Goin’ to Kansas City.
Kansas City, here I come.
They’ve got some crazy little
And you know I’m gonna go be one.
Off to See Some Inter-league Play
On my drive to Kansas
City, I listened to MLB Homeplate on XM Radio. There were endless debates over inter-league play. It’s bad. It’s good. Love it. Hate it. Love it, but let’s tweak it. Always use the DH. Never use the DH. Switch the use of the DH to the NL parks. Make the inter-league records determine the home field advantage for the World Series. And, on and on and on.
I could not care less about all of that. I am a fan of inter-league play for one reason and one
reason alone: The Cardinals play in Kansas City. Short of an inter-league game that would take them to Arlington, it is as close as the Cardinals ever get to me. Still, it’s a six-hour drive.
I lived in Kansas
City for a number of years and have friends and family
to visit, which makes the I-70 series weekend very special for me. I got to meet my brand week week-old nephew. I love hanging out with my fam.
The home of the Kansas City Royals, Kauffman Stadium or
“The K”, is a special place for me. I saw my first major league game there. I was probably nine or ten. I did not really know baseball back then. I do not remember who we played. I do not remember who won. I did know who George Brett was, and I knew when I walked into The K, that it was the biggest place I had ever been, and I liked being there.
I went with my sister her fiancé and some of his
family. We sat near right field. We played a game where each person drew an outfield position. Each time the Royal playing your position caught a fly ball, everybody else paid you a dollar. I had right-field and the other team must have been stacked with lefties because I made a killing.
It was poetic and special that I would be back at The K
with my sister on Friday. She does not understand my attraction to this game, but she is one person in my life that does not look at me like I am crazy when I take off cross-country to go see a game. And, I love that about her.
Welcome to the New K
The outside will always look a bit like a place the Jetsons’
would have gone to watch a game. It is a throwback to the early 70s when we were in love with astronauts, men walked on the moon and I drank Tang for breakfast.
The field area at The K has always been spectacularly
beautiful, with the signature outfield fountains. It was a gem in it’s day. However, as new parks are built, the old girl had been left in the dust. Little luster remained on the hunk of forty year old concrete.
No longer. Major
renovations were completed over the winter, and the old girl has a whole new look. The fan experience in this park is excellent.
The scoreboard seemed more fabulous that ever.
Before the renovations, there were no seats between the
foul poles. Unless a home run ball took some sort of funny hop, it could not be caught here. Now the outfield is full of seats and activity.
Although there were plenty o’ Cardinals fans in the seats,
I do believe I saw much more Royals blue than last year during the I-70 series. Good for you, Kansas City! However, the fans in blue (except for the ones in powder blue retro
Cardinals jerseys) would not have much to cheer about.
Game 1 Davies vs. Thompson
The Cardinals came out hitting the Royals well. Single, single, two-run single. But, in the
third, they broke out the cannons.
In the first, the Royals pitched to Pujols and were
punished with a 2-RBI single. This time they walked him. Enter the slumping Ryan Ludwick. Although the words “grand slam” were bouncing around in the back of my head, I quieted them and thought how nice it would be if Ludwick just got a nice simple base hit. And, he did 393 ft. into the brand new outfield seats.
The Cardinals weren’t finished handing out souvenirs to
that section. Rick Ankiel and Khalil Greeene went back to back with solo shots. All sluggers have had their issues at the plate lately. Nothing like a little long ball to get them going.
I like the move of Khalil Greene to third base. After seeing the athleticism that Brendan
Ryan and Tyler Greene can bring to the shortstop position, I think one of them should be playing that position. On a team with the pitching philosophy of “pitch to contact and let your defense do the work”, they need to play their best defenders.
Also, because of the philosophy, that puts extraordinary
pressure on the middle infielders to be practically perfect in every way. Perhaps, that is part of the pressure that was getting to Khalil Greene. Perhaps, he can relax a bit at third. It seemed to work in his rehab starts in Memphis. And, it seems to be working now.
