This week I made my first pilgrimage to the festival known as Spring Training. There is no better excuse to get out of town, find some sun and get a taste of things to come.
aig first caught my eye playing for AA Springfield two years ago. I liked him immediately, and I am pulling for him to make the club.
If you are a Cardinal Fan living in Oklahoma,
the past couple weeks have been good. Not
just because the St. Louis Cardinals are climbing out of their offensive
funk. Not just because
after sweeping us, the tornado that is the Rockies these days, continued raping
and pillaging the NL Central by sweeping the Brewers as well, keeping the
Cardinals within easy striking distance of the leader spot. But, mostly because both the Memphis
Redbirds and the Springfield Cardinals made road trips to Oklahoma. Nice of them to come to me.
Well, nearly to me. Both Oklahoma City and Tulsa are at least two hours from my
house. There have been some late nights, followed by going to work early
the next day, so I could leave early to go back to the ballpark. However, it is not like my favorite
minor league clubs play here everyday, so when they are here, I gotta go!
I always say, “Sleep is what you do when there is nothing better
to do”. However, there is a
little story that goes along with that: At
some point, there is nothing better to do than sleep. Friday, I hit that
wall. Slept 13 hours. And, now I am ready to go again!
The Memphis Redbirds came to Oklahoma City for a four game series against the
Redhawks. This is the last time the Redbirds will be in my state this
year. If I want to see them
again, I will have to go track them down in Memphis or maybe Round Rock or both.
As I watched the games, I listened to the St. Louis Cardinals
games. It was easy to get
the games confused in my head because the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to be
having the same problems with the Reds and the Rockies as the Redbirds were having with the
In the first game, the Memphis Redbirds did show the offensive
fire power that they are so capable of, but has often eluded them this
year. Joe Mather had a fantastic night with two
sacrifice flies, two doubles, one single, two runs and two RBIs. Mather looks a 100% better than he did
in April. In April, he
still looked thin and weak, like he had never completely recovered from the
Spring Training bout of flu that had derailed his strong start.
Hoffpauir, had a Gold Glove night at second base, while going 2-3 with a
walk and an RBI. Two
fielding plays earned a star on my scoresheet: 1) a leaping catch of a line drive and
2) the pick of a grounder far to his right then the throw fired to first in
time to catch the runner.
After the first game, the offense would slow to a trickle. Game two had twelve hits, but only
four runs. Game three would
have nine hits but no runs. Game
four would feature only six hits and no runs.
In game two and three of the series, it was easy to look at the
score sheet and see that they game was really much closer than the score
indicated. However, game
four was plain ugly with the Redhawks flamethrower, Naftali Feliz on the mound.
And, the lack of offense was complicated by the fact that the
Redbirds’ pitching was not particularly sharp. All the while, pretty much the same
thing was going on up in St. Louis.
There were two call-ups: Jess
Todd and Tyler Greene.
With Tyler Greene on third, Joe Mather hits a fly ball…
…which scores Greene
With Tyler Greene gone, Hoffpauir moved to shortstop and
to the delight of the hometown crowd, Oklahoman, Casey Rowlett, got a start at
Jon Jay is an outfielder to
keep an eye on. He plays hard as evidenced by the large tear in his pants:
I will probably watching him a little more closely for one simple
fact: I have his bat. It’s cracked.
It’s signed. It’s mine. It has found a home in my office where it
serves as a memento, conversation piece and potential weapon. It may be cracked, but I bet it has one good skull
cracker left in it.
I have no game, so you can be assured that it is in my possession
through no effort of my own, but through the kindness of fellow baseball fans. There is a family, who sits near me at Redhawks
games. The son is adept at snagging
broken bats out of the dugout and getting them signed.
They know I am a huge Cardinals fan. During the series, they acquired bats from
Shane Robinson, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Jon Jay.
They came to the game early and got the bat signed for me. They told Jay who it was for. He asked if I was there. They said that I
would be there later. He said he would
wave to me.
Which he did. When he
popped out of the dugout, they yelled at him.
He looked up at me.
I said, “Thank you!”
He said, “You’re welcome.”
And, off he went to abuse another piece of lumber. Yep, I am oh-so-eloquent in person. Still, my gratitude was sincere, as was his smiling
response. Best of luck to you, Jon Jay!
