David Freese: A bittersweet return for a Cardinal hero

(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Sports are like a very demanding best friend. There are times where you wish you could just quit them but they constantly remind you of the undeniable bond between the two of you.

When former St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese stepped up to home plate at Busch Stadium this past weekend, it was his first at bat at Busch in nearly two and a half years.

As Frank Sinatra once said, the sweet can not be as sweet without the bitter. Freese embodies that tough love ideal to a tee.

Every Cardinals fan remembers October 27th 2011. It’s become part of the great history of this franchise. A fond memory that will turn the most cynical fan into a warm nostalgia covered glass case emotions.

Let’s kick it old school for a minute and relive it. Game 6. 2011 World Series. Bottom of the ninth. The Texas Rangers are up 9-7. The Cards aren’t going down without a fight. Like Rocky with two willing legs and fists, they stagger to their feet bloodied yet not beaten. Two on and two out. David Freese steps up to the plate against Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Are the Cards coming back? As Donnie Brasco once said, fuggeddaboutit! That’s general wisdom though.

Freese, a hometown kid who suffered through personal and professional setback, denied Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington, and the Rangers a safe passage to the Promised Land that night. Like yanking a fairy tale out of a kid’s dream, Freese went global and lit up Busch. He cranked a two run triple to tie the game and later a walkoff home run that led to a Game 7 victory where he produced a two run double. All in all, Freese drove in 21 runners that postseason.

Freese could have retired and turned in his jersey that next morning and never paid for a meal in St. Louis again. As James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams, it would have been like he was dipped in magic waters.

It wasn’t over yet. In 2012, Freese compiled his best statistical season as a pro. He hit 20 home runs, produced an .839 OPS and a 3.5 WAR in 144 games(his most in the Majors). In 2013, he would play in six less games and see his OPS drop nearly 100 points. He wasn’t as good.┬áDuring the 2013 postseason, Freese would hit .179 with one home run and four RBI. The lightning in his once potent postseason bat was gone.

October 28th, 2013. Game 5 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. After taking a 2-1 lead, the Cardinals had squandered it and the series was tied heading into the action. This was his last game at Busch Stadium as a Cardinal. Freese collected a pair of hits, including a double, but didn’t drive anybody in and the Cards would lose in six games.

Exactly two years after rushing to the middle of the field at Busch to celebrate a World Series he made possible with two swings of the bat, Freese saw his time wearing the home Cardinal red come to an end. That’s baseball. That’s sports as a business. That is life. Taking the sweet and holding it up against the bitter in order to appreciate it more.

Freese returned to Busch clothed in rogue black and gold. He’s a Pirate now and while his power is absent, Freese can still collect hits. He’s still got it. He went 5-14 against the Cards in the season opening series at PNC Park. He may collect a clutch hit or two this year off his old team.

I can only imagine one other Ex-Cardinal inflicting damage at Busch and have it feel worse than Freese, and that’s his former teammate(for two teams), Albert Pujols. It won’t be easy to see Freese do his thing in Pittsburgh Pirate colors, but they’ll never get the Freese Cards fans saw in 2011-12.

Freese’s return was a chance to celebrate the great memories and give him something extra. A standing ovation isn’t enough. St. Louis gave Stubby Clapp three standing ovations so push it even further for #23. Force the umpire to call time. Make Yadier Molina stand up and wait to give signs to the pitcher. Scream his name. Make some cool signs. Do something special for a guy who brought this town a happiness that can last.

I returned home this month to St. Louis to clean up my South City home for sale. As I finished cleaning it, my face and mind couldn’t pull away from the living room. I looked at the exact spot I sat on a chair and watched Freese put one over Nelson Cruz’s head four and a half years earlier. As my six week old son slept in the other room, I clinched my fist when Freese turned that game and series around. I just stood there Monday night and stared at that spot and smiled unbroken for minutes.

Thanks for the memories, David Freese. Long may you run.

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