It’s the dream of every St. Louis kid who grows up with a love for the St. Louis Cardinals: playing for the home team, and winning the World Series. David Freese lived that dream in 2011.
And he hated it.
Hate actually isn’t the right word, but in a new article for USA Today David chronicles his life-long struggle with depression. He sat down with Bob Nightengale earlier this week when his latest team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, were in town for a 3-game series with the Cardinals.
In the article, David talks about how he is finally happy with his life, and he also takes on a new role as he speaks out about his own struggles and becomes a spokesperson and advocate for people suffering with depression. He also discusses how his depression and substance abuse issues (including 3 DUIs) were related, saying, “I know I had the alcohol issues in the past, but you come to realize it’s a lot deeper than that. It’s depression and anxiety issues. I had to attack the way I was thinking. I re-trained my brain by being around [my wife] Mairin and getting help. The foggy feeling I always had is now lifted.
The article really shows how very few people knew what was truly going on with David around the time of the 2011 World Series. Most people would assume that it was the happiest time of his life, but it wasn’t. He told USA Today:
“People had no idea what I was going through,’’ says Freese, who has undergone counseling most of his life to deal with depression and anxiety. “I don’t want to say, “Woe is me.’ I’m so grateful for being a part of that World Series team, but it does get lonely.
“You’re a single guy. You really don’t know who you are. And you have issues that are tough, and you don’t really know how to deal with it.
“I always wanted to change, to get over all of my issues, but it was so hard. You get stuck in the mud. You just don’t know where to go.’’
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
David on his struggle with depression:
I was depressed. I was always depressed….I never tried to do anything to myself, but I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t care what would happen to me. It was almost to a point that if this is my time, so be it? And there was definitely a lack of care about my well-being at certain times, for sure.
On winning the World Series in 2011:
You win the World Series in your hometown, and you become this guy in a city that loves Cardinal baseball, and sometimes it’s the last guy you want to be. So you start building this façade, trying to be something I was not. And the whole time, I was scared to death what was going to happen to me after baseball.
Members of the Cardinals organization speaking about David’s struggles:
The Cardinals watched Freese’s life spiral, and tried to help. They talked to him. They provided counseling, concerned not only for his playing career, which was in decline, but his life.
“You could tell something was not right,’’ Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said. “I don’t know the bloody details what was going on, but I knew the path he was on was going to make life difficult for him to manage.
“I felt he was suffocating here.’’
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny got together with Freese one morning and informed that for his own well-being, as well as the club’s, he needed to leave. They cried together, hugged one another, and a week later on Nov. 22, 2013 – nearly a year to the day he crashed into that tree – he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels.
“I think it was the best thing that could have happened to him,’’ says Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter, one of Freese’s closest friends. “Being the hometown hero may seem great, but it’s usually not a fun thing. Someone is always asking for something. You constantly have people hanging around. That can be stressful, and really challenging.’’
David on meeting his wife, Mairin:
“I always wanted to change,’’ Freese says, “but it was so hard, right up until I met Mairin. I don’t know if we met at the right time or not, but it was a blessing. She’s just tough. I need that. And I want that.
“She challenges the hell out of me, and I love it.’’
Reflecting on how his life has changed since getting help for depression:
“I can say I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life,’’ says Freese, who did not enter a formal alcohol rehabilitation program. “Before, I used to let baseball define me. Being the World Series MVP, that’s just part of my story. It’s not who I am.
“Now that I have Mairin in my life, things have changed. I have perspective in my life. It’s not to say that baseball becomes less important, but it just doesn’t flood your brain as much.
“I know I had the alcohol issues in the past, but you come to realize it’s a lot deeper than that. It’s depression and anxiety issues. I had to attack the way I was thinking. I re-trained my brain by being around Mairin and getting help. The foggy feeling I always had is now lifted.
“It’s brought more energy to my life, to my career, everything.’’
“Now, it’s so different,’’ Freese says, “I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. You wake up, and you’re ready to face the world.
“To be honest, I never knew I could be so happy.’’
The applause for David Freese this week at Busch Stadium was noticeably loud, as people still want him to know how much he means to them. The 2011 World Series is a memory that many St. Louisans will always treasure. But I’m sure the next time Freese steps to the plate at Busch he’ll receive even more thunderous applause as we now know what he was going through at that time, and are happy that he seems to have found peace.