Before the Big Leagues: David Freese
By B.J. Rains
July 27, 2010
FOXSportsMidwest.com is attempting to find out what Cardinals players were like before they became Major Leaguers. In our next installment of ‘Before the Big Leagues’, B.J. Rains talks with Matt Landwehr, lifelong friend and current roommate of Cardinals third baseman David Freese. We also gave Freese a chance to respond to some of his friend's comments.
B.J. Rains: When did you first meet David?
Matt Landwehr: I got to know him a little bit because I played baseball and basketball and stuff against him in elementary school, but I really got to know him the most in sixth grade and on up because we went to middle school and high school together. We had a lot of battles on the baseball diamond and basketball court in elementary school. I knew who he was and we knew each other, but middle and high school is when we became close. In elementary school, he was probably the best baseball player I had seen. Everybody knew he was just a stud baseball player. He kind of had that reputation so to speak once we got into middle school. He was just a funny guy, a good guy, a good athlete. We hit it off right away because we had a lot of mutual interests. We both loved sports.”
David Freese: “I’ve known Matt since middle school. We grew up together. Probably sixth grade was when we really got to know each other. Back then it was fun because not everybody in your grade or school was on the same team, so you could go and trash talk all day and then go play that night and see who wins. It was a lot of fun back then. It wasn’t a business like it is now. It was good times back then.”
Any specific stories from your days on the baseball diamond growing up?
Landwehr: “A running joke in our friendship is a disputed home run that I hit off him in like fourth grade. He was pitching and he was a really good pitcher. My side of the story, which is clearly right, it was an outside pitch, he threw hard for fourth grade, and I took him opposite field. It went right over the guys head and cleared him by about 10 feet and I got a home run out of it. He claims that the right-fielder tried to bare hard the ball and that it should have been an error on the right-fielder. So that’s kind of our running joke. When he broke into the bigs, I was able to say my claim to fame was hitting a bomb off him back in elementary school.
Freese: “We’re at Ellisville Ballpark, field 4 I believe. Landwehr is hitting. I throw a heater away and his eyes were closed, so first of all, he didn’t even know what he was doing up there. But he found a barrel and he put it out to right. Our right-fielder is running after it, and I’m not going to say any names, but he goes up and tries to bare hand the ball while it’s in the air. There was no fence so the ball keeps rolling obviously, and he claims that it was a home run. The ball was hit so softly that he probably didn’t think he needed a glove, so he tried to bare hand it.”
Landwehr: “There was no fence on that field, but it went so far over that guy’s head that it would have cleared the fence had there been one. David claims to this daythat the guy tried to bare hard it and didn’t get it, but I say ‘hey man your head was down because I hit a bomb off you. You didn’t see it.’”
Freese: “I think it’s going to be disputed the rest of our lives. He’s going to call it a home run and I’ll call it an error, but he did hit it pretty well, I’ll give him that.”
Any other memories or stories from when you guys were growing up?
Landwehr: “In like fifth grade or something, my team intentionally walked him twice because he was just killing us. Our coach said he wasn’t going to let him beat us, so we walked him intentionally and he didn’t even know what was going on. He was like ‘why won’t they let me hit?’ And we were just joking with him like ‘just stand on first base’. He probably had like three doubles and a home run that game. I won’t forget that.”
Freese: “I remember just storming down to first. My dad was coaching first and I was all upset and stuff because we were in middle school and they were intentionally walking me. But like I said, we weren’t always on the same team growing up and that kind of made it more fun battling against each other. It was fun.”
What do you remember about David quitting baseball after high school and going to Mizzou for a year as a regular student?
Landwehr: “He had a huge love for baseball and he’s such a competitor and everything and they always talk about how even keeled he is and that’s right, but he is just really competitive and takes it all to heart and takes it so seriously. And he just got burnt out. He loved the game, but he never really had that chance to be a normal kid. And being a baseball coach now, I see how much these guys play over the summer and it can burn you out. The game is fun and it’s a joy to play, but I think he just wanted to be that normal kid that a lot of his friends were. He had a great time at Mizzou, I was up there with him, and I think he got to have that for a year, but that summer he kind of woke up one day and said ‘man I miss it’. Sometimes you don’t realize what you are missing until you don’t have it anymore and I think that’s kind of what it was with him. It was out of nowhere. We thought he was coming back to Mizzou but he woke up one day and talked to his family and slowly word trickled out to all of us and it was great to see. We were glad to hear he was going to give it another try.”
