ST. LOUIS -- Long before he found out that he'd been named to MLB.com's Final Vote ballot
, David Freese had his eye on being a 2012 All-Star.
Personal recognition wasn't so much the goal. Rather, for Freese, there was something unique both about the setting and the company in this particular Midsummer Classic.
"For me, it's not about going to the All-Star Game," Freese explained. "It's about playing for [former manager] Tony [La Russa] one more time."
It's also, Freese added, about a final chance to play under former coaches and the opportunity to participate in a marquee event in his home state.
Not only did Freese play for La Russa during the future Hall of Famer's final three managerial seasons, but the St. Louis-area native also grew up rooting for La Russa's Cardinals clubs. La Russa, who filled out the National League All-Star roster, may not have selected Freese for his team, but he left the door open for fans to complete the reunion.
Freese was in second place as of Tuesday's balloting update, but moved into first when leader Chipper Jones was named to the squad to replace injured Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. Freese is ahead of Washington's Bryce Harper, Arizona's Aaron Hill and Houston's Michael Bourne, in that order.
To receive the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote presented by Firestone mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for Freese, simply text message N2 to 89269. Mobile voting in Canada also is available and fans should text their choices to 101010. Std rates may apply.
Freese's hometown has already rallied around the 29-year-old third baseman, and there is likely to be a residual benefit of the torrid postseason Freese enjoyed on a national stage last October.
If laced in obscurity before, Freese camped out under a spotlight after his breakout 2011 postseason. He became more than just a hometown hero. He was, to those who hadn't known much about Freese before, one of baseball's budding stars.
As he entered the 2012 season, Freese vowed not to shoulder the expectations. But he promised to build off them. And while he has not had the best first half of all NL third basemen (David Wright earns those honors), he has achieved his primary season goal of staying healthy.
"I'm glad I've been on the field," Freese said. "Obviously, I've had some skids here or there, but who doesn't? I'm happy with what I've done. Obviously, you always want to do more. But with where I'm at right now, I'm content with that. I'm just glad I'm on the field."
What may seem a rudimentary objective wasn't for Freese. Injuries have long cost him playing time. In 2009, it was a left ankle injury that kept him off the field. A right ankle injury sidelined Freese a year later, after he made the Cardinals' Opening Day roster for the first time.
He had ailments in 2011, as well. A left hand fracture cost Freese 51 games.
"I think the durability and the defense are things that he hasn't really been noticed for before, and he's showing it," manager Mike Matheny said. "We want him on the field. He's making great plays. He's moving good left and right, coming in and surprising quite a few guys who have tried to drop a bunt down on him."
In addition to becoming what Matheny describes as an above-average defender at third, Freese has used his health as a springboard for a boost in offensive success. Before hitting .397 and driving in a Major League-record 21 runs in 18 playoff games last year, Freese had 15 homers and 98 RBIs in parts of three seasons.
This year, while becoming a middle-of-the-lineup fixture, Freese has hit .286 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs. Each of those totals ranks second among all NL third basemen. The numbers have been even more impressive recently. In his past 18 games, Freese has posted a batting average of .342.
"I think he's done a great job," Matheny said. "I think he's as worthy of it as anybody."
The chasm between being worthy and being taken can be closed only by fan vote, which can be done on MLB.com or via the mobile text ballot. Freese insists he isn't voting himself, preferring to leave the campaigning to others. But he has made it clear that this would be more than just an invitation to be celebrated among the game's best.
This would be one last chance to play for a man he has long admired.
"It's a privilege, it's a blessing to get picked by Tony and MLB to be in this last five," Freese said. "We'll see how it turns out."
There will be an extra treat for fans as a thanks for participating in the Final Vote. If you are not a current subscriber to MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium, you will be offered the opportunity to receive a free trial of up to 14 days of 2012 MLB.TV from Friday through July 20. If you are a current subscriber, you will receive a 15-percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on Friday to all eligible Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
Balloting will be progressively intense, social media and hashtagging will be key, and you will get updates right here every day along the way, and remember to pay attention on the Fourth of July. Be sure to include #FinalVote with your tweets.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 83rd All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and Sirius XM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com or royals.com/asg.