David Freese was great in high school, but did anyone foresee a World Series hero?
When all is said and done, David Freese's performance in Game 6 of the World Series might go down as one of the greatest postseason performances of all time. At bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and down to his last strike, Freese smashed a slicing drive to right field that bounced off the wall and scored two runs to tie the game.
Leading off the 11th inning for the Cardinals, Freese hit a moonshot into the grassy area behind center field -- a magical walk-off home run to the end the game. The crowd went nuts, and so did his former high-school coaches watching the game at home on TV.
"I was just mired in emotions," says Rusty Ryan, who coached Freese during his playing days at Lafayette High School. "I thought his at-bat at the bottom of the ninth would end the game with an out. But then the ball kept going and got over Nelson Cruz's head and off the wall. Then the home run in the 11th? Oh man, historic!"
Ditto the thoughts of Steve Miller, Freese's assistant coach and former athletic director back at Lafayette High School. "What a thrill! I was getting text messages from former players, coaches, my kids (who played ball with Freese)," says Miller. "It was just unbelievable!"
Miller fired off his own text message last night to his former player, congratulating Freese on his performance. Miller, who's now retired, sent a similar message to the Cardinals' third baseman after he was voted MVP of the NLCS. The former coach has yet to get a response to last night's text, but Freese did return his message following the NLCS -- offering his former coach a simple "thanks."
"He is just so humble and modest," says Miller. "He's easy to talk to and comes from a great family -- an all-around good guy."
What's all the more incredible about last night's game (and Freese's incredible postseason run, which includes five home runs to date) is that it could just as easily have never happened. Following his senior year of high school in 2001, Freese hung up his cleats, determined not to play collegiate ball his freshman year at Mizzou.
"We thought it was a tremendous mistake," says Ryan, who played a minor-league season with the Cardinals in the 1960s. "At the time, I told him how I had made a little money in this game. I thought he had the potential to make a lot of money, but he said he was burned out."
Miller credits a summer job the next year in helping get Freese to return to the sport. "He was working for the maintenance department for Rockwood School District" --of which Lafayette belongs -- "and I think he saw all those old high-school banners from his days playing baseball and decided he missed the game."
Freese went on to play two seaons (one injured) at Meramec Community College in suburban St. Louis before going to the University of South Alabama. In one of his summers home from Southern Alabama, Miller hired Freese to work his baseball clinic for Little League players.
"His mom told me David was having trouble finding a summer job," says Miller. "He was a big hit with the kids."
From college, Freese got drafted by the San Diego Padres. He came to St. Louis by way of the Cardinals sending Jim Edmonds to southern California.
"I'm not sure the Cardinals even knew David was from St. Louis when they drafted him, and if they did, it certainly wasn't a factor in them signing him," says Miller. "But now, for a local kid to be in this position. What a story!"
At Lafayette, Freese played short stop and second base. Head coach Ryan, who retired from Lafayette in 2002, calls Freese the best line-drive hitter he coached in 30-plus years. "David hit the ball on the button better than anyone I know," he says.
But who was the better player he coached -- Ryan Howard (Lafayette c/o 1998) or David Freese (c/o 2001)?
"I'd probably say I saw more potential in Howard just because of his size and power," says Ryan. "But that's like asking which of your daughters you like best. They were different kind of athletes."
Still, for all his praise of Freese last night, Ryan is not without a bit of coaching criticism. Prior to the late innings last night, Freese was one of three Redbirds to commit an error. The third baseman's gaffe in the fifth inning was arguably the ugliest -- dropping a routine pop-up off the bat of Josh Hamilton.
"As a coach, I wanted to jump out there and yell at him," says Ryan. "Always use two hands! Always watch the ball!"