ST. LOUIS -- He made his way to see them, to celebrate and share with the fans, the same fan base he once was a part of. As St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese walked down the right-field line at Busch Stadium as a World Series winner, he held the most valuable player trophy in one hand and embraced his hometown people with the other.
It is here, in St. Louis, that Freese and his teammates clawed back to beat the Texas Rangers, 6-2, and win Game 7 on Friday night. Freese, who grew up just outside this city, capped the storybook tale by posting incredible postseason numbers, having one of the all-time memorable performances in Game 6, and finally winning the MVP award.
"It doesn't seem real," he said.
And why should it? Freese hit .348 with a home run, seven RBIs and four runs scored in the World Series. Overall, his 21 RBIs and 52 total bases are the most ever in postseason history and his 25 hits are tied for the most. Not to mention his Game 6 heroics -- a game-tying, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth inning (with a two-strike count) and his walk-off homer in the 11th in what already is being called one of the best games in World Series history.
And he's done it all in his hometown.
"This is crazy," said his dad, Guy, on the field as his son embraced fans. "He probably won't remember all of this; it's too much. It will all come back to him in a year."
Said teammate and friend Allen Craig: "I wouldn't know where to begin how to deal with that as a hometown guy. I'm just glad everyone around the world got to see what he could do. He's a tremendous player. We wouldn't have done it without him."
The Freese family was a bit shell-shocked, understandably. After all, right after high school, Freese decided baseball was no longer his passion. He quit, but eventually found his way back. Drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2006 in the ninth round out of South Alabama, the third baseman was traded to the Cardinals in 2008 for one of his favorite players, Jim Edmonds.
When he was healthy, the Cardinals saw glimpses of what Freese could be -- "a perennial All-Star type talent at third base [who] can be a .300 hitter, [hit] between 20 and 30 home runs and drive in between 80 and 100," teammate Matt Holliday said.
But injuries over the years left Freese with not much more than failed promise. Until this year and this postseason. Teammates always saw the talent, but not many people outside of St. Louis did. Holliday saw it. He moved to St. Louis this past offseason, and nearly every day he and Freese would work out together, hit in the cages and talk baseball.
"I think without the injures we'd see him on the scene a lot faster," Holliday said. "He's a tough kid; he's been through a lot. I think that's a big part of it. He's been down. He's had some stuff in his life I think that has toughened him where this [stage] isn't too big for him."
Skip Schumaker knew how good Freese could be. But it was in spring training when he noticed there was a different drive, a different determination. Schumaker said Freese entered the season knowing how vital his role would be, and he was determined to stay healthy. He'd have long talks about it with both Holliday and Schumaker.
"This spring training he was finally healthy," Schumaker said. "He had his ankles healthy and his mentality -- his mindset -- was different. He knew he was a huge part of this team."
For a while it seemed his mistakes and setbacks would never make that a reality. Off the field, he was arrested for a DUI when he was first traded to St. Louis. Then he played in a combined 87 games between 2009-10, before ankle surgery ended his season last year.
"It takes so long to get to this spot, just to get it to the big leagues," he said. "You don't ever truly know if you're going to make it to the big leagues, but I was surrounded by good people who paved the way."
Freese entered spring training wanting to remain healthy, but another ankle injury earlier this year and then a concussion in August limited him to 97 games. Still, he hit .297 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs. Then the postseason started and he posted one strong game after another, winning the MVP of the NLCS before arriving at the World Series, where he made a name for himself in front of a national audience.
This postseason has not only been a dominating one for Freese, but it's also showcased other ways in which he's so valued. After the Cardinals blew Game 2 and Holliday, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Lance Berkman left without talking to the media, Freese stood at his locker, courteously and patiently answering questions his veteran teammates should have been answering.
On the field he made an impact from the start of the series. In Game 1, Freese doubled in the sixth inning, with the game tied at 2-2, and came around on Craig's pinch-hit single, scoring the eventual game-winning run. In Game 2, he singled in the seventh inning of a scoreless game and scored the first run of the game on another Craig pinch-hit single. He continued to hit until arriving at Game 6, where he made history.
Now, he's the fourth Cardinal to win the World Series MVP award and the sixth player ever to be both a World Series and NLCS MVP in the same season.
"I think really the nation started to see what type of talent he is," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "We knew we had it, it was just a matter of keeping him healthy and on the field."
None of this was lost on him Friday night. Right before he was set to accept his MVP award on stage on national TV from commisioner Bud Selig, John True stood alongside Freese and congratulated him.
"The hometown kid does it," True, an old friend of Chris Carpenter's, told Freese.
Freese, exhaling, looked at True and told him he was "still tingling."
As he later walked around the field, being shuttled from one station to another, into the clubhouse and then back out on the field, he decided to stop and take a jog down the line. Fans screamed his name, posed for pictures with him and pulled at him from every direction.
Becca Rose, 20, was there. Freese is her favorite player, and she was holding a sign that read "The Future Mrs. Freese." As he approached her section, she reached out and hugged him, in shock that she was able to get so close.
"One day we will get married," she said.
By then Freese was gone, swallowed by another mass of elated people. Just before he was set to go back into the clubhouse to celebrate more with his teammates and family, Freese stopped to reflect on why immersing himself with the fans, his people, was so important.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "Look how excited they are. I get chills about getting the city a World Series championship. I think about it all the time, sitting in the seats and giving strangers hugs during special moments."
Freese then looked up and around at a ballpark that was mostly still full. Many of the people were chanting his name, the name of the guy who grew up here, works here and still lives here.
"Nobody is going anywhere," he said. "This is St. Louis baseball."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.