Here is Jon Jay and the bat before it was cracked:
I know he does hit. I
know he has hit. I know he
will hit. But, for all you
Cardinal fans that have been calling for his call-up, back off. Brett Wallace is not ready yet.
In response to my statement, “You’ve got a lot of talent out
there”, Redbirds Manager, Chris Maloney, said that they have been in a slump
all year. Yes, much to my
surprise, the Redbirds Manager walked over and chatted with me during batting
practice. I had a nice
conversation with the Mississippi gentleman about baseball and such.
Of course, it proved to me once again that while I might be a writer,
I am so not a journalist. There I was with a great opportunity and no good
questions. I do not think,
“So, who’s pitching today?” qualifies. Still,
I thoroughly enjoyed the chat.
Later, however, I did think of the question I wish I would have asked. With the call-ups of Greene and Todd,
who had both been playing well, it occurred to me how difficult it is to
“build” a team in the minors.
In the major leagues, a manager typically has his cornerstone
players to build on. For
example, with the Cardinals, you start with Pujols and Molina, who are rarely
missing from the lineup. You have a couple solid starters who always keep
you in the game, like Carpenter and Wainwright. Perhaps, you have a “go-to” arm or two
in the bullpen, like Franklin. Then you fill in and mix and match
Now, you might lose a key player to injury. If you are not in contention, you
might lose someone to a trade. However,
you do not lose a player because he is “too good.”
Not so, in the minors. Your
best starter is the “sixth man” in the big club’s rotation. Your closer is one major league injury
away from being plucked from your bullpen. And,
whoever is swinging a hot bat, could be on a plane tonight to St.
an ever changing cast of players, how do you build? I wondered, if that was the hardest
job of a minor league manager.
Or, is it herding ‘birds? I
imagine keeping young men on task and out of trouble can be a challenge.
Normally, I would say “herding cats”, but a small bird somehow ended up in my
house a few weeks ago, and I tried my best to herd it back outside to the great
outdoors. So, I can say
from experience that it is nearly impossible to herd a bird.
However, I believe the following look from the Redbirds manager might
actually herd ‘birds. Here
is the Chris Maloney coaching third base and looking like there might be hell
to pay if more Redbirds do not find their way around the bases.
The AT&T Bricktown Ballpark continued its “Taste of the Big
Leagues” promotion finally bringing Busch Stadium to me. I must admit I was a bit disappointed at
first. I am not sure what I was
expecting. A replica of the arch? Clydesdales?
There were only three Cardinals banners: Enos Slaughter, Lou Brock and Dizzy Dean:
The photo op included seats from old Busch stadium. That was kind of cool.
Of course, a big Stan Musial banner was a must.
The Busch Stadium food included toasted ravioli. Although I promise you what they called “toasted
ravioli” was not toasted ravioli. If
real toasted ravioli is like a piece of homemade pie, then what they were
selling was a pop-tart. Tasty, but not
special. However, the “Bratzel”, a brat
wrapped in pretzel dough, pig-in-a-blanket style, did not disappoint. It was huge.
I slathered the Bratzel in mustard and ate contentedly as the crowning
touch to the Busch theme played over the PA:
The Budweiser Song. No, the
Clydesdale’s did not appear. The crowd
did not stand and clap along. But, I
could see and hear it all in my head. It
The Springfield Cardinals returned to Tulsa this week. Tulsa is a bit farther and unless I leave
work early, I cannot make first pitch. However,
on Thursday, I left early to watch a double header. It was a beautiful night and the
Cardinals won both games with Trey Herne and Brandon Dickson on the
In the shortened seven-inning games,
the Cardinals won 2-1 and 4-1. In
addition to the two one run outings by the starters, Tyler Norrick and Francisco
Samuel turned in one hitless inning a piece. Eduardo Sanchez turned in two.
Starter, Lance Lynn, would not be so fortunate on Saturday. He gave up three runs in six innings, which
would not be bad except the Cardinals scored zero runs.
Samuel Freeman, joining the club from Palm Beach, threw two
perfect innings with two K’s. His
call-up was so fresh, that he was not listed on the roster.
