World Series hero Freese throws out 1st pitch

August 18th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- can relate to these 2021 Cardinals. When his 2011 team made their run, they were 10 1/2 games back of the Brewers in the NL Central as late as Aug. 28. Then they turned it on down the stretch, made their run to the NL Wild Card spot and, as has been immortalized countless times on the jumbotron at Busch Stadium, Freese played hero for his hometown team in the Fall Classic.

So call his first official return to Busch Stadium, throwing out the first pitch ahead of Tuesday’s series opener against Milwaukee, the most poetic of timing.

“I think about September and the Brewers series more than anything, to be honest,” Freese said. “ … At no point did any of us understand what was about to happen in the next six weeks. That's the way I look at it. And that's incredible to think about. The older you get, the more I kind of focus on how I was thinking before I knew what was gonna happen and just kind of gain perspective on a lot of stuff.”

Tuesday resembled Freese’s first return to Busch Stadium in an official capacity since he retired following the 2019 season as a Dodger. He came to a game early in the year, just as a fan, and he’ll return on Sept. 18, when the organization holds a pregame ceremony to honor the 10-year anniversary of the 2011 World Series team.

Back in town, Freese was ecstatic that his ceremonial first pitch was thrown to Ozzie Smith -- someone else with a penchant for postseason homers -- bringing with him an estimated 50-60 friends and family members in the stands, as well as his two young sons, Kai and Cato, for the first time. The pandemic washed away the chance for Freese to gallivant around Busch Stadium with his family in 2020. But it was a sweet return on Tuesday nonetheless.

“I thought about it for a while, to be honest,” Freese said pregame. “I really thought about just getting back with my family, with friends in one room hanging out. It's been a long time since I've had a lot of friends and family in the seats for a Cardinal game. This is going to mean a lot.”

Freese lives in Texas now, back home in the heart of Rangers territory, whose hearts he ripped out in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. He gets some tough love when he does get noticed, but that’s few and far between.

In St. Louis, though, Freese is eternal. Few former Cardinals illicit as grand applause as he does.

Freese has another connection to these 2021 Cardinals. In his last year, in Los Angeles in 2019, Nolan Arenado was one of the few players he told over the course of the season that he would retire, because he wanted to make sure to let him know how much he appreciated competing against him and watching him work over the years.

Arenado now inhabits the hot corner that used to be his.

“I wanted to get out there and just kind of say I love watching him play, because he’s just a flat-out good ballplayer,” Freese said. “You learn a lot from him.”

Freese had a front-row seat to do so on Tuesday, in a year that is celebratory not just for the 2011 Cardinals, but for him especially. His career is done. He’s a Cardinal lifer -- from a young age and now into immortality.

He got his first taste of such on Tuesday.

“I definitely had this day circled for a long time,” Freese said.