Freese's father, Guy, is a civil engineer. His mother, Lynn, is a retired teacher. David also has a sister, Pam.
According to his mother, Freese—a professed lifelong Cardinals fan—had an original Ozzie Smith glove, and while pitching in his younger years always used number 45 in honor of another Cardinals legend, pitcher Bob Gibson.
Freese played catcher in high school. And he quit baseball after his senior year, despite being very good at the game. His .533 average his senior season still stands as a Lafayette record. He was widely considered the best shortstop in the state. A scholarship to Mizzou awaited him.
David explains now that his reasoning lay in the negativity that he felt surrounded the game. Having been defined by the sport for so long, he just lost all desire to continue.
"It's pretty simple and kind of boring," Freese said, "but I just didn't want to play anymore."
He turned down a baseball scholarship to the University of Missouri and enrolled as a regular, full-paying student. He pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon and, like many red-blooded 18-year-olds, developed a fondness for partying.
"My GPA was just brutal, and I was headed down the wrong road," Freese said. "Baseball was in the rear-view mirror."
The itch resurfaced sometime after his freshman year at the University of Missouri, though David Freese didn't take it all that seriously at the time.
After so many years of having baseball dictate his social schedule—or deplete it all together—he was content to embrace life as a student. That meant attending classes and parties and sporting events as a fan. It meant shedding an identity that had been formed for him, when Freese was a standout infielder at Lafayette High School in the St. Louis suburb of Wildwood.
His stay at Mizzou was interrupted only by the summer, which brought Freese back home so he could make some money by working in the Rockwood school district maintenance department. He laid tile, fixed cabinets, and, to this day, remembers having a blast doing it.
Two weeks before returning to campus in Columbia, Mo., Freese made a visit back to his high school. He walked into the Lafayette gym and took a reflective look around.
"I said, 'What am I doing?' " Freese recalled. "Stepping away for a year ... kind of brought me back to the game and helped me realize how much I missed it."
So he left Mizzou, moved home with his folks, and asked the baseball coach at St. Louis Community College-Meramec for a spot. Just as he was getting back on track in the fall of 2002, he was hit with his first DUI. He clung to the game for life support, and loved his time on the diamond.
In 2006, Freese was named Sun Belt Conference player of the year after batting .415-11-70 with a .509 on-base percentage for South Alabama.
During the winter before 2007 spring training, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Freese as 15th-best prospect in the Padres organization. They dropped David to #28 in the spring of 2008. In the offseason before 2009 spring training, Freese was rated 9th-best in the Cardinals' farm system. In the winter before 2010 spring camps opened, they moved David up to #5 in the St. Louis organization.
December 12, 2009: Freese was arrested for driving in a St. Louis suburb (Maryland Heights) while intoxicated, the second time in 27 months he had faced an alcohol-related charge. So he agreed to enter the club's Employee Assistance Program.
Police said Freese was stopped at 2:41 a.m. because his car was weaving. He was alone in his car and cooperated with police.
David's friends say he is not an alcoholic, but is guilty of poor judgment. Freese was embarrassed and distraught about the incident. He credits Matt Holliday with turning his life around. Holliday told Freese, who is single, to stick by him, that he wasn't going to let him screw up his gift.
The two spent the offseason hitting, lifting, and hanging out at Holliday's house. They talked about life, relationships, busting your ass and putting the past behind you.
Freese has fans in the Cardinals' coaching staff, including manager Tony La Russa. David's demeanor is impressive. He carries himself well.
"I like him because he doesn't get overjoyed with himself," La Russa said.
Freese prides himself on that same trait, and doesn't hesitate to credit where it came from. His father, Guy, always made sure that young David avoided getting too high or too low.
"Dealing with ups and downs was a big thing to him, because not everything is going to go the way you want it," Freese said. "I think that's a big part of why I'm even-keeled with everything. Because you're going to have struggles in your life, just like in baseball. It's how you deal with it. He taught me that. He would show me the way, and it was up to me to deal with the situation."
