New 3B Freese calls Pirates 'an atmosphere I wanted to be a part of'
March 12, 2016 4:12 PM
The Pirates' David Freese fields ground balls during morning workouts at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — It was in 2011 when David Freese first noticed the winds shifting on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. He and the St. Louis Cardinals were at PNC Park for a late-July series, and the Pirates were, for the first time in a long time, right there in the NL Central chase.
When the season ended, the Pirates had faded, and the Cardinals were on their way to a championship. But Freese, who would collect a postseason-record 21 RBIs and be named World Series MVP, knew there was something different with these Pirates.
“We were there when the seats started filling up, and it’s a different sound there when the place is roaring,” Freese said Saturday, his first day at Pirates spring-training camp after signing a one-year deal with the club. “This is awesome. And the way they play — what’d they win, 98 games last year? Come on. How do you not want to be a part of that?”
Pirates GM discusses Freese signing
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington spoke with reporters Friday night after the team signing corner infielder David Freese to a one-year deal. (Stephen J. Nesbitt/Post-Gazette)
David Freese arrives at Pirates spring training
Infielder David Freese met with media Saturday morning at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., to discuss signing a one-year deal with the Pirates. (Stephen J. Nesbitt/Post-Gazette)
Freese, 32, arrived in Bradenton early Friday morning and worked out at the Pirates’ minor-league facility. During the afternoon, he had his physical at McKechnie Field and managed to go unnoticed by reporters and cameramen. The signing was announced in the evening.
“He’s hungry, and he’s got an edge,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Freese. “He’s done some significant things, and he was in a position here he wanted to be a Pirate. It worked on both sides.”
The Pirates plan to start Freese at third base, his natural position, until Jung Ho Kang returns from the disabled list in mid to late April, after which the right-handed hitting Freese will join the first-base platoon alongside John Jaso and bump Michael Morse to the bench.
Freese, who grew up in Wildwood, Mo., spent five seasons with the Cardinals and still resides in St. Louis. In November 2013, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels with right-hander Fernando Salas for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.
A career .276 hitter, Freese batted .259 with a .323 on-base percentage and 14 home runs last season. Most troubling, however, is the fact he has just 21 innings of major-league experience at first base — Jaso has five innings at first but has worked there extensively this spring.
“I know I brought a mitt, so we’ll get some work on first over there pretty quickly,” Freese said. “… Whatever my role is, I’m here to do that. If it’s to play third, play first, pinch-hit, I’m all for it.”
Freese spent January working out in Jupiter, Fla., with the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter. He recently spoke with Holliday, who played for Hurdle in Colorado, and heard a positive report about Hurdle and the Pirates’ culture.
Freese’s offseason plan didn’t include waiting until March to find a home. He thought the Angles might re-sign him, but once they went in another direction he took stock of the market for veteran corner infielders and said, “This could get interesting.” He watched MLB Network, and he waited.
Pedro Alvarez, another corner infielder, signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week.
“The game’s definitely getting younger,” Freese said. “I get it. I understand they’re pushing prospects. High schoolers are getting pushed. Probably when I was in [Class] AAA, that was around the last time when you learned how to be a big leaguer in the minor leagues. You had older guys that were 35 teaching you how to go about it.
“What can you do? The game’s changing, and you have to deal with it. You have to be good enough to push guys out of the position if teams want you, or you just find a situation that fits.”
Right-hander Gerrit Cole, who gave up a two-run home run to Freese in Game 5 of the 2014 NLDS, is glad to have Freese in his corner now.
“Obviously a seasoned postseason guy, plays a great third base,” Cole said. “Excited to have him. Always excited to get extra help wherever we can get it.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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