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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Happy Place

Today, as I sipped coffee and pondered possible blog subjects, I suddenly knew exactly what to share.

Autographs from Whitey Herzon, Warren Spahn,
Adam Wainwright & Kyle Lohse, David Freese
and Colby Rasmus
We in Cardinals Nation are in dire need of a lift, and this weekend my baseball joy was renewed! Clearly not from a spectacular showing by our Redbirds as they continued their downward spiral and a shockingly unwavering ability to lose games to the lowliest of teams, the spirit boost came instead from the simple exercise of redesigning space.

We just completed a lengthy and much anticipated project in my household. And on Sunday I was finally able to put the finishing touches in my new favorite nook.

Most families have it – the place that never quite has a purpose other than “catch-all” - a room or a corner that collects random boxes, papers and clutter.  In our house it was the back bedroom.  Once it was a child’s bedroom, then it morphed into an office of sorts - consisting of a hand-me-down desk and file cabinet surrounded by odds-and-ends, our kids’ never-ending art projects and the dreaded pile of papers without a home.

My dear husband, who is the smartest, handiest but also the busiest guy around took on the task of carpentering a built-in desk, cabinets and a 10-foot-long work surface along the back wall (in his spare time – of which he has none.)  Every piece of clutter and errant paper now has a home and my chaos has been replaced with zen.

This morning I dropped the kids off at school anxiously anticipating the pleasure of returning to the peace and quiet of my new paradise.  Here in my own little corner of the house, in small town USA, far from any Major League venue, I am happy.  Why? Because after hours of framing pictures, preserving keepsakes, and finally pounding nails into walls and arranging the displays, I am surrounded by baseball memories lovingly collected over the past four years of my short love affair with the game.
My Wall of Fame
Including Dad's childhood glove autographed by Warren Spahn, Ed Mathews and Del Crandall

Baseball is a hobby that has forever changed my soul. The glorious sights and sounds of the game. The intrigue of discovering something new about the heralded pastime. The triumphs and tragedies of a long season. The players I have had the opportunity to meet. All these fan experiences have built the foundation for my devotion.  My passion is hardly unique as countless fans for generations have similar emotions about the sport. However, this weekend’s exercise of revisiting the highlights of my own baseball history reminded me that at this point in the season when my team is losing and the fun seems gone, the joy of baseball can survive.

2009 AAA Championship Game
It is a beautiful sight now. My baseball treasures have a new home, moved out from boxes and reunited from their various perches around the house.  My husband is glad to have his bedroom a baseball-free zone again, and a former junk room has been reclaimed in the name of home improvement. With just a glance, I can revisit memories of Spring Training adventures, AAA championship games, autographs and a growing stack of baseball cards that have found their way into my possession. And most importantly, irreplaceable family memories have finally been appropriately protected and preserved.

Spring Training 2010
Adam Wainwright, David Freese
 and Kyle Lohse 
The demands of day-to-day life (and baseball schedules) have the ability to dishearten and discourage. But a trip down memory lane reminded me that the enjoyment of this baseball hobby cannot be ruined by a slump or a bad season.  Baseball is simply bigger than that.

May you too find your ‘happy place’ until our boys regain their footing!

GO CARDINALS!  =)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Colby Rasmus is (not?) JD Drew

I don't want to talk about the team today. I did plenty of that yesterday over at i70baseball, and everything I said then still stands - the team needs to quit playing at the level of their opponent.

Based on the title, you can see I've been bouncing around an idea in my head. It started yesterday morning, when I saw that someone (I apologize that I do not remember who or where) had made a statement to the extent of 'perhaps Colby Rasmus is becoming somewhat of a JD Drew type.' I almost spilled my cereal because I was upset at just the thought of that.

Let me rewind for those of you that need a refresher course: Drew was drafted in the 1st round of the 1997 draft by the Phillies, but did not sign, instead choosing to play in the Northern League for a year (I did not know the whole saga about that - now I do). The Cardinals then drafted Drew again in the first round of the 1998 draft, and he did sign (For those that want to know, yes, his agent is Scott Boras). Drew received an insane bonus of $3 million and major league contract worth $7 million.

Yes, he did appear to be just that good. Drew spent almost no time in the minors and was already in St. Louis for a September cup of coffee by the end of the '98 season. In his rookie year of 1999 he was installed as the center fielder and played in 104 games, putting up a good-but-not-great line of .242/.340/.424. He was projected to be a star. He was supposed to be the next big thing. He had a long way to go.

His 2000 season showed a climb - playing in 135 games and hitting .295/.401/.479, tossing in 18 HR and 57 RBI just for good measure. His next three seasons are where it starts to get painful for me. Drew did not go a full year in St. Louis without landing on the disabled list for one reason or another. Leg, arm, shoulder, whatever... he had it, and it wasn't working the way it was supposed to. Eventually Tony LaRussa quit making excuses and started saying what he really thought. In the book Three Nights in August, Tony is quoted as saying that Drew decided to "settle for 75%" of his talent. Fans turned on Drew, referring to him as 'Nancy Drew,' 'DL Drew' or 'AH (Always Hurt) Drew.' Ouch.