As I searched for his number on the roster, I heard a voice behind
me say, “He’s probably not on there. He
only joined the team today.” I turned to
the voice, which belonged to the Cardinals’ bus driver. This information I obtained from his name tag.
I suppose if I had game, I
would have pumped him for all sorts of AA details, but instead I just lamely asked,
“What’s his name?”, wrote “Sam Freeman” on my scoresheet and turned my
attention back to the game.
Other player notes.
I enjoyed watching second baseman,
Daniel Descalso. He has a nice
glove and is batting .328.
Pete Kozma is a local boy and a hometown favorite even among the
Drillers fans. Kozma made his AA debut
when I lasted saw the Cardinals in early May.
The shortstop is batting .245 and has accumulated 17 RBI’s in that time.
Outfielder, Daryl Jones is hitting over .300, but never seems to
hit when I am watching.
First baseman, Mark Hamilton, is putting together some good
numbers: batting .294 and slugging .521. For that, he gets two pictures:
Fine, you are right. I really posted two pictures because I actually caught the ball in both. I have not figured out the trick to making pictorial contact with the ball consistently, but there are a lot of guys who have been trying for a lot longer to figure out how to do the same thing with a bat.
When I last visited the Drillers Stadium, I met a fellow Cardinals
fan and had a nice warm baseball chat on an otherwise damp, chilly night. Later, Scott took the time to find and
comment on my blog and asked me to let him know if I was coming back when the
Springfield Cardinals came to town.
So, during the Drillers/Cardinals games I enjoyed the rare treat
of sharing the games with a fellow Cardinals fan. Although since he usually is there rooting
for the Drillers, he sometimes gets confused about who he should be cheering for. I
suppose that is understandable.
Although I do not mind watching games all by myself, it is a
delight to watch them with a knowledgeable baseball fan, because they notice
things that you miss. I enjoyed his
stories, insights and company.
As I am going through my billions of pictures, I cannot believe
that I did not take one of Scott, who looked so great in his Eckstein
jersey. So much better than Eckstein
Scott, if you are reading. Next
time in Tulsa,
you bring Eckstein. I’ll bring
Molina. We will get a picture. And, maybe even catch someone stealing
Potpourri for $500, Alex
I accidentally purchased a MILB.tv subscription for $29.95 or
so. Now, I can watch the Memphis
Redbirds on my PC. Yes, I know, I have
an addiction problem. But, as my mom puts
it, it is a very wholesome addiction.
But, I have gotten to see Khalil Greene in his rehab starts. The good news is that he looks good at the
plate. However, he did have a
multi-error game at shortstop. Not
good. The crowd booed. It was ugly.
After a conversation in St. Louis,
he is back in Memphis
at third base, where he looks very, very good tonight. I read that he was a third baseman in
college. Perhaps, playing shortstop is
where the pressure gets to him.
Especially, on a team where the prevailing pitching philosophy is pitch
to contact and let the defense work.
Maybe, third base is his comfort zone, his happy place. It sure seems so, he just knocked in two and
scored the go ahead run from second.
The Redbird skipper pulled Shane Robinson in the first inning of
Sunday’s game for not running out a ground ball. Robinson did not start tonight, but he came into the game later.
New call-up, Pete Parise, threw two perfect innings in relief.
Jarrett Hoffpauir is on fire!
This weekend I will be in Kansas
City for the I-70 series between the Kansas City
Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. I am
excited to see the renovations at the K.
I am excited to see my Royals. I
am excited to see my family and friends.
But, I am most excited to meet my brand new nephew who was born last
week. Yes, I am an addict, but I still
know what is most important.
miss Brian Barton: hitter, rocket scientist and world traveler.
Maybe it was Memphis
Maybe it was southern summer nights
Maybe it was you maybe it was me
But it sure felt right
Since I will see both minor and major league games this year, it
did feel right to start off my season seeing both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Memphis Redbirds play two exhibition games over the weekend. The match-up took place at Auto Zone Park on historic Union Avenue in Memphis Tennessee.