The elder Freese coached his son from David's earliest days playing the game, until shortly before he was in high school. He kept his distance when it was appropriate, and stepped in when it was needed. And he was certainly a baseball coach, teaching his son the game, including how to hit to the opposite field, which scouts and coaches are really impressed with. (Matthew Leach-MLB.com-6/15/10)
On the way to becoming 2011 World Series MVP, Freese spent every home game night on the drab olive sofa in a tiny spare room of a college buddy's St. Louis apartment—an arrangement born of both superstition and prodigious sleeping skills.
"I can sleep anywhere," Freese said last month, atop the famous hunk of sagging upholstery, which cannot accommodate his prone 6'2'' frame unless he keeps his knees bent. "We get on the plane, I'm out before we take off and I'm still sleeping when we land. This was all about winning, so that's why I stayed put."
Says the sofa's owner, Dan Kriegshauser, a junior college teammate of Freese's, "He's a cool roommate. He bought us meals. Now he goes anywhere and gets a free meal. We can't go out to dinner more than once at the same place because he's too modest and doesn't want to take the free meals they give him over and over again."
Freese settled on Kriegshauser's sofa because shortly after he had moved into a new apartment of his own he realized he had forgotten to preorder cable television and would have to wait weeks for an installer. "I'm not going to stay there without any cable," he says, "so I shacked up here on this couch, [then] we clinched [the wild card] in Houston. I come home and he said, 'You're not going anywhere.' We kept winning, and I kept sleeping on the couch." (Tom Verducci-Sports Illustrated-02/13/12)
Freese has crammed a lot into a little time. He's been a World Series MVP, a National League Championship Series MVP, a record-setter when it comes to October production, and an All-Star. All of those are honors that define him. But there is one prefix he covets and finally has a hold on.
"I don't want people to say, 'Oh, you had a good October,'" Freese said. "I want them to say, 'You had a good career.'" (July 2012)
November 22, 2012: David's car was totaled on Thanksgiving night, interrupting plans with his parents. But Freese was physically unhurt after crashing an SUV into a tree in order to avoid hitting a deer.
Two other details of note: One, it wasn't the car he won for winning World Series MVP. It was his 2011 black Range Rover. Two, police are not investigating any other contributing factors to the crash. Freese has a checkered driving record that includes an arrest for DUI in 2002 and another for DWI in 2009.
February 21, 2014: David couldn't help but smile at the thought of Stan Musial when asked by the Angels if he'd changed his uniform number from 23 to 6 in honor of the late St. Louis Cardinals legend.
"It's obviously something that crossed my mind, being a Cardinal and being around Stan," said the new Angels third baseman, who played for St. Louis for the last five seasons. "It's just an honor to kind of wear his number. I don't think I look at it and not think about him for sure." Freese has a special connection to the Hall of Famer known to many as "Stan the Man," who passed away in January of last year. He's close friends with a grandson of Musial and recalls seeing Musial often at Busch Stadium. (Romero - mlb.com)
David's extended offseason ended on March 11, 2016, in the middle of Spring Training, when he signed a one-year contract with the Pirates. The next morning, he walked into the media room connected to the McKechnie Field clubhouse, wearing a gray T-shirt with green sleeves and a smile he couldn't erase, and expressed something he repeated earlier that week.
"This winter was good for me," Freese said. "It was just a great part of my life where I was trying to be more."
The enduring image of Freese was captured in October 2011, the handsome hero leading his hometown Cardinals to a World Series championship. But look at him now, and you can see the whole picture -- personally at peace, passionate and a perfect fit with the Pirates. "I'm just at peace more than I've been, probably ever," Freese said. "I love this game more than I ever have in my life.
"I wake up every day just enjoying playing this game, and a lot has to do with where I'm at in my life and the people I'm around."
