Before he was a guest on Ellen, before he sat on Leno's couch next to the Biebs, before Kelly Clarkson called him "adorable" on Access Hollywood, before he became a sensation and a legend, he was a nobody outside of St. Louis, a 28-year-old third baseman who'd never played more than 97 games in a season. Of course, by now you know the David Freese Story -- you know that he grew up 45 minutes from Busch Stadium, that he quit baseball for a year after graduating from high school because he was burned out, that he was drafted by the Padres and later traded to his hometown team for his childhood idol, Jim Edmonds.
And then there was the Greatest World Series Game Ever -- the preposterous, exhilarating, wonderfully messy and beautiful Game 6 -- and everything changed.
David Freese is my Sportsman of the Year because, in one unforgettable night, he showed us that there's still magic in sports. Because sometimes it's just about the moment, and Freese gave us not one but two of the greatest and thrilling moments of 2011, the improbable, ninth-inning, game-tying Game 6 triple and then, two innings later, the jaw-dropping, 11th-inning walk off home-run that sent the Comeback Cards on their way to a title.
It was an October so ridiculously storybook that it all felt predetermined. Of course it would be the hometown kid leading the Cardinals to the most unlikely World Series title in baseball history. Of course it would be the third baseman who'd never had anything more than a nine-game hitting streak in his career, going on a team-record 13-game hit streak in the postseason. Of course it would be the player who'd never in his life hit a walk-off home run -- "Not even little league," he says -- hitting one of the greatest walk-off home runs in baseball history.
After Game 7, after the Cardinals had completed their amazing run and after he became the sixth player to be named the MVP of a league championship series and World Series in the same postseason, Freese did countless interviews on the confetti-strewn field and posed for cellphone photos with strangers who'd stuck around Busch Stadium deep into that chilly Friday night in St. Louis. Outside the Cardinals locker room, he ran into his idol, Jim Edmonds. The two spoke for a moment, then Edmonds pushed Freese toward the clubhouse, and said, "Go inside. It's your time to celebrate." They shook hands, and the unlikely hero, with a smile as wide as the great arch, disappeared into the haze of champagne and history.
New heroes emerge every postseason, of course. But no October legend has ever taken hold as quickly, and as spectacularly, as the legend of David Freese.