So David decides to come back to baseball and goes to Meramec Community College, but he breaks his wrists while dunking a week before the season started and had to miss almost the entire season. What do you remember about that?
Landwehr: “It was like ‘man, really?’ He’s a guy that battles through adversity. When it comes to that stuff, he gets down but he doesn’t show it much. He’s really good at channeling that and things like that motivate him to be even better. And that’s one thing, as someone who has known him for a long time, and all of our other friends, I think that’s something we really admire in him. He works so hard at it and even when he hits a bump in the road like breaking his wrists dunking, of course we all like to give him trouble and say ‘why didn’t you just get up there and really throw it down? If you were a real basketball player you could have done it and not broken your wrist’. But he took it in stride which is all he could do.
“He’s a guy who whatever doesn’t really knock you down fully forever makes you stronger. He takes that to heart. All of these things, breaking a wrist, or having bad luck or something like that. Hey, it just makes you stronger and you learn from it and move on. That’s what he does."
Freese: “Matt has helped me out a lot. From all of the ups and downs, he’s been a good friend of mine for years. He’s a great person and I’m lucky to have him around. He’s a guy I can definitely talk to and blow some steam off. I’m real fortunate that he’s around.”
What do you remember about the night David was traded to the Cardinals for Jim Edmonds?
Landwehr: “This is actually a funny story. I coach basketball at Lafayette. I’m back at the our old high school and I’m the assistant varsity coach and we had just beaten Marquette who was our big rival, and we’re out to dinner after the game celebrating and my phone rings and its Freese. I hadn’t heard from him much lately so I figured he was calling to catch up but he said ‘I’m a Cardinal’ and I said ‘what?’ And he goes ‘yea, I just got traded to the Cardinals’, and of course I’m going nuts because I’m there with friends who all know David and I’m like you have to be kidding. So after I calm down I said ‘so what was the deal?’ And he said ‘Well I’m a Cardinal and we traded Jim Edmonds to the Padres’. And I’m like ‘so what else did we get?’ And he goes ‘well, me’. And I go ‘what?’ And he goes ‘yeah, and actually I think the Cardinals gave two million dollars to the Padres’.
“That was Mo’s really first deal, so I’m like ‘Whoa. Dave I love you and all, but let me get this straight. We just got you for Jim Edmonds, a St. Louis icon, AND we gave them two million dollars?’ I was like ‘I don’t know about this Mo guy’. Obviously it turned out great and it’s a testament to John Mozeliak and John Abbamondi and Jeff Luhnow and all of those guys that obviously know how to do their job because they saw a guy who could play. A lot of guys in St. Louis were like ‘we just traded jimmy ballgame for a high-A third baseman?’ Obviously I was elated because one of my best friends was coming back to hopefully play for our hometown team, but it was a little suspect when he told me. I was in the middle of Mulligans Grill and everyone was like you have to be kidding me.”
Freese: “Nobody believed me. When people find out that you got traded for Jim Edmonds, the next question is who else did we get? So he asked me that and to find out that the Cardinals actually gave the Padres money, he got a kick out of that. That was the moment where I knew I had to do something about it and get to the big leagues quickly.”
B.J. Rains: Final question, Matt. Is it still surreal to see your best friend playing for the Cardinals?
Matt Landwehr: “Oh absolutely. It’s just amazing. It really is. Just to sit there and look at a guy that you’ve known since elementary school and you always knew was a stud baseball player and knew had it in him. When you’re growing up , you are always talking about being in the big leagues and pretending you are a big leaguer and stuff, and who would have thought that one of your best friends would actually get there. It’s just so cool to see that and see how he has embraced it. Whenever we are walking around and there are little kids, he always stops and signs autographs and takes pictures. I think he really understands. He’s taking in the moment. He enjoys it, but he knows it’s a job. He knows that he can take that responsibility in stride. It’s just really cool.”