I got an absolute kick out of talking to Rusty Ryan just hours before a tense World Series Game 6. Ryan coached one of the Cardinals' superstars -- Lafayette High School grad David Freese. And Ryan clearly has fond memories of the days he coached soon-to-be major leaguers two years apart.
Perhaps no Cardinal has enjoyed this post-season run more than third baseman David Freese. Growing up in Wildwood, Freese was a star at Lafayette, a school that has made a reputation for itself cranking out big-time ball players. They come from Ballwin, where they play ball... and win.
Before he became the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, Cardinals third baseman David Freese shagged balls at short stop on the Lancer's baseball field. His coach, who has since retired, was Rusty Ryan.
"He sat in that dugout, batted right there, hit the ball over that fence..." Ryan says as he points around the diamond. It's then that I ask Ryan about "coaching from home" and seeing his high schooler grow up through the big leagues.
"So you're watching the NLCS -- MVP -- hit after hit after hit -- he was on a hit parade!" I say.
"Yeah he was!" Ryan says. "I've seen it out here a lot, but on that level, it's a little different! But I wasn't surprised by it."
Because Ryan says Freese has always had that "something special."
"I never had a kid hit the ball on the button as much as David did on the sweet spot, but you know, he had the hand-eye coordination, he had the agility, he just had that factor -- that it-factor," Ryan says. "Something about him that he had it -- he had the possibility to do it."
Freese holds the school's batting average record of .458, and Ryan says he led by example, often staying late for batting practice. But by the end of senior year, Freese was burned out and benched himself from anymore baseball.
"Once you're away from something, sometimes it works to your advantage because you realize how much you miss it," Ryan says, even though he and others desperately tried to change his young player's mind.
During the NLCS MVP trophy ceremony, Freese said he came back for the comraderie he feels playing on a baseball team.
"And I couldn't ask for a better group of guys," Freese said then.
Good news for the game -- great news for the Cardinals. And proof -- that the Lancer field and so many others around America really can be a field of dreams.
"Kids always have that dream. Every kid wants to be a major league baseball player," Ryan says. "He's on the verge of big-time stardom."
Lafayette High School has certainly amassed a power-player list from their alumni. Among more than a dozen major and minor league players over the years, Ryan Howard is playing for the Phillies right now and Jeff Gray pitches for the Mariners.
Maggie Crane is a reporter at KMOV-TV. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org