After his World Series heroics, Freese found himself stretched thin in St. Louis. He dealt with the amplified demands of his newfound fame, alcohol-related issues, and the loneliness in the middle of it all.
"I got caught up in St. Louis not saying no enough, trying to fulfill everyone else's expectations on the field or off the field. It just became a downward spiral," Freese said. "I loved my time there. It was really a dream come true. But there were some tough times too."
Within a week in November 2013, Freese moved to a new apartment in downtown St. Louis, brought home a boxer dog named Bob, met the woman who would soon be his wife, and got traded from the Cardinals to the Angels.
Leaving St. Louis changed Freese, demanding him to mature and allowing him to do so away from the spotlight of St. Louis. His faith in and relationship with God continue to grow stronger, he said. He has surrounded himself with positive influences, perhaps none more so than the girl he met at his friend's production studio, an intern named Mairin O'Leary. They've been together nearly three years, and they're moving -- with Bob -- to Austin, Texas. In December, Freese proposed.
"I don't know where I'd be without her, honestly," Freese said. "I think I'd be all right, but her strength and the way she challenges me to be a better person, it's awesome. I think Mairin helped bring the light out of me -- numerous people, I can't even explain where I'd be without all these people around me over the years." (Berry - MLB.com - 8/18/16)
David quickly came to know and respect Pirate manager Clint Hurdle. The Pirates quickly came to trust Freese as a leader and voice of reason, with Hurdle pointing to his accomplishments as a World Series MVP who's seen "the other side of what comes with that."
"Way back in prehistoric days, they used to count skins that were hung on the wall. David's hung a lot of skins on his wall," Hurdle said. "There's been a lot of life experience that he can share and others can benefit from listening to." That's the easiest part of his job description. Freese is at ease being himself.
But David's value extends beyond the clubhouse. Pittsburgh is 49-32 when he starts this season (2016). He's hit .283/.364/.440, played a solid third base and seamlessly adjusted to first base.
"We love him here," Andrew McCutchen said. "He gets along with all of us. We get along with him. It does help that he's a pretty good baseball player, too."
This year has changed the way Freese views the rest of his career. It may not come with the Pirates, barring something unforeseen, but Freese "absolutely" views Pittsburgh as a place he could stay. He feels great physically. Mentally, he feels rejuvenated, a far cry from the kid who quit baseball after high school, passed on an athletic scholarship to the University of Missouri, and asked his parents to pay his tuition there instead.
"It's been hard sometimes to dig deep and enjoy the game," Freese said. "I think that's normal, guys seeing this game as a job and sleeping with their gloves. But man, I love this game." (Berry - MLB.com - 8/18/16)
Freese will always be a huge hero in St. Louis, because of Game 6 of the World Series. But during that time when he should've been basking in glory, he was instead a tormented man who battled just to get out of bed. He'd wake up and slam his eyelids shut.
"I was depressed. I was always depressed," David 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.'"
Freese says he has battled depression all his life, a factor in his decision to relinquish a college scholarsthip to Missouri. He instead just wanted to be like any other student, giving him plenty of time for partying and alcohol. There were three public drunken-driving incidents, including a December 2009 arrest in which his blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.23, nearly three times the legal limit.
Those episodes barely scratch the surface. There was the Thanksgiving Day afternoon in 2012 when he crashed his Range Rover into a tree. The countless mornings he awoke and had no recollection of even getting into bed. The blackouts. The constant feeling of lethargy and fatigue.
"I've had moments like that since high school, to be honest," David says. "It's been 15-plus years of 'I can't believe I'm still here.'"
The Cardinals watched Freese's life spiral and tried to help. The talked to him. They provided counseling, concerned not only for his playing career, which was in decline, but his life, too.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny got together with Freese one morning and informed him that for his own well-being, he needed to leave. They cried together and hugged. A week later on November 22, 2013 -- nearly a year to the day he crashed into that tree -- he was traded to the Angels. And it was the best thing to happen to him.
