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Freese’s Magical October Makes Former Coach Proud

October 31, 2011

David Freese celebrates with fans.  
Cardinals third baseman David Freese, a former player at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, acknowledges the crowd during the Cardinals postseason celebration Oct. 30 at Busch Stadium. Freese was named the World Series MVP after the Cardinals won the franchise's 11th World Series title with a 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

Tony Dattoli’s October evening schedule has been one for the ages.

With the St. Louis Cardinals and one-time prize pupil David Freese in the postseason, St. Louis Community College’s head baseball coach made sure he was in position to see all the action.

“I adjusted my schedule accordingly, so I really didn't miss an at-bat,” Dattoli said.

While all Cardinals fans have taken a certain measure of pride in the postseason performance of hometown hero Freese, a graduate of Lafayette High School and STLCC-Meramec, to be able to see a former player’s meteoric rise to stardom has been a treat for Dattoli.

Dattoli maintained daily communication via text messages with Freese throughout the postseason, which was capped Oct. 28 with the club's 11th World Series title.

David Freese hoists the World Series MVP Award.  
David Freese hoists the World Series MVP Award during
the postgame celebration. (Photo by Charlie Riedle-Pool/
Getty Images)

Freese, who was named the World Series Most Valuable Player, had a game-tying triple and walk-off homer in an epic Game 6, and followed that up with a game-tying double in the series-clinching Game 7. During the World Series, Freese hit .348 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBIs.

Freese became the sixth player in Major League Baseball history to capture both the League Championship MVP and World Series MVP in the same postseason. He also set a record with 21 postseason RBIs.

Despite the success, Freese did little to change his approach on baseball’s biggest stage.

“He’s pretty level-headed,” Dattoli said. “He’s very focused. He keeps talking about knocking down one thing at a time, taking each challenge at a time.”

Facing Adversity

Knocking down one challenge at a time has been Freese’s mantra for some time. Freese has faced a litany of challenges in his path to the big leagues with his hometown team. First, the talented Freese became burned out on the game in high school, leaving surprised college recruiters to look elsewhere. Dattoli was one of those recruiters. A year later, however, Freese had continued to develop as an athlete, and his ability on the field made enough of an impression on the Meramec skipper to offer a roster spot.

“It was evident,” Dattoli said. “He got bigger and stronger, and his knowledge of the game was always there. When he hit the baseball, it made a different sound.”

Though immensely talented, Freese was still very raw, particularly after taking a year off. While Cardinals fans have become accustomed to Freese’s patented inside-out stroke that has allowed him terrific success in driving the ball to the opposite field, the Freese that first arrived at Meramec approached things a bit differently.

“When he came here, it’s my recollection that he’s a guy that liked to pull the ball quite a bit,” Dattoli said. “It’s something we worked on quite a bit, and it’s something he’s mastered through the years. It’s amazing how much power he has to the opposite field.”

Even more difficult than revamping his hitting stroke, however, has been persevering through an extensive list of injuries. During his freshman year at Meramec, Freese sustained a broken wrist while playing basketball. The injury left him unable to contribute to the Magic baseball team until the regional tournament.

In 2004, Freese was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association All-America first team, as well as the All-District, All-Region XVI and All-MCCAC first teams. A 2009 inductee into the Meramec Magic Hall of Fame, Freese concluded his collegiate career at the University of South Alabama.

After Freese had established himself as a big league prospect and was traded to the Cardinals for star outfielder Jim Edmonds before the 2009 season, the long, steady procession of ailments began.

First it was the torn cartilage in his left foot prior to spring training in 2009, requiring surgery. That truncated what would have been his first full year with St. Louis. In 2010, he broke a toe and tore the tendon sheath in his right ankle, limiting closing out his season with just 240 at-bats.

In the midst of a breakout season in 2011, Freese suffered a broken left hand, causing him to miss more time. Because of the intermittent playing time, Freese was hardly a household name outside of St. Louis. That is, until the postseason started.

"I've had plenty of days in my life where I'd thought, you know, I wouldn't even be close to being a big leaguer," Freese told reporters during the World Series postgame celebration. "I'm here because of everyone around me. They put so much trust in me to accomplish, not just baseball, but stuff in life. To do this, I'm just full of joy."

Setting the Standard

For Dattoli, Freese’s success means more than being able to see a former player excel at the highest level of the game. With so many local players on St. Louis Community College’s roster, Freese has become a measuring stick of sorts for current players. Just a few years ago, Freese walked the same halls at STLCC’s Meramec campus, worked with the same coaching staff and took his cuts on the same field as they are today.

“For guys in the program, it’s tremendous,” Dattoli said. “For local kids who are familiar with the program itself and for guys we’ve had an opportunity to work with, it’s great. It’s encouraging.”

As for Dattoli, seeing Freese’s maturation at the big-league level has been quite the experience.

“Obviously, the pride on all aspects has been tremendous,” Dattoli said.