Walking into the ballpark, I felt I had died and gone to redbird
heaven. The entire field was covered
with St. Louis Cardinals and future St. Louis Cardinals, such a beautiful
I had heard that Auto Zone Park was even
nicer than AT&T Ballpark, the home of the Oklahoma City Redhawks. And, the ten-year-old park is nice, but I do
not think it has anything on the ballpark in Oklahoma
Ballpark managed to add historic value to a new park, by making monuments to Oklahoma born players,
such as Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle and others.
The park in Memphis is missing
the historic element.
However, you know you are in Memphis when you are
greeted by a live band playing in the courtyard, just inside the front
gates. In the city that gave birth to
the Memphis sound, music is everywhere. Also, the courtyard is graced with the lovely Memphis Redbird Red Hots.
I knew I took a bunch of pictures, but even I was surprised when I uploaded them to my computer that there were 600+ taken over the course of two days. Unbelievable. I swear, I did not have my finger on the button the whole time. I actually kept a scorecard, too. But, evidently I was very busy. So, when I say here are “just a few” pictures, you will know I mean it.
Everybody stops to watch Albert Pujols take batting practice. I think he could sell tickets to his batting practice to raise money for the Pujols Family Foundation.
The Cardinals 25-man roster includes a number of rookies. Here are just a few getting ready to take batting practice: Infielders, Joe Thurston and David Freese, and outfielder, Colby Rasmus. I believe fellow rookie, infielder, Brian Barden was in the cage.
New Shortstop, Khalil Greene, looks happy to be a Cardinal. He had a great spring training, and hit a bomb in Memphis, so we are so happy to have him.
Yadier Molina heads to work.
One of my favorite game sights is the catcher, starting pitcher and pitching coach walking in from the bullpen, all warmed up and ready to go. The walk means it is almost game time. In the first picture are Yadier Molina, P. J. Walters and Dave Duncan. P. J. Walters, who will start in Triple-A Memphis, made a spot start for the Cardinals in Friday’s game in place of Chris Carpenter. Walters had a very fine outing, as the Cardinals won 13-1.
The second picture is Yadier Molina, Joel Pineiro and Dave Duncan. Joel Pineiro had a great spring training, and he pitched well on Saturday. He got into a couple jams, but did not loose his cool. He pitched better the longer he went. The Cardinals won 7-3.
Another beautiful sight:
I took the following two pictures, because I wondered if the kid in the #12 Aaron Miles jersey was asking John Mozeliak, “Hey, Mo. Why didn’t you pick up Miles? Now, I need a new jersey. Forget the autograph. I want a new jersey.”
Amazingly enough, another kid walked up with a #12 T-shirt. I imagined him asking the same question.
This is a nice shot of Khalil Greene , but the guy on second base got my attention over the weekend. Memphis center fielder, Shane Robinson, has a nice bat. He made a great diving catch in center, and literally climbed the wall to try to get to a Rick Ankiel home run that was long gone.
But, I found the following shot of him hilarious. From left to right (field), we have Jon Jay (5’9″), Shane Robinson (5’7″) and Joe Mather (6’4″). Mather looks like a Giant.
Chris Carpenter was scratched from the Friday start, which is fine with me. There is always a worry that he has X number of pitches left. No need to waste them on an exhibition game. He was reported to have a calf injury, but if he can cop a catcher’s squat to catch Adam Wainwright, the calf must be healed.
Before Saturday’s day game, I was at the park before it was open. So, I decided to take a little walk all the way around it. When I got to the back of the park, the gate was open. I resisted the urge to trespass. However, I could see through to the field. I was not surprised by what I saw: Third Base/Infield Coach, Jose Oquendo was hitting early morning ground balls to Skip Schumaker. Here is a picture of Schumaker warming up later.
Speaking of Jose Oquendo, late in the game on Saturday, he was sent in to pinch hit. The crowd went wild. He fouled off a couple and then drew a walk. When he took his lead at first, the crowd wanted him to steal. He got moved around to third base. He had an opportunity to tag and score on a fly ball, but evidently, he did not send himself. Ironically, he was stranded at the base he will be coaching all year.
The-closer-who-must-not-be-named, Jason Motte, pitched in the ninth inning Saturday.
Not to be outdone by the Cardinals coaching staff, Memphis Redbirds Manager, Chris Maloney, sent himself in to pinch hit. He made nice contact, but grounded out to finish the game.
