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“He’s so tough mentally and what he’s gone through in life has made him even tougher,” McGwire said. “He’s an older younger player, if you want to call it that, and very mature for what he’s gone through. The growing pains are good. Nobody’s life is perfect and you become smarter and more aware by going through these things.”

Freese was giving back on Thursday, spending about 20 minutes signing autographs near one of the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium and leaving fans beaming.

“He was talking to people about the Corvette he won, what color he chose,” said Glenn Cordes of Ferguson, Mo., who’s vacationing in Florida for the month. “I think he signed for anybody who came up, and I think he talked to them all.”

Going forward, he’ll be going for more big hits from down in the lineup and probably batting behind three well-established power threats in Holliday, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran.

“I haven’t come through every time. Nobody does,” Freese said. “I know what I can do, I know my potential and so do the Cardinals, and hopefully I reach that. We’ve got some pretty big dogs in this lineup and I just want to do my part.”