After the 2003 season the Cardinals sent Drew (along with Eli Marrero) packing to Atlanta, in exchange for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and some skinny minor league pitcher named Adam Wainwright (Think the Cards won that deal?). This was the first deal I remember vividly, and I was absolutely excited. Drew is the first player I really just did not like. Support? Yes, I supported him. He wore the birds on the bat. But like Todd Wellemeyer in 2009, I just did not like him. He copped an attitude, was always injured, and just never played up to that star potential, at least not while he was in St. Louis. I spent all of middle school and some of my high school years as well just disliking everything about JD Drew.

I don't want Colby Rasmus to be JD Drew redux.

If it wasn't obvious before yesterday that Colby and LaRussa just do not get along, it is crystal clear now. On his radio show yesterday morning, LaRussa stated that Colby needs to do more than show up - he has to play well. He is streaky, gets homer happy, and sometimes does not play smart baseball. In the same hour TLR made a comparison to Jon Jay, noting that Jay positions himself better in the outfield, takes better routes to the ball, adjusts better to pitchers adjusting to him, and despite Rasmus having better raw talent, Jay is farther along in playing all aspects of the game.

I'm not talking about Jay here, so move past that. Tony is obviously frustrated with Rasmus right now, so much so that after originally listing him in the lineup for yesterday's game, he changed his mind and pulled Colby out, instead shifting Jay over to center, moving Skip Schumaker into right and dropping Aaron Miles in at second. At first when I found out about the switch I had thought it was that Colby was just not quite ready to play yet from his injured calf that has been bothering him for the better part of the last two weeks. It was then passed through Twitter by Matthew Leach and Joe Strauss (among others) that the switch was made because of a manager's decision.

Yikes. That is not a good sign for the young (okay fine, he's the same age as me) center fielder. Now my wheels are spinning. Over the course of two hours, I pondered every possible excuse I could for Colby, then promptly blew holes in every one of them. I didn't want to, but it happened.

  1. Colby spent three+ full years in the minors. For a potential star, that is not too small of a number. If he was that good, three years isn't horrible. However, no college baseball. There's a big jump from high school to the majors. Could a player make that jump in three years? Sure. He obviously did. But LaRussa states over and over again that teaching doesn't happen at the major league level, and Colby seems to still need a bit of training sometimes.
  2. Colby has the skills. His home runs go a long way (I saw his 483' bomb in Kansas City first hand - ridiculously far), he's quick on the bases (yet doesn't steal... WHY?!), he makes some nice catches in the outfield... and he strikes out a lot, has been caught stealing one third of the time, and is currently running in the negatives on zone rating in the outfield.
  3. Colby is a team... okay I can't even finish that one. I don't think he is a team player. I'm starting to feel like he cops an attitude. I understand being frustrated, but after being inserted as a pinch hitter last week after it was made clear by TLR/staff before the game that he was unavailable, Rasmus stated that he didn't know why he was thrust in the game, dropping a lovely, "I just work here," line. The word 'entitlement' was dropped about things like that, and I think I'm starting to agree. Please please PLEASE, do not let me start seeing mentions of Colby faking injuries while trying to get out of the lineup. I don't want that at all.

The opinions are out there. Some argue Colby would be better off with a different manager and consistent playing time. Others think he needs to be sent packing via trade in the offseason. Honestly? Right now I just want him to get healthy and play. He needs to play like he knows how, and do the things he does well. He has yet to arrive in the bigs. His numbers are good-not-great, and he has the potential to be great.

Another thing - Colby, quit waiting for Tony to pat you on the head. It will not happen. Brendan figured it out, and he is finally playing better. Affirmation rocks, but Tony doesn't give it. But whatever happens, please do not turn into another JD Drew.


Thanks to friend of the CDD Bob for bouncing this idea around with me yesterday afternoon. He definitely helped me get the dots connected for this piece. If you haven't read Bob's stuff, head over here to his blog, or look for his premiere post on i70baseball.com tomorrow!
Also, if you want a second opinion on this subject, azruavatar has a different perspective over on Viva El Birdos... link here! Dan Moore also takes a crack at the top five TLR Clubhouse Rifts... not pretty.

Friday, August 27, 2010

There is a time...

I may be the daughter of a preacher, but have never been great at quoting scripture.  I can however point you to the scene from “Footloose” where you can hear Kevin Bacon mention

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:”

My mind is always drifting to baseball. So naturally, my translation would be: there is a time for every emotion during baseball season.  In 2010 we have had time to cheer; time to cry, and (lately) plenty of time to be frustrated.
.

A time to reflect:
I was watching a game this week – well, I watched them all - but there was this one game - when it struck me how different the August Cardinals are from the starting lineup back in April. 

Remember back then?

On April 5th the Cardinals won the first game of the regular season.  They beat the Reds with a final score of 11-6. (The Reds!)  The Cardinals had 12 hits that day, with four homeruns: Albert Pujols hit TWO, Yadier Molina had his first career Grand Slam and Colby Rasmus went yard as well. 


