Sports

The right Freese-on for fans

By
Sports Columnist
Thursday, November 3, 2011

While walking around downtown last month, a man in a trench coat who smelled strongly of rubbing alcohol handed me a brochure. Typically, a guy in a trench coat is a pretty big red flag for me, and I can’t help but look at those who wear them as flashers, drug dealers or — worst of all — trendy dads. The fact that he handed me a brochure that had nothing to do with Six Flags was strike two. But the Ben & Jerry’s I had just treated myself to had put me in a friendly mood, so I took the brochure and smiled politely.

He then looked at me and said, “The tough stuff makes the great times worth it.”

To call the contents of that brochure radical would be a dramatic undersell, but I felt like there was a pearl of wisdom in those words.

Wouldn’t it be cool to live in a perfect world? You could make everything exactly the way you want it and never be disappointed. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” would always be in theatres, the Main Green would constantly be full of dogs and the Spring Weekend lineup would be Daft Punk, Childish Gambino, Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga and Kanye West.

But then again, if everything was always perfect all the time, would we really know how wonderful everything is? Would I appreciate the sunny 65-degree November days if the end of October hadn’t been so miserable? Would I love the Shins as much if I hadn’t been submitted to hours of Nickelback radio exposure on road trips? I think the answer is no.

And that’s exactly what makes David Freese so special.

After watching sports for a while, you hit a point where the cynicism of constant disappointment leaks into everything. The heartfelt storylines of triumph and persistence are rare among the stories of failure, misbehavior and blunder. It’s inherent in the system. Only one team gets to win every year. On top of that, our favorite players may leave, get injured or arrested or even stop playing well.

In spite of this, fans keep coming back. People keep cheering for their teams. I’m frustrated with the NBA lockout and have threatened not to watch a single game if this season happens. Deep down, I know that’s a lie. I’ll be watching Detroit Pistons-New Jersey Nets games like a hungry shut-in pouring the Cheetos dust from the bottom of the bag into my mouth. I need to see the next big story. I need to see it when guys like David Freese make this world perfect.

If you haven’t heard about the St. Louis Cardinals’ third basemen and what he did in the playoffs this year, you probably aren’t a baseball fan. That’s understandable.

Freese redefined what a clutch postseason performance is. His 21 playoff RBIs are an MLB record, and he was only the sixth player to be named the National League Championship Series and World Series MVP. To only give you these facts and leave it at that would be belittling what he did.

To paint that picture, we have to go to the bottom of the ninth inning during game six of the World Series. Freese stood in the batter’s box with two men on, two outs and two strikes to his name. He had already pounded the Philadelphia Phillies pitching in game four of the National League Division Series. He had spanked three home runs and hit over .500 in the NLCS. Nobody would have blamed Freese for messing this up. He had done enough. The loss would have been on his teammates and the Cardinals’ pitching. But that wasn’t what Freese was thinking. Instead, only one strike away from losing the World Series, David Freese ripped a triple to send the game into extra innings.

Then he hit a walk-off home run two innings later to force game seven.

Then he hit a two-run double to tie that game seven in the first inning to bail out pitcher Chris Carpenter. And the Texas Rangers never scored again.

It’s exactly the scenario a young Cardinals fan growing up in the St. Louis area would fantasize about as he drifted to sleep at night. It’s the kind of image that would convince a kid to pick baseball up again if he quit after high school. It’s exactly what happened to David Freese.

Because he was that kid.

In a sports world where disappointment is the norm, it’s pretty easy to take a step back and ask myself, “Why do I care about this?” But to paraphrase a creepy brochure distributor, the bad things make the good stuff that much more important.

A World Series that I couldn’t care less about was the last place I expected to find the reason I still watch sports. But it personified itself in David Freese, and suddenly baseball doesn’t seem so terrible.

It isn’t a perfect world. I don’t think we are going to see Daft Punk, Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga or Kanye West come to Spring Weekend this year. But thanks to Freese, I’ll be quietly nursing my hope for Childish Gambino.

Sam Sheehan ’12 just shamelessly sacrificed his column for a transparent Spring Weekend artist plea. Talk sports (or music) with him at sam_sheehan@brown.edu or follow him on Twitter @SamSheehan.