Ballpark Food Note
I give the ballpark hot dog a grade of “B”. Good quality hot dog, toasted bun. Good, but not fantastic. The unique food to have are the barbecued pork nachos. Very good, but very pricy at $8.50. The hotdogs were $4.00
in Memphis – Marc Cohn
on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
Actually, the shoes are brown suede.
There is no plane.
And, it better not rain.
Walking with my feet ten feet off of the Beale
Walking in Memphis
Do I really feel the way I feel
There is no doubt I feel the way I feel.
And, what I feel is excited.
So, excited that I could not go to sleep last
Something I will be paying for later.
got catfish on the table
They’ve got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven’t got a prayer
But you got a prayer in Memphis
Love me some catfish. Love me some gospel.
If I have a prayer, it’s for Joe Mather and Chris
The final cuts, sent to Memphis.
I don’t disagree with the decision. An injury interrupted Perez’s preparation, so
he is not ready. Mather has been inconsistent
at the plate. The only way to fix that
is to get at bats every day. He can do
that in Memphis.
But, I would love to see Mather go 4-4 and Perez have a three up, three
down 9th inning. Just ’cause.
Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would —
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said —
“Tell me are you a Christian child?”
And I said “Ma’am I am tonight”
I doubt Muriel is going to ask me to sing at the Hollywood. But, at the Auto Zone Park, I will be cheering with
all my might. There is something about being
at the ballpark that feeds my soul. So,
yes, tonight, I am definitely a Christian child.
on my brown suede shoes
And put the car in drive
Road into the land of the Delta Blues
I have never felt more alive.
SPRING TRAINING UPDATE
While taking a couple days off from the World Baseball Classic, I realized that I had been severely neglecting my Cardinals. It is an easy thing to do when only about half the games are broadcast on the radio, even fewer are televised and most all take place while I am at work.
Work is like a sacrifice fly. I do not get on base, but I score the funds to live in an enclosed space, eat ballpark hot dogs and wear clothes adorned with the birds on the bat.
Just because the opportunity to savor Spring Training games has been sadly lacking, do not think I have not been paying attention to my beloved Redbirds. Thanks to the fine beat writers at stlcardinals.com and stltoday.com, I get the daily scoop.
Blessedly, for the most part, I like what I hear. The starting rotation is shaping up. The headline is a healthy and sharp Chris Carpenter that has yet to give up a run. Kyle Lohse has pitched the most innings and has a 3-1 record. Joel Pineiro has a low 1.29 ERA. Adam Wainwright is has good command of his fast ball. Todd Wellemeyer has been burned by the long ball, but I know he will work that out. How do I know? Well, I will tell you in a bit.
Jason Motte has excelled in the bullpen going 4-4 in saves vs. save opportunities, with an ERA of 1.08. Josh Kinney is 2-2 in saves with a 1.29 ERA. Chris Perez has struggled with shoulder soreness, but he still has time to come around. Ryan Franklin, the bullpen veteran, is coming along nicely. As is lefty, Trevor Miller.
At the start of Spring Training, positional player questions were plentiful. (Try to say that 5 times fast). Now, it seems we have options. Many young players have made a strong case for themselves. Joe Mather seemed a lock for the temp job at third base. Now, Brian Barden, batting .419, is coming on strong.
The innovative idea to take one of the plenteous outfielders and turn put him in the open slot at second base is working out. Skip Schumaker is making a go of it at second. He had some errors, mostly on throws. He seemed to have a little too much arm for the position. But, he is turning double plays and getting the job done. All the extra work in the field has not taken away from his hitting. He is batting .345.
Also garnering attention as a possible utility infielder is Joe Thurston. He has some speed with two stolen bases. Brendan Ryan is another possibility. One more infielder worth mentioning is Craig Allen. Allen played at Double-A Springfield last year. I watched one Springfield game last year and Craig stood out. He is projected to be at Triple-A Memphis this year, which is rather sad since he is batting .444 and slugging .667. What more could a guy do in Spring Training?
The final question mark is tattooed on the forehead of one young highly touted prospect. Fine, Colby Rasmus’ forehead is tattoo free, but the question gets asked over and over and over: When will Rasmus get the call-up? The jury is still out. Rasmus got off to a slow start, but after a little sit down chat with the skipper, he is hitting very well.
