese beating the Rangers hasn't faded for Washington like it has for Freese.
"No," Washington said adamantly. "No, no. You walk him. He can beat you. It's [Jon] Jay behind him, so I'm saying, 'Freese or Jay?' I'm going to let Jay beat me. No disrespect to Jay either because he's a pretty good player, but I'll feel better if he did it than Freese."
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David Giuntoli, star of the NBC drama "Grimm," was at Busch Stadium to throw out the first pitch for a recent game against the Rangers. The St. Louis native stopped Freese as he was coming off the field for batting practice.
"I'm a big fan of yours," Giuntoli said to Freese.
Freese shook his hand, and they talked for a bit. He has such a humble way of taking all the attention in stride, and this goes over well with fans.
"I just want to be a guy that played the game hard and tried to play with a smile on my face," Freese said.
Yet there is a lot of pressure on him on and off the field.
"But that's what is cool about this," he said. "Seeing kids wearing my jersey at games, having kids running around wanting to be big leaguers and wanting to be a Cardinal, that's what is special. It's not just in St. Louis; there's kids around this country that want to be St. Louis Cardinals, and that's really cool."
The Cardinals franchise is married to winning, not stars. They have a highly regarded second-base prospect in Kolten Wong, and Matt Carpenter can play third.
This year during spring training, Joe Mauer said playing for the Twins is all he's ever known. Hometown heroes like Mauer are rare in baseball, and there's some nostalgia lost in this. If Freese doesn't end up being a Cardinal for life, while it might be a rational business decision -- he'll be 33 in 2016, after all -- there's something sad about the hometown kid being shipped away.
"I know he's dangerous," Washington said. "It doesn't matter if he's struggling or not. One swing of the bat and he can hurt you."
Ultimately, this is the aspect Freese adds to the Cardinals. Nothing in his numbers can change Washington's belief that at any point Freese can beat you.
The moment that will always define Freese might have faded, but while he says, "I'd love to be a Cardinal forever," only time will tell.