Although he now plays for the rival Pirates, David Freese gets applauded every time he come to the plate at Busch Stadium as Cardinals fans still honor their hometown hero, who grew up in metro St. Louis.
Freese blasted an 11th-inning walk-off home run to beat the Rangers in Game 6 of the World Series en route to MVP honors but the now 33-year-old admits he never should have been lauded by the Cardinals after everything he put them through.
Freese told USA Today Sports he has battled depression his entire life, even going as far as to quit baseball and spend his nights partying as a freshman in college, a recreation which turned into a problem for the infielder.
“I was depressed. I was always depressed,’’ Freese said. “I never tried to do anything to myself, but I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t care what would happen to me. It was almost to a point that if this is my time, so be it?
“And there was definitely a lack of care about my well-being at certain times, for sure.’’
Freese has been involved in three public drunken-driving incidents, including a 2009 arrest in which his blood alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit.
“I’ve had moments like that since high school, to be honest,’’ Freese said. “It’s been 15-plus years of, 'I can’t believe I’m still here.’"
For Freese, winning with the Cardinals didn't cure anything, it actually drove him into darker places.
“You win the World Series in your hometown, and you become this guy in a city that loves Cardinal baseball,’’ Freese said. “Sometimes it’s the last guy you want to be. So you start building this facade, trying to be something I was not.
“I always wanted to change, to get over all of my issues, but it was so hard. You get stuck in the mud. You just don’t know where to go.’’
The Cardinals didn't turn a blind eye to Freese's issues, they tried counseling and interventions, but it wasn't until after the 2013 season when Mike Matheny told Freese he needed to leave St. Louis for his own good did Freese see a change.
“I think it was the best thing that could have happened to him,’’ Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter said. “Being the hometown hero may seem great, but it’s usually not a fun thing. Someone is always asking for something. You constantly have people hanging around. That can be stressful, and really challenging.’’
Freese was dealt to the Angels and is currently under contract with the Pirates likely until 2019. He's worked through his depression, anxiety and alcohol issues, found a great support system which includes his wife Mairin and new hobbies outside of baseball.
"I have perspective in my life. It’s not to say that baseball becomes less important, but it just doesn’t flood your brain as much," Freese said. "I know I had the alcohol issues in the past, but you come to realize it’s a lot deeper than that. It's depression and anxiety issues. I had to attack the way I was thinking. I re-trained my brain by being around Mairin and getting help. The foggy feeling I always had is now lifted."