JUPITER, Fla. -- St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan has cross-trainers in his locker with the words "ON TIME" stitched on the back. Several Cardinals have crosses or prayers posted in their lockers in the spring training clubhouse.
Others have pictures of their kid(s).
Then there's David Freese. He has a Batman mask.
Propped up on the eye-level shelf of his locker and sometimes peeking out from behind the jersey that hangs in front of it every morning is a plastic, black, Halloween-style Batman mask. It comes complete with the elastic band that usually holds it in place on middle-schooler's head. If it's not in Freese's locker, that can mean only one thing: He's probably wearing it.
"I'll take it and wear it," Freese explained, "when I feel like I need a little extra."
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Freese, a St. Louis native and rookie, has the opportunity this season to leave spring training as the Cardinals' starting third baseman, a quest detailed this morning in Bernie Miklasz's column on Freese's wrongs and rights. The infielder came to the Cardinals after the 2007 season in a trade that sent Jim Edmonds to San Diego. Freese was the preferred acquisition for the Cardinals, even though they weren't exactly sure what to expect from a bat that had been marooned in the Padres' low minors.
Freese, now 26, responded to an aggressive promotion to Triple-A Memphis with a .306/.361/.550 season that included 26 home runs and an organization-best 91 RBIs. He turned that into an opportunity a year ago to win the starting job at third, and he was undone by a foot injury that lingered after a car wreck.
That is a story that has been well-chronicled.
Lost in it, however, is the cameo Batman had in Mr. Freese's breakout.
A self-described "huge Batman fan", Freese told anyone and everyone who would listen about the upcoming Batman movie back in 2008. He had to see it. He couldn't wait to see it. And finally, during a break in the schedule with Memphis, Freese caught a noon showing in Oklahoma City of "The Dark Knight." And you think he couldn't stop talking about it before he saw it?
The next game, Freese went 4-for-4.
"Every one started saying it was because I had finally seen the movie, because I had finally seen Batman," Freese said. "So Shane Robinson goes and gets this Batman mask for me. It was a joke."
It was a joke until Freese started putting it on.
Freese said it was about that time that he started "taking off." "Dark Knight" opened in July 2008. That same month Freese hit .378 and slugged .694. In August, Freese hit .337 and slugged .596. Thirteen of his 26 home runs came in those two months, the Batman mask tagging along with him the whole way.
Freese admitted that he would don the Batman mask before games for laughs.
But not always.
"If I just needed to get in that zone," he said, "I'd go with Batman."