Overall the Cardinals are 14-6, which puts them in second place in the Grapefruit League. I know, it means nothing. But, it is positive. Very positive. Which is the opposite of a negative like this one: Houston‘s 3-16 record. It makes for a happy, hopeful spring for Cardinals fans.
The hardest thing to do in baseball is hit that little round leather orb with the wooden stick. If that is true, then MLB 2K9 is very realistic. I had a little time to play today, and I finally figured out how to swing, but offensively, I stink. I have mastered the groundout to third, as well as the groundout to short. Through no fault of his own, Yadier Molina struck out more times today than he did all season last year. I am ridiculous.
My fielding is getting better. Of course, the only way to go is up when you start with 16 errors in one game.
However, I can really pitch. Todd Wellemeyer is going to be just fine this season. I know this because Welly and I pitched an amazing game today. Complete game, no-hitter, with 23 K’s. Yep, it is a new Major League record.
Our first pitch slider was un-hittable. Then a changeup would usually get strike two. Finally, the payoff pitch: a little high, inside fastball to finish the hitter off. We were dominant. We were efficient, finishing the game on 82 pitches.
But, we still lost. Our pinpoint control vanished just long enough to allow a walk, a stolen base and two wild pitches, which scored the runner. I think Molina could have blocked the wild pitches, but he was mad at me for making him look so ghastly at the plate. Pirates win 1-0. Maybe, we will get ’em tomorrow.
World Baseball Classic
I enjoyed a couple days off, but I am excited for the finals. With no baseball on TV this afternoon (well, there was a cubs game, if that counts), I am embarrassed to admit I watched a Lifetime movie. I am a sucker for John Corbett, no matter how bad the movie. Baseball will be back on tonight to save me from myself!
I have good news and bad news. Let us start with the good news.
The Cardinals played an exciting game yesterday in Jupiter, FL against the Boston Red Sox. The good news is Chris Carpenter pitched four scoreless innings. He is pitching strong and healthy. After his injuries, it is great to see him back to 2006 form, because we all know how 2006 went down.
In other good news, Josh Kinney came in a pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts. He picked up the win when Joe Mather hit a 2-run walk-off homer. Cardinals win 4-2.
Bad News from the World Baseball Classic
This is not the bad news: The World Baseball Classic has taken over my life. I loved the marathon of games last weekend. Baseball from before the crack of dawn in to late in the night is pretty cool. During the week, the games overlapped and I mastered the art of watching two games at once. However, last night, I did enjoy the fact that there was only one game to focus on, and I am going to enjoy the off day today. But, I will be anxious for the games to start again on Saturday.
In the one WBC game last night, Cuba faced Mexico. Although Cuba had pulled ahead 7-4, it was a game, until the 7th. The announcer might have said: “Now pitching for Mexico, newly signed Cardinals lefty, Dennys Reyes.” It would have been in Spanish, so I do not really know.
So, Reyes takes the mound. It was like a very sad song that goes something like this:
First Verse: First two batters hit hard up the middle.
Chorus: Wild pitch, both runners advance (the pitch was a foot over the umpire’s head)
Second Verse: Double to left, two runners score
Bridge: Reyes has been hit hard. Now he hits back. If a quarterback hits a guy in the numbers, it is a good thing. If a pitcher hits a guy in the numbers, it is a bad thing. Reyes nailed Leonys Martin right between the two and the six on his back. Ouch!
Chorus: Wild pitch, both runners advance (again over everyone’s head)
Repeat Chorus: Wild pitch, both runners advance. Lead runner scores. (this one was at the batter’s feet…just to mix things up)
Tag: The next batter walks.
Finally, Reyes is yanked, but the bleeding continues for Mexico. The inning ends due to the mercy rule when Cuba is up 16-4. Only one out was recorded.
I know, I know. It is only one inning. It is early and Reyes, newly signed, has not been in camp and is not in season form. He was pitching in dismal wet conditions. But still, it was not something an optimistic Cardinal fan needed to see.
Announcer, Charlie Steiner said it best, “Boy, Dennys Reyes has nothing. Not tonight.” And, he is all ours for two years.