Freese: Being with Cardinals was 'heaven on earth'

News-DemocratNovember 23, 2013 

— After becoming an ex-St. Louis Cardinal on Friday, David Freese's first conversation with General Manager John Mozeliak was as natural as the ones that occurred before.

"I told Mo I was going to save his number," Freese said. "He started laughing and said, 'You better.' I think Mo is just a great human being. ... We had a very good talk. It's part of business, and I completely understand that aspect.

"We're friends. Not a lot of players can say that about their GM, their owner, their manager. I'm very close to all those guys."

Mozeliak traded Freese, a native St. Louisan, and reliever Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos and minor-league outfielder Randal Grichuk. The move bolsters the Cardinals' speed and defense and buys time for top prospect Oscar Taveras to develop after an injury-marred 2013.

Freese, 30, had been with the Cardinals since December 2007 when Mozeliak traded center fielder Jim Edmonds to San Diego.

"My time here in St. Louis has been awesome," said Freese, who first surfaced in St. Louis in 2009. "To be a Padre was great, and then to be brought back home by Mo --I think it was his first deal --it was kind of heaven on earth.

"We had some great moments (here) and did some exceptional things. We won a World Series. You can call this a fresh start. You close a chapter and move on."

Easier said than done, however, for Freese, whom Mozeliak said would have been tendered a 2014 contract if a trade hadn't been made.

"I made lifelong friends and memories with the Birds," Freese said. "It's bittersweet in a sense. I'm sad a little bit closing this chapter in my hometown. But I'm certainly excited about joining the Angels. I know some guys over there. It's a great group. They have the desire and hold the expectations to win a World Series.

"To get traded to a team that has the opportunity to get back in the postseason and do some damage ... If it was going to go down, I wanted to go to a team like the Angels, so I'm pumped."

One of the first persons Freese heard from was former Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who left St. Louis after the 2011 season and signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels.

"Albert texted me earlier today, just welcoming me to the Angels family," Freese said. "I said, 'Remember what we did last time we played together? Let's go try and do that again.' It's going to be good to get back with him and the rest of the guys."

Freese will try to get his career going again after what he acknowledged was a "frustrating" season. He batted a career-low .262 and mustered just nine home runs and 60 RBIs in 138 games.

Freese disagreed that his status as a hometown hero didn't become too big a responsibility to bear.

"I don't think the frustrating year I had this year was because of being a hometown kid," he said. "I think it was some growing pains, being in the big leagues and learning a lot, understanding my strengths and being myself.

"It was kind of a frustrating year, but I learned a lot. I have a huge chip on my shoulder. Whether I was a Cardinal or an Angel, it didn't matter. This whole winter, I'm extremely focused and ready to get going when the time is right."

Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said Freese made sense for a team that had a gaping hole at third base.

"In David Freese, we feel like we're getting one of the most productive third-base bats in baseball over the last three years, a guy who's proven it on a big stage," Dipoto said. "Quite frankly, we feel like he fits our team very well."

Freese envisions a bounce-back season.

"I can tell you the last thing I'm worried about is if I'm going to hit," he said. "I'm going to go into camp with the Angels and just do what I do and be a good teammate. Being in the lineup I've been in the last few years is going to be very similar to jumping into this lineup."

Freese had a couple of well-publicized off-the-field problems. In December 2009, he was arrested for DUI in Maryland Heights, Mo. Freese also had been arrested for DUI in 2002 in Maryland Heights, long before he was with the Cardinals.

In November 2012, Freese crashed his SUV into a tree and took down part of a fence in Wildwood, Mo. Freese explained that the accident occurred when he swerved to avoid hitting a deer.

Freese hopes the good he did outweighs the bad.

"I want people to remember me as a good teammate and a guy that worked hard and went about it the right way," Freese said. "Obviously, you go through your ups and downs and deal with some stuff here and there. (But) I think when I come out and throw out that first pitch when I'm 60, it's going to be great."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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