‘On stage’ with Dodgers, David Freese belts grand slam against Pirates
Nine months ago, David Freese wasn’t sure about his future, other than he was sure it didn’t include a fourth season with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But there he was Friday night at PNC Park, hammering a grand slam into the right-center bleachers to help his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, defeat his former team, 10-2.
“In August, you kind of think your career is over,” Freese said before the game. “I wasn’t in a situation where I was going to come back on a minor league deal. Snobby, a little bit.”
But the Pirates, out of the playoff chase by that time, traded him to the Dodgers on Aug. 31. Not long after that, he found himself in another World Series.
“(Pirates general manager Neal Huntington) threw me to L.A. Got a chance to play another year, make some more money,” he said. “It was nuts. You get there Sept. 1, and a month later you’re playing 163. Then, you’re going to Atlanta, you’re going to Milwaukee (for the playoffs). You have to lose another World Series to Boston.
“It was a rush. I had to have a moment the next day (after the trade), just check myself, ‘Let’s go. You’re kind of here for a reason. Let’s do this.’ Big transition.”
Freese knows a little about postseason baseball. He has been to three World Series in his 10 previous seasons, winning one with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and losing in ‘13 and last year to the Red Sox.
In 2011, he was a postseason MVP twice ( National League Championship Series and World Series), compiling a .444 batting average with a total of four home runs and 16 RBIs. If he reaches a fourth this season with the Dodgers (33-18), no one will be surprised.
“Being a Dodger is wild,” he said. “It a whole different feel. You’re on stage 81 games a year. That’s what it feels like when you’re at home.”
Freese, 36, married and the father of an 18-month-old son, never reached the postseason with the Pirates, but he said he enjoyed his time with the team.
“I loved my teammates over there,” he said. “I think we had a great time. I could have been a better teammate at times. I could have been a better leader.”
At the start of spring training last year, Freese was openly critical of the team’s direction, but that’s in his past, he said.
“I’m not going to get into what I didn’t like or any of that,” he said. “I got a handful of guys (on the Pirates) that I’ll talk to the rest of my life.
“I love the city. I love the food. I lived in Shadyside for two years. Up in Mars, me and my wife, my dog, we enjoyed it.”
Freese has had the opportunity to play with some of the game’s best players, including Albert Pujols with the Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout with the Angels and Andrew McCutchen with the Pirates. The list also includes two of the game’s best young sluggers, current Dodgers teammate Cody Bellinger and the Pirates’ Josh Bell.
“Coolest part of being a part of this game is 30-40 years now, kids or grandkids or whoever, are going to ask, ‘You got to play with this guy? What was that like?’ To be able to say what it was like is the coolest part.
“I’m so thrilled for Josh, where he’s come from his rookie year, through last year,” he said. “He never stopped working, never stopped fighting.”
Freese said he and Bell were close, but he didn’t want to take credit for any guidance he might have offered the younger player.
“It was always just casual conversation, just baseball talk,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily, ‘Hey, what do I do?’
“You take (from others) what you feel you need. When you get to this level, that’s one of the biggest things to understand. You don’t have to try everything. You don’t have to listen to everybody. This is your career. This is your life, your stability.
“With that comes maturity and understanding that you need to know what you’re trying to find. He’s done a good job of searching this past winter, just doing what he needs to do to find some things and off he goes.”
Freese came into Friday’s game with a .224 batting average. His grand slam, the third of his career, gave him four homers and 14 RBIs.
He’s clearly enjoying his time with the Dodgers, but he isn’t thinking beyond this season.
“I think I already have vacation plans for March,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know. I’m hiding how I feel pretty well.
“I’m going to worry about this season and just see.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .