KANSAS CITY, Mo. – David Freese tries not to think about the entertaining, exhilarating ride his career has taken him in the past year because that would be too much. This is all still fresh, and he doesn’t want the dream to end.
Just look at him Monday afternoon, wearing a large grin as he sits behind a table at Arrowhead Stadium speaking about his first All-Star Game appearance. He talks about focusing on the future rather than the past. Admittedly, though, that task is hard for him.
Why wouldn’t it be? After all, he’s a postseason hero now. He’s a hometown star whose Game 6 dramatics stunned the Texas Rangers last fall and allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to win their 11th World Series championship in a classic seven-game memory. He’s a rising star in his fourth major-league season and someone who’s only beginning to discover where his talent could lead.
“I’m always striving,” Freese says. “I think that’s what you’ve got to do. The World Series was great – coming back from 10 ½ (games behind the Atlanta Braves for the National League wild card) was awesome. Getting the All-Star nod. … I’m always trying to do more. I want to win. That’s what this is all about, whether it’s the All-Star Game or for the Cardinals. It’s about winning.”
It’s always about winning for Freese, and that’s part of the reason why he will participate in the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Cardinals third baseman slid into the event with Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish because of a fan vote – he collected 8.4 million from a click-happy Cardinals base – but don’t assume that method of inclusion has dulled Freese’s drive to win here.
Yes, he’s convinced he belongs among Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Buster Posey and other NL heavyweights. Without a hint of sarcasm, he’s quick to say he’s here to play and contribute. For him, the whole situation this week is perfect: He’s a four-hour drive from home, Tony La Russa is managing the NL team and the experience feels as right as rounding third base after his game-ending home run on that electric night last October at Busch Stadium.
So why blame him? Why should he think about the charmed ride when the memories are powerful enough to enjoy on their own?
“We had a lot of reasons why we were able to play in the World Series, and there was nobody who was a bigger reason than David,” La Russa says. “It’s some justice to him. The type of person that he is, he’s going to savor this experience. I’m thrilled to be able to watch him.”
What La Russa will see Tuesday is someone who seems genuinely excited about everything that comes with the first-time All-Star whirlwind. Freese marked his addition to the event with a July 5 tweet that read, “#Cardinalnation what can I say… beast mode! U all went to town for me. Thank u so much! To join such great company in KC is such an honor.” Monday during a bus ride, he sat near fellow All-Star Chipper Jones, one of his baseball idols, and thought, “Is this real?” He said he would embrace the event like the playoffs, calling the opportunity “special” and “flattering” although the weight of the moment had failed to hit him.
But peel away that bright-eyed humility and realize the 29-year-old has a fierce competitive streak that was introduced to the world last fall. That’s one of Freese’s greatest gifts. He has an ability to make the flair seem effortless.
Teammates have understood this complexity longer than most. Outfielder Matt Holliday said he knew Freese would be special after watching the strength of his hands in early batting-practice sessions. Pitcher Lance Lynn said Freese has thrived as his health has become stable. Shortstop Rafael Furcal predicted Freese would have many more All-Star Games in the future because his potential is too great. Outfielder Carlos Beltran considers himself serious about the approach to his craft but said Freese is more focused than even him.
“I’m always a fan of baseball. It’s our job, but sometimes it gets a little tough,” Freese says. “It’s six months, and I don’t think a lot of people understand what we go through. The fact that you can sit back and relish this moment and be a part of a group like this – I’ll cherish it forever.”
Cherish it? Yes. Relax because of it? No.
And that’s why Freese’s ride has been rewarding. Sure, it has been entertaining and exhilarating. But mostly, it has fulfilled.