I did not want to say this out loud too soon for fear of
jinxing it, but I think it is safe to say that Skip Schumaker has turned into a very fine second baseman. With Schumaker’s athletic ability and intense work ethic, I really believed the transition would work. I just did not know it would work so well. He looks
like he was born to it.
Davies was pulled in the third and Thompson pitched a
gem. Cardinals win!
Game 2 Bannister vs. Carpenter
With a rain delay of
about an hour and a half, it looked like it might be a long day at the ballpark. However, Bannister and Carpenter were like to pilots grooving in the jet stream trying to make up time on a cross-country flight. Length of game: 2:37.
Many might argue that Albert Pujols is the most intimidating
Cardinal. If I were a National League pitcher, I might agree. But, the Cardinal I find most intimidating is Chris Carpenter.
He is big. He is tall. His voice
is deep. He has amazing stuff, and he is all business, all the time. You often see Pujols smile or share a laugh. Not Carpenter. I am sure he has a light-hearted side, silly, fun-loving side. I have just never seen it, and that’s fine by me. If he scares the bejesus out of me
just sitting in the bleachers, I can only imagine the fear he inspires in those
who must stand in the batter’s box.
This was really the best game of the series. Although the Cardinals let the whole game, it
was close until the ninth. The Royals threatened to get the bats going in the 8th. Carpenter was pulled after a 2-out double. The third out was four batters, one walk, one error, one run and two pitchers away.
In the ninth, a string of base hits by Ludwick, Duncan,
and Molina, was topped off by a Khalil Greene home run. The four run inning turned the formerly 3-1 game into a rout.
Game 3 Meche vs. Wainwright
I enjoyed the game with family on Friday. Saturday was spent swapping baseball stories with friends. Both were great, but Sunday was for me. I walked up to the ticket booth and purchased
one of the last seats in outfield section 105. I wanted sit in one of the new seats. I wanted to sit where the home run balls landed.
The 1:00 pm start on the first day of summer was as hot as
they come. Despite application of sunscreen, I would leave with a souvenir sunburn. But, the weather was no hotter than Albert Pujols’ bat.
I have run out of words to describe El Hombre. Special.
Amazing. The best player in baseball. The words fall short. While he is capable of anything, he still
finds a way to exceed our expectations.
When Albert Pujols came to the plate in the 4th
with bases loaded, I tucked away my pencil and scorecard. I was ready to catch the ball. The grand slam ball. I thought, “Albert, hit it to me.”
But, he missed. The
grand slam ball landed about 15 feet to my left and 10 feet back. I expected a home run, but I did not expect the 423 feet monster shot. He’s such an over-achiever.
The game had been close, but the grand slam put the
Cardinals out of reach. In a continuation of that inning, the Cardinals sent 12 batters to the plate and
scored 8 runs. I began to feel sorry for the Royals. Especially, the catcher,
Olivo. I was drenched in sweat just sitting there. I could not imagine
working in the heat while wearing catcher’s gear.
In other news, Khalil Greene hit his third home run in
three days. He was rewarded by a plunking. Maybe, intentional. Maybe not. Either way, the Royals paid. The pinch runner, Thurston, was the first to score on the grand slam.
Random Images from the I-70 Series
Colby Rasmus at the plate. How much to we love our little Rookie of the Year Candidate?
On Friday, the Royals catcher, Olivo, hit a long fly ball to deep left field. I quickly tried to get a picture of Ankiel making a spectacular catch. Instead, I got a blurred image of his attempt and the very sad shot below of him looking at where the ball landed inside the Cardinals bullpen:
was the Second Annual United Cardinal Bloggers Progressive Blog Day, where UCB
members write about one inning in today’s installment of the I-70 series as the
St. Louis Cardinals take on the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium.
the fifth inning, so visit these fine blogs first and then come back here:
Pregame: United Cardinal Bloggers
Fourth inning: Cards on Deck
So, by now, you know that Kyle Lohse has a two hit shutout going. A two RBI single by Nick Stavinoha, got the
Cardinals out in front in the first. Skip
Schumaker added on with a lead-off home run in the third. Cardinals are leading the Royals 3-0 at the
start of the fifth inning.
