From Our Backyard To The Big Leagues

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Have you felt it in the air? The excitement, the happiness, the pure joy of living? It’s here! After all these dreary months, finally a new season is here!

Welcome back, baseball!

April 1 marks Opening Day 2013 for Major League Baseball, and Columbia is ready to greet the boys of summer. Meet 16 past and present MLB players (and one notable broadcaster) with CoMo connections.

DAVID FREESEbaseball1-052cb193

Born: April 28, 1983
Position: Third base
Mid-Missouri Connection: Freese attended the University of Missouri his freshman year. Although offered a baseball scholarship, he didn’t take it. At the time, he thought he was done with baseball.
MLB Debut: April 6, 2009, for the St. Louis Cardinals
Career Statistics:
Batting average: .296
Home runs: 35
Runs batted in: 177
Teams:
St. Louis Cardinals (2009–present)
Career Highlights:
David Freese will forever be remembered for his batting in the 2011 World Series championship. In Game 6, facing two outs and two strikes, he hit a triple in the ninth inning to tie the game, and then in the 11th — again with two strikes — he hit a walk-off home run. His bat had already earned him the 2011 National League Championship Series MVP award, and when the Cardinals won the championship in Game 7, he became the World Series MVP as well. His 21 RBIs in the 2011 postseason set an MLB record and earned him the 2011 Babe Ruth Award. He is also a 2012 All-Star.

Considering you were on a break from baseball while at MU, how did you grow while a Tiger? What did you take from your time in Columbia?
Quitting baseball after high school was a tough decision, but the right one at the time for me. It’s what I wanted to do. Go to Mizzou as a student and not play ball. It allowed me to evaluate my life and come to the realization I was a baseball player and that’s what I wanted to do. I loved my time at Mizzou and always enjoy going back. A great year there in school led me back to playing ball.

I’ve read that you at first didn’t believe it was Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak calling with an offer. You were already in the MLB. How important or exciting was it to get to be a Cardinal?
I got the call from Mo while I was at a Burger King in California. I loved playing in the Padres organization but was thrilled to become a Cardinal. Yes, at first I wasn’t too sure if it was actually Mo who left the message or a buddy messing around, but when the Padres called me, I knew I had been dealt.

Those two at-bats in World Series Game 6 ― how did you pull that off? I mean, if you were coaching, what would you tell someone in that kind of pressure situation was the key to success?
You have to embrace the situations that God puts you in. The good and the bad. It’s all about poise. The results will not always be how you want but the effort needs to be there. Preparation is a huge part of becoming successful.

What experiences and opportunities stand out as the most memorable or fun, on the field and off?
I got to do some cool things after the World Series. Being on “Leno” and “Ellen” was amazing. I’ve always said this, though: The coolest moment was standing in the end zone at the Mizzou-Texas football game [Nov. 12, 2011] surrounded by the whole stadium on their feet cheering. I will never forget that feeling.

What motivates you?
I want to win. For me, it’s about winning. Everything else that comes with being in the big leagues is great, but nothing compares to winning a championship.

How are you feeling as the 2013 season begins?
I am very excited about this team this year. It’s a talented group with a ton of desire, but we have a lot of fun, too, and you need that during a six-month grind. Health is always the first thing you need to be a contender. If we can stay healthy, I like our chances to compete.


MAX SCHERZER

Born: July 27, 1984
Position: Starting pitcher
Mid-Missouri Connection: Scherzer played Tiger baseball from 2004 to 2006. He was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in 2005 and twice led the league in ERA before becoming Mizzou’s first-ever first-round MLB draft pick. He was inducted into the University of Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
MLB Debut: April 29, 2008, for the Arizona Diamondbacks
Career Statistics:
Win-loss: 52-42
ERA: 3.88
Strikeouts: 829
Teams:
Arizona Diamondbacks (2008–2009)
Detroit Tigers (2010–present)
Career Highlights:
Max Scherzer is heading into 2013 with a superb season behind him. In 2012, he led the American League in strikeouts with 231 strikeouts, and reached career highs in wins and win percentages. His team, the Detroit Tigers, swept the New York Yankees in the 2012 American League Championship Series, and in the final game of that series, Scherzer struck out 10 and allowed only one run over 5⅔ innings. Detroit was, in turn, swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

Scherzer will again be with the Detroit Tigers in 2013.

You were a first-round MLB draft pick, the first-ever to come from MU. What did that mean as far as opportunities and expectations?
Nothing as far as expectations, but that was a neat accomplishment because you always strive to be the best and to help further the MU baseball program. I think it helped set the doors behind me for guys such as Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson, for them to be first-round picks, too. We had a nice little run of pitching there at MU, and it’s always fun to see those guys succeed as well.

Your debut in the major leagues, you threw 4⅓ perfect innings, struck out seven and set the record for the number of consecutive batters retired for a pitcher making his MLB debut as a reliever. What did that do for your confidence?
Nothing. It told me I could pitch in the big leagues, but I already had confidence that I was going to have success. For me, no matter what happens on the field, you always have to believe you’re going to have success. Whether you have a lot of success or you fail, your confidence is never going to change.

That’s going to sound strange to some people. How do you manage to keep that confidence if you’ve gone out there and had a hard time?
Then it’s time to work harder and go out there, and you’ll have success the next time. You just can’t get caught up in the highs and lows of sports. And for me, in pitching, they’re going to happen, but I feel like confidence is a choice, and I’m going to choose to be confident and believe I’m going to have success every time I step on the mound; no matter who I’m facing or what the scenario is, I’m going to come out on top.

Game 4 of the American League Championship Series was another highlight. You struck out 10 and allowed only one run over 5⅔ innings. Can you take us to that game? What was your frame of mind?
When you’re up three [games] to nothing, you’re feeling good that we’re going to the World Series, and I mean, what an opportunity! You’re facing the Yankees. All the marbles are on the line. You’re going up against the best pitcher. You know the Yankees have a great lineup and to be able to go out there and have the kind of outing I did and to get to the World Series — I think it was about 6-0 in the fourth, and I just remember thinking: “Man! We’re about to go to the World Series if I can just pitch a few more good innings here!” Fortunately, I was able to do that, and obviously, our bullpen was able to come in and shut them down, and man, what a feeling! To be able to win the series and sweep the Yankees, and do it at home in front of the fans — it’s just an unbelievable feeling.

How is the atmosphere different at the World Series?
There’s so much hoopla leading up to the game. That’s just unbelievable how much stuff goes on, but for the game itself — I mean, I hate to say it — it’s just baseball. You know so much is on the line, but when you’re actually out there playing in those games, I was able to keep everything slow. I thought everything was going to be intense to me, but I was able to keep it slow and actually just go out there and play the game like I always have. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t intimidated by the situation. In fact, I really enjoyed it.

You thought you might be nervous?
No, I didn’t feel I would be nervous. Actually, I knew I wasn’t going to be nervous.

Last year was a good year for your career. How are you feeling going into 2013?
You know, I feel good. I can’t wait to get down to spring training and pick the ball up again and start facing hitters.

Any experiences as far as games, or meeting people, or opportunities that stand out?
This is my No. 1 thing I’ve gotten to do because of playing for Detroit: I got to play Augusta National, the golf course. And I thought that was extremely rare, and I found out, it’s even rarer than that, so I got to golf Augusta, and that was a pretty unreal thing to be able to do.

Are you having fun?
Oh, yeah, I’m having a blast. I’m still getting to play the game I love every single day, and what else would I want?

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