That evening Matthew Leach, writing for MLB.com, compared the Cardinals' performance to the anticlimactic crash of the 2009 postseason effort:

The last time the Cardinals were seen playing games that mattered, they were an offensively futile team. A great deal has changed -- from the stage to the ballpark to the opponent -- since that NLDS. But the Redbirds have changed, too. They're an improved offensive club, one that can be dangerous at all eight everyday lineup spots.”


That was certainly our time to hope.

A time for change:
The faces on the field are different now. Some favorite players are gone for good and some we just haven't seen for a while. (To be honest, this topic gave me a much needed chance to post some pictures of the Cardinal faces I have been missing!  Mtime to be sentimental, I guess.)

Freese, Luddy and Joe --- We miss you terribly!

But looking on the bright side (yes, I have been accused me of overusing that Pollyanna trait lately, but stick with me here!) … there are some wonderful new Cardinal faces we have come to enjoy.  Okay, just another excuse to post pictures of my favorite BabyBirds.
Glad you boys are getting a shot!
The Cardinals still have time to play, time to win and time to rally.  So until that final Cardinal out of the 2010 season, we fans have time to enjoy the game. 


Time To Welcome!
Like the Cardinals, we here at Cardinal Diamond Diaries have added a new face.  Thankfully we didn’t have to trade anyone to a Padres blog group or lose anyone to the Disabled List!

Welcome Jacqueline!!!
We are thrilled to welcome Jacqueline Hadley Conrad to our gals club here at CDD.  Like Angela, Chris and myself, Jacqueline is a devoted fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, and we are looking forward to reading more of her unique charm and humor here on the blog.  In the days ahead, we will get her information added to our "About Us" section and she will be checking in again next week.
  . 
Until then... If you missed the chance to read Jacqueline’s inaugural post yesterday, do not delay one minute longer. Grab a tissue and be prepared – it is a beautiful and touching tribute, steeped in family tradition and Cardinal baseball history.  “Ma mere Tootsie’s Gift”
  

Today the Cardinals are taking on the Washington Nationals again. Game time: 6:05pm CT.
Hopefully it will once again be a time to win!

GO CARDS!  =)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ma mere Tootsie’s Gift



Everything I Know About Baseball I Learned from My Grandmother

Me(Jacqueline)


Walt Whitman once said, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us."

Ma mere, Aunt Jeanna(A Cubbie), Mom
Her name was Francine. Her nickname and the name everyone called her was Tootsie. I think it had something to do with her “spirited” ways. She was my grandmother and to me she was just Ma mere. A kinda French term for grandmother. She was my heroine. She was a third French. In many ways she was totally French except for one huge difference. Sports: swimming, tennis, golf, badminton, croquet and most importantly, baseball were very important to her and thus to me.

Ma mere Tootsie gave me many gifts. She taught me about fashion, entertaining, cooking, gardening, the importance of taking care of your skin (she would not allow me in the sun without this huge Katherine Hepburn “On Golden Pond” straw hat) (hated it then-thanking her now). She instilled in me over and over and over how a proper lady talks, walks, sits and behaves. Ok…so not all of her lessons stuck!

But the most special gift she ever gave me was her love and appreciation for sports and her abiding devotion to the St. Louis Cardinals. She taught me the wonders of this perfect game. The difficulty of standing alone on that mound and pitching. The loneliness of standing in that batter’s box. She taught me the beauty and simplicity of this game of ours. But mostly she taught me to believe in the Church of Bob Gibson. Gibby was her man. The ultimate Cardinal. For my grand pere, it was Musial. For my dad it was Brock. My mom loved Ozzie. But Gibby was untouchable. Gibby was hers.                                      

She taught me in detail how to keep score. And she never went to a game that she didn’t. She kept every scorecard from every game from Busch and Wrigley. Before she died she boxed them up and sent them to The Hall of Fame (of which she was a patron member of the Clubhouse Hall of Fame.) She taught me the importance of knowing and remembering and honoring the history of our game. She and  my grand pere took me to the HOF when I was young. We treated it like a Temple of the Gods. 

After I found out she had sent the HOF all of her scorecards, programs etc. I was apoplectic. I’ll never ever forget what she said, “Jacqueline, YOU have to make your own memories.” And she’s right. But I used to look through them and see names like Musial and Brock, Gibson and Boyer. Medwick and Dean. Schoendienst and Slaughter. Written in her perfect handwriting. In ink. She saved me two-one from Busch and one from Wrigley. I cherish them.

I grew up at a resort in the Lake of the Ozarks. In the summer my brother and I would take the grand tour and stay with various relatives. My grandparents lived in Kirkwood, but my grandfather had a century old farm in Shelby Co. Mo. We would stay in both places. When in the city we would attend games and eat at Stan and Biggies. My first memory of baseball is eating there, drinking a Kiddie Cocktail and then going to Busch II. It is indelible. Busch was huge and the players were so real. The sights, the sounds, the smells. We lost. I didn’t care. It was the 70’s. I can close my eyes and be there. 

Ozzie
When we went to the country, we would all sleep in the long ‘sleeping porch’ upstairs and fall asleep listening to the soundtrack of my life with the Cards, Jack Buck, painting in that indelible way of