I was watching the game from home today rather than from the sold-out stands in
Busch Stadium. However, when I am at the
ballpark, there in one thing I hate: having to go to the bathroom during the
game. Sometimes I can make it a whole
nine innings, but more often than not, the beverages kick in, the bladder
stretches to capacity and I am left with no choice but to make the trek to the
I hate to
go because I am always afraid I am going to miss something. Depending on how far away the bathroom is and
whether or not there is a line (actually, I am female, so there is always a
line), the roundtrip can take a whole half an inning or better. Annoying.
had I been in the stands, the fifth inning would have been a good time go.
anticipation grew as I watched the first through the fourth inning of this
really fine Cardinal outing. I wondered
what new excitement my inning would bring.
Another home run? Lohse striking
out the side? Another fine catch by
center fielder, Colby Rasmus?
Turns out, the most
exciting thing that happened in the inning is that the Royals phone to the
bullpen was on the fritz. They had to send a runner out to give instructions.
at the Plate
led off for the Royals and hit a routine fly ball to center fielder, Colby
Rasmus. This was the sixth fly ball of
the day to Rasmus, who was earning his money in center. He plays a sweet and easy center field. A real joy to watch.
Next up, Olivo
did hit a double down the left field line.
That might have been new and interesting since it was only the third
Royals hit thus far, but Olivo hit that exact same double in the second inning.
Aviles, with his odd helicopter batting
stance, struck out. The pitcher,
Hochevar, quickly got behind 0-2, and grounded out to shortstop, Tyler
Greene. Olivo, once again, found himself
orphaned at second base.
at the Plate
Cardinal lineup was back to the top as lead-off hitter, Skip Shumaker,
led-off. Schumaker had a tough at
bat. Fouled off three pitches. Worked the count to full. And, ultimately line out sharply to Royals
third baseman, Teahan.
Rasmus was up next. He took a curve for
a strike, a curve for a ball and then grounded out sharply to first baseman, Butler.
Again. Very much as he did in his
last at bat in the third.
Albert Pujols is up. Nobody on, which is
good because he might get a pitch to hit.
He did find a pitch to hit, unfortunately he hit it on the ground to the
shortstop who threw to first and got the third out.
Was it a
ho-hum inning? For most people it would
be. No runs. One extra-base hit. One strike-out. No diving plays to make the highlight
reel. However, a real baseball fan will
appreciate the following:
- A very efficient scoreless
inning for starting pitcher, Kyle Lohse.
Four batters faced. Twelve
pitches thrown. Of which, only two
were balls. Very, very sweet.
- It took twelve pitches to
retire the Royals. It took eight
pitches to retire Skip Schumaker, who took a very good lead-off style at
bat before lining the ball into a glove.
- Sometimes less is more. Especially when it comes to excitement
in a close 3-0 game. I have seen
enough Cardinals pitchers in trouble in close games. I have seen enough errors on routine
plays. I will happily take a quiet
inning of solid pitching and defense.
In particular, when the Cardinals are enjoying the lead.
these UCB sites to continue on with game.
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
off for the Cardinals, second baseman, Skip Schumaker!
until a month or two ago, no one would have dreamed of hearing those words
Opening Day 2009. Or, ever. Least of all, Skip Schumaker.
Skip Schumaker came in to Spring Training with a crowded class of
young talented outfielders. He needed to find his
niche, the skill that differentiated him from the pack and would earn him a roster spot and keep him in the lineup.
bats left-handed. Great! Problem solved. Wait, not so fast. St. Louis may be the one place
where being a left-handed outfielder will not give you an advantage. Instead, you just get in line with the likes
of Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan and Colby Rasmus.
So, Skip Schumaker looked around and saw the Cardinals
needed a lead-off hitter. He worked
his tail off and won the spot. He had a great 2008 season. Finishing with 8 HR’s, 46 RBI’s, 8 SB’s, 87
runs, batting .302. He was healthy,
too. Not many Cardinals could say that
only criticism thrown Schumaker’s way was that he struggled against
left-handed pitching, only hitting .168.