"Being the hometown hero may seem great, but it's usually not a fun thing. Someone is always asking for something," Cardinal Matt Carpenter, one of Freese' best friends, related. "You constantly have people hanging around. That can be stressful and really challenging." (David Nightengale - USA Today - 4/21/2017)
Freese's life-style change can be traced to the trade. But more importantly, David met an intern the previous week at a friend's downtown media production studio. Her name was Mairin O'Leary. She now is Mairin Freese, his wife.
They were married in September 2016 at a Pittsburgh coffee shop. There was no ceremony. Just a document to sign. They celebrated by having crepes for breakfast. The real celebration was in January in front of 250 friends and family at a St. Louis restaurant.
Marin Freese, who graduated from Missouri with a biology degree, was having her own issues, dealing with the recent death of his father. On their first dinner date in downtown St. Louis, two blocks from where Freese lived, Mairin told David what she wanted out of life. She wasn't into the party scene. She wanted to start a career as an artist. And she was interested only in a genuine, candid and honest relationship that could lead to a potential future together.
Oh, and as for baseball, she wasn't a fan. She had only attended three Cardinals games in her life. And no, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series wasn't one of them.
"I won't lie," Freese says, "that was important to me. I think one of the first questions I asked her was 'How many Cardinals games have you been to?' You are definitely guarded as an athlete. I mean, she's just the coolest chick I ever met."
Together, they met Fleet Rand, a licensed clinical social worker in Chesterfield, Missouri, whose specialty is working with those with depression and anxiety issues, as well as drug and alcohol struggles.
"I've walked through some doors in my life, but with him, we clicked from Day 1," Freese said. "He was a guy who's been through a lot of rough times as well and has done things I've done. He wasn't like the other counselors. It wasn't a guy telling me who I needed to be or what I needed to do, but a guy getting to know me."
It was OK to go home after a lousy game ad not sulk about it over booze. He flushed alcohol out of his system. He found a counselor who soothed his pain. And he found the love of his life.
"I can say I'm happier now than I've ever been in my life," David said. "Now that I have Mairin in my life. It's not to say that baseball becomes less important, but it just doesn't flood your brain as much. I know I had the alcohol issues, 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 restrained my brain by being around Mairin and getting help. The foggy feeling I always had is now lifted. It's brought more energy to my life, to my career -- everything."
Freese picked up hobbies he would have never dared try. They traveled to New Zealand one year and Thailand another. He started collecting records. He learned to play the piano. He even sings, although Mairin concedes it can be a little rough on the ears. (David Nightengale - USA Today - 4/21/2017)
2017 Q&A: If you weren’t a baseball player, what do you think you’d be doing?
“I’d be driving a tour bus or something. I’ve been trying to figure out that answer for years and I don’t know. So I’m glad I got to stick around for awhile. But I liked to be something in music, I’m sure.”
Any favorite musical groups?
“Tool’s one of my favorite groups. Sevendust, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails.” (Jason Dill/March 2017)
- June 2006: David signed with the Padres for a tiny bonus of $6,000 as a 5th-year senior after they picked him in the 9th round of the draft, out of the University of South Alabama. Bob Filotei is the scout who signed him.
December 15, 2007: The Cardinals sent OF Jim Edmonds and $1 million to the Padres, acquiring Freese.
February 8, 2013: David and the Cardinals agreed on a one-year contract worth $3.1 million, and avoiding salary arbitration.
- November 22, 2013: The Cardinals traded Freese and RHP Fernando Salas to the Angels for CF Peter Bourjos and RF Randal Grichuk.
February 3, 2014: Freese and the Angels avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $5 million one-year contract. David had asked for $6 million, and the Angels offered $4.1 million.
March 11, 2016: Pittsburgh signed free-agent infielder David Freese to a one-year, $3 million contract.
- January 2017: David and the Pirates agreed on a two-year, $11 million contract.