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Pittsburgh Pirates' David Freese waits to bat against the Philadelphia Phillies during a spring training baseball game Friday, March 18, 2016, in Clearwater, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

BRADENTON, FLA. • Put the 11 letters together and they stir.

David Freese.

And there he is, the St. Louis saint, the native son who grew up loving the Cardinals and then actually played for them.

There he is, wearing a St. Louis Blues T-shirt, the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series legend.

There he is, with that same “Who me?” grin, the guy who still lives in St. Louis, who is engaged to a girl from St. Louis and who remains friends with his old St. Louis teammates.

There he is, David Freese, and he wants to beat the Cardinals.

Because the baseball gods gave fate a twist, like a curveballer’s wrist, Freeser is now a Pittsburgh Pirate.

“I’ve been around these guys a little bit,” he said, “being in the Central before.”

It was weird enough seeing Jason Motte on the Cubs. Now, Freese is a division rival. When the Cardinals’ season begins Sunday, in Pittsburgh, the 2011 World Series MVP will probably be at third base for the home team. Both the Cards and the Pirates made the playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and both are contenders in 2016, too.

And like an old friend popping up on your Facebook feed, Freese emerged Sunday from the Pirates’ clubhouse. He granted me a private sit-down interview to talk Pirates-Cards, Game 6 and the emotions of his roller-coaster life.

In my time with him, he was honest about the weight of 2011, both the blessing and the burden. He opened up about loneliness and occasionally losing his way, and how love straightened him out. He shared how an offseason of training — in of all places, Jupiter, Fla., with Cardinals All-Stars – helped prepare him for this pivotal season … which, sure enough, will be as a Cardinals rival.

And he answered the question we’ve all wondered: Does David Freese ever have to pay for a meal again in St. Louis?

“Some meals I still don’t pay for,” he said with a grin. “A lot of Imo’s I don’t have to pay for, if I go into the right one or if they recognize me on the phone. That’s probably the best part about what happened in 2011, hitting up restaurants and not getting a bill — because I like to eat.”

OUT OF WORK

Immortal? He’s mortal. Last season, Freese’s average was just average, .257 for the Angels. He hit 14 homers and then hit free agency. He was 32 and alone, waiting for a team to sign him. Living in St. Louis, Freese worked out five days a week with Tony Dattoli, his junior college coach at Meramec.

“And I was in Jupiter all of January actually, working out with Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter,” said Freese, who turns 33 on April 28. “Rented a house a few streets up from the Hollidays, because Matt moved to Jupiter, so I don’t get to see him very often. I’m real close with him, so it’s nice to get around that family, a great family.”

But when the rest of the Cardinals came to Jupiter in February, Freese headed back to St. Louis. There were murmurs around camp – Who’s going to pick up Freese? Will someone pick up Freese?

Finally, on March 11, the Pirates did. He’ll play third base, while Jung Ho Kang is on the disabled list, and Freese will also play some first.

“I’m just glad he signed on with a quality team,” said Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, probably the first pitcher Freese will face with Pittsburgh. “They have a chance to do some cool things over there. They have a great dynamic, their manager is great and the fans have really shown up for them over the past few years. I think it’s going to be a great situation for him.”

With the Angels, Freese wore No. 6, to honor the iconic Cardinal Stan Musial. On the Pirates, Starling Marte wears No. 6, so they gave Freese No. 7, one of the lone low numbers available on their roster. Freese insists there’s no meaning to having No. 7, though one wonders if it’s to honor the iconic Cardinal Hector Luna.

Freese made a good point about playing against the Cardinals — the two-year buffer period in Los Angeles will make it more relaxed than if he was on the Birds last season. Freese, Holliday and Wainwright didn’t agree with my thought that it would be “weird” to play against one another. They just chalked it up to the business of baseball and talked about the excitement of playing in important baseball games, even if they know some guy in the other dugout.

“I don’t know when we go back to St. Louis, but that’s going to be cool,” Freese said, understating what will be an ovation of ovations, on May 6, as he returns to the Busch batter’s box where he hit the homer.

ONE OF US

Freese comes off as such a regular guy, I can picture someone meeting a group of dudes and asking this very St. Louis question: “So where were you when Freese hit the homer?”

The first dude says, “I was in the bleachers!” The second dude says, “I was watching with my parents!” And the third dude says, “I’m him.”

In many ways Freese is an Everyman — one of us — which makes the night he was Superman that much more surreal. David Freese — the guy you grew up with, the guy you taught algebra to, the guy you made toasted ravioli for – hit an extra-inning homer to win Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

And of course, in the bottom of the ninth of that very game, with two outs and two strikes, Freese first hit a game-tying, season-saving triple.

“I still think about how the 2011 team affected people, especially little kids,” said Freese, who also won the National League championship series MVP that October. “That’s the coolest part about the whole thing, the way you affect so many kids. Or anybody, really. It’s incredible, and it’s awesome how great everybody has been, even having ups and downs, off the field stuff, people are just awesome, so supportive in St. Louis. …

“But it got pretty heavy.”

Freese has had issues in the past with drinking, twice being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Single in St. Louis, he became a fixture around town. Asked what he meant by heavy, Freese said, “I think something that got to me and affected me after that was trying to please everybody. That was something I didn’t really understand how to deal with, especially being a single guy, not having a family (of my own), you’re going home to nobody. You kind of build off that. And you try to make people happy to make yourself happy, in a way. There’s a lot of people who deal with that type of stuff. So it got heavy. It definitely got a little much at times.

“I wish I had that one person who had been through something like that, that I could’ve talked to. And the whole hometown thing was just a little much at times. But like I said, I’m grateful for all of that, not even to individually do what I did, but because the effect (the Game 6 aftermath) had on me then sped up a maturation process that I needed.”

A couple of years ago, Freese moved from the Central West End to downtown, near the office of a friend. The ballplayer stopped by a production studio called rukus.

There she was.

Mairin O’Leary. Changed Freeser’s life. St. Louis native, too (Parkway Central, to answer your question).

I said to Freese: We all go through ups and downs in life, and I’ve heard that she’s been really good for you ….

“Absolutely,” he said proudly, “yeah, you can put it that way. I’m grateful she walked into my life. She’s great. Obviously, I’ve had my obstacles in life. She’s been wonderful.

“She’s kind of the first person I’ve ever had in my life that I wanted to change for. You want to look at yourself in the mirror and you want to do it for yourself, but when you see the wonderful things that life brings you, it kind of knocks you in the face. It makes you realize some things. So I’m grateful for that.”

They got engaged in December, in New Zealand.

What was the proposal like? Were you nervous, like batting in the playoffs?

Freese laughed loudly and said, “She already picked the ring out, so that makes it less stressful. But when you know she’s the one, it’s a little easier, I think.”

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