David Freese had given up on baseball. His passion for the game had vanished, and not even a scholarship offer from Missouri could lure him back to the field.
"I was burnt out," Freese recalled. "I lost the love."
Freese was content to live the life of a college student, rebuffing the Missouri coaches every time they called to see if he'd changed his mind. It wasn't until about a year out of high school that the itch to play finally came back, and it grew to the point where scratching it no longer worked.
Freese gave in and enrolled at Meramec Community College, and his play there caught the attention of the coaching staff at South Alabama. The fifth-year senior eventually blossomed into the San Diego Padres' ninth-round selection in the 2006 draft.
Fast forward through a trade to the Cardinals and couple years of growth, and Freese is at third base heading into Game 1 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday (8:05 p.m. ET).
"It's completely surreal. It's exciting," said Freese, who grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Wildwood, Mo. "It's flattering hearing and seeing all the excitement from my family, all the Cardinals nation. I can't believe it. It's what I dreamed about."
'He's one of my favourites. Love him to death. His story could be a movie, what he's gone through.'
— Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire on Freese
Freese said it took time away from the game — "I played video games, I partied and just went to school," he said — before he understood that his sweet swing could take him places.
Unlikeliest of MVPs
Like the National League Championship Series, where he emerged as the unlikeliest of MVPs after batting .595 in the six-game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers with three homers and nine runs batted in.
"He's one of my favourites. Love him to death," said Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire. "His story could be a movie, what he's gone through."
There would be plenty of plot twists. Freese needed season-ending surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right ankle last year, and broke his left hand when he was hit by a pitch earlier this season. He was hit by another pitch again in August and sustained a concussion.
Each time, he's come back better than before.
"He and I have had long talks about adversity," McGwire said, "and how there are usually good things that come at the end of it."
A trip to the World Series certainly qualifies.
"I don't think nervous is the right word for this, because it's too exciting," Freese said. "That takes the pressure out of it a little bit. We're on a big stage. Why not? That's what it's about.
"I'll have a bunch of people here," he said. "The cool thing about it is the city loves this team so much, a lot of my friends and family already have tickets. That's one less thing for me to worry about."