ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MARCH 10-11 - FILE - In this March 5, 2012, file photo, Los Angeles Angels' C.J. Wilson winds up to throw during a spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix. Wilson, who was born in Newport Beach, Calif., has decided to live "outside the bubble" now that heis moved from the Rangers back home to his Southern California roots with the Angels. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Freese lived every kid's dream last October, carrying his hometown St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series title with clutch hit after clutch hit.
The third baseman, who went to high school just outside St. Louis, was named the MVP of the NLCS and the World Series. He hit five home runs and drove in 21 runs in the postseason to outshine even megastars like teammate Albert Pujols and the Rangers' Josh Hamilton.
Across the country in Fort Myers, Fla., Joe Mauer was watching it all unfold and couldn't help but be a little jealous. The St. Paul golden boy was drafted No. 1 overall by the Minnesota Twins back in 2001, and has been thinking about nothing else but leading the team he grew up cheering for to the top of the baseball world.
"I think it's everybody's ultimate goal to win a World Series," Mauer said, "but that's got to be really cool for him to do that."
There's no place like home when your team is winning, as Freese discovered. And no place to hide when things start falling apart, like they did for Mauer and the Twins last season.
Freese spent the winter being honored for his incredible fall, making appearances on David Letterman, getting standing ovations at college football games and seeing the stars in the eyes of kids on a visit to his old high school.
"Achieving something at home is great because I'm a St. Louis Cardinal," Freese said. "I think that's what it's all about. Reaching an achievement is special anywhere, regardless, but to be a kid from St. Louis, sure I think it hits home more. I've been around this team all my life."
But the 28-year-old Freese is about to find out about the other side of being the hometown boy who makes good -- the pressure, scrutiny and demands on your time can be suffocating. And the realization that fan support is not unconditional can carry an extra sting.
Pete Rose thrived in Cincinnati. San Francisco insulated Barry Bonds from his asterisk-alleging critics and Cal Ripken Jr. became an icon in Baltimore.
Ken Griffey Jr. had a much more difficult time in his return to Cincinnati years ago and Mauer has seen both sides of the coin in Minnesota, beloved in his first six seasons after winning three batting titles and an AL MVP, then turned on last year when injuries kept him out of the lineup and the Twins sunk to the bottom of the AL Central.
This season, left-hander C.J. Wilson is returning to his Southern California roots with the Los Angeles Angels, Prince Fielder will be playing in the city where his father slugged homers for the Tigers and Freese will be relied upon to keep the Cardinals in contention after Pujols left in free agency.
"I know I grew up around Tiger Stadium and some of the fans saw me or whatever," Fielder said, "but I didn't think they remembered me that much. Seeing that they do, it's pretty awesome. And I'm glad I'm a part of it."
That can be a good and a bad thing. It seems like everyone in Minnesota knows someone who knows someone who went to high school with Mauer or played against him in a prep tournament.
"I think you get pulled in more directions with your family and friends there," Mauer said. "But it's definitely a lot more reward than not. It's all I've ever known."
That's why Wilson, who was born in Newport Beach, Calif., has decided to live "outside the bubble" now that he's moved from the Rangers back home to the Angels.
"It's going to be difficult to emphasize with all of my friends and family that it's not the offseason anymore," Wilson said. "They have to leave and leave me alone so I can still work because my job is to pitch."
His new teammate, first baseman Mark Trumbo, got a taste of it when he was called up last season. And he liked it.
"For me, to be able experience that and know that my parents are able to come every night or at least as much as they can is something I wouldn't trade for anything," said Trumbo, who was raised in the shadows of the Angels' ballpark in Anaheim.
Family wasn't so much the issue for Griffey when he came to Cincy in a trade from Seattle in 2000 as was an adoring fan base and inquisitive media eager to cover one of their own.
"I get consistently beat up for no reason," Griffey said, during his third season in Cincinnati. "It's been happening since the very first day I got here, and I'm tired of it. You try to bend over backward to do the right thing, and it just seems to get thrown in my face."
It never got near that bad for Mauer last year, but the heat was noticeable. After signing an eight-year, $184 million contract extension, Mauer struggled with injuries and illness all season long. Fans accused the All-Star catcher of being fragile, and he was occasionally booed at Target Field.
"I know the fans were frustrated, but guys were more frustrated with what was going on in this clubhouse," Mauer said. "It's a new year. You can't ignore what happened last year, but you try to learn from things and try to make sure they don't happen again."
Mauer insists he wouldn't have it any other way. He cheered the Twins on to a World Series title in 1991, and badly wants to give the young baseball fans in Minnesota the same feeling that Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris gave him.
"That's why I signed (my extension) here," he said. "I want to win a World Series here. I think we can do that."
Freese is getting plenty attention back home these days as well. He may have to wear a hoodie a little more often when he goes out in public to keep a low profile, but that's a small price to pay for the smiles he puts on the faces of fans who love the Cardinals, just like he did.
"The coolest thing is when somebody taps you on your hip and it's an 8-year-old kid wanting your autograph," Freese said. "I get a kick out of that. That's special. That's pretty cool."