His average against right-handed pitching was an amazing .340. So, over the off season, Schumaker went back
to California thinking the only thing
he had to work on was hitting lefties.
the last two off-seasons, Schumaker has worked on his swing with the now
reclusive, Mark McGwire. McGwire
also works with Matt Holliday, Chris Duncan and Bobby Crosby at an undisclosed
location in California. Oh, it might be disclosed, but I did not
track it down. I am not a very good
stalker. So, we were all looking forward
to seeing if Schumaker had figured out left-handed pitching over the winter,
FAST-FORWARD TO 2009
Skip Schumaker came in to Spring Training with an even more
crowded class of young talented outfielders. Five
or six serious contenders for three spots.
A nice problem to have if you are a manager. Not so nice for major league ready players
that might find themselves back in Memphis.
the crafty Manager looks around. Sees the crowded
outfield and turns his gaze toward second base.
Hmmm…all of outfielders hit better than anybody we have that can play
second, maybe we could bring an infielder in.
might have forgotten to mention this to Schumaker, because when asked a
question about it at Fan Fest, Schumaker basically laughed off the idea. He said that he played shortstop in
college, but there is a good reason he is an outfielder.
soon as he realized the idea was legitimate, Schumaker immediately had his dad
hit him ground balls. In the rain. He arrived at Spring Training camp early to
get in as much work as possible with Jose Oquendo before Oquendo would leave to
manage Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. No one works harder than Skip Schumaker,
perhaps this is why LaRussa chose Schumaker to make the transition.
the world of work, I call this “punishment by performance”. There are always those people at work
that are the most productive and competent.
How do we reward them? With more
work, of course, because we know they can do it.
great “experiment”, as the transition was first billed, drew criticism. When you have a pitching staff that does not
rely on the strike out, but pitches to contact and counts on the ground ball
out, it is critical to have a middle infield that can field cleanly and turn
two. The early errors made by Schumaker
were not comforting, in particular the errant throw that pulled Albert Pujols
dangerously into the path of the baserunner.
Schumaker has a good outfield arm.
Harnessing the cannon for the short throw to first has been the
hardest part. Fortunately, we do
have a Gold Glover at first base with great range to pick him up.
year on a televised game, fellow outfielder, Joe Mather, was asked to read the
lineup on air. He described Skip
Schumaker as “the most intense guy on the field.” When I go to a baseball game, I enjoy getting
there early and seeing the players go though batting practice and their warm-ups. It is most telling. I knew what Joe Mather was talking about, not
because I had watched Schumaker play, but because I had watched him
prepare. My favorite thing is that he finds
a quiet spot away from the others, often with a bat in hand. He seems to clear his mind, visualize success,
lock and load. Watching Schumaker
prepare is like watching a thunderstorm form overhead that is going to unleash
its wrath on the next town over.
comparisons could be made between Schumaker’s move to second and Rick Ankiel’s
conversion from a pitcher to an outfielder.
Ankiel’s story is an amazing one, made even more legendary by the
fact that Babe Ruth made that transition as well. But, Ankiel got to do it in the minors, under
the smaller lights with less of a sense of urgency placed on him by
others. (I have no doubt he placed a
huge sense of urgency on himself.)
Schumaker got a month in Spring Training at the Major League level to
make it or break it.
has made it. On Opening Day, we will hear the words: “Leading off for the Cardinals, second
baseman, Skip Schumaker. The beauty of his performance this spring is that
even with all the extra work in the field, he has stayed strong at the plate
batting .301. Sadly, because Spring
Training stats “don’t matter”, I could not find splits to see if he is hitting
lefties better or not.
transition has not been seamless. He has
made errors, and he will make errors. “Average”
in the field and a repeat of last year at the plate is the expectation. Nobody expects Schumaker to win a Gold
Glove. At least, not this year. If he can be an “average” infielder in a
month, I can only imagine what he might be in a year.
Photo Credit: Skip Schumaker preparing for a game against the Astros in 2008 by me.