In many ways, Cardinals postseason hero David Freese is Joe Mauer. In plenty of other ways, however, Mauer is the anti-Freese.
Both players were raised and played high school baseball in the metro area in which they now are Major Leaguers. Both were highly regarded hitting stars as youngsters. They were even, in fact, born just nine days apart -- Mauer on April 19, 1983 and Freese on April 28 of that year.
From there, though, the stories diverge and get pretty interesting. Mauer was a multi-sport legend at Cretin-Derham Hall and had his pick between baseball and football. When the hometown Twins made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, his path became clearer. For most of the decade since then, it was a smooth rise for Joe. He dominated the minor leagues. He became a three-time batting champ, a Gold Glove winner and an MVP, all with his hometown team, while also earning a massive contract extension that would keep him in a glorious new ballpark for a long time. Pre-2011, aside from a few nagging injuries, there was very little visible adversity in his professional life.
Freese, meanwhile, quit baseball for a year because he was burned out. He eventually landed at St. Louis Community College, then South Alabama, to re-kindle his baseball career. He was impressive, but he was only a ninth-round pick -- and not with the hometown team. Instead, he was chosen by the Padres. He rose through that organization, but they were stocked with third basemen. There were thoughts he could be converted into a catcher. Instead, he was traded to the Cardinals for Jim Edmonds. Even then, he struggled in his first taste of MLB action -- losing his job in 2009 and getting knocked out by an injury for parts of 2010 and 2011.
We're not going to make the bold leap and say all that adversity is the reason a very talented player is hitting .393 in this postseason, including a monster NLCS that earned him the MVP award and an unforgettable Game 6 last night in which he tied the game with two outs and two strikes in the 9th and won it in the 11th.
But we will say this: Sometimes adversity is the thing that makes humans stronger and prepares them to function in high-impact situations. The notion that "I've been through worse" is a powerful one. Mauer, with a .673 OPS and one RBI in 35 career postseason at bats, is about to enter his first season following the greatest professional adversity of his life. We will be fascinated to see how he handles it, and if it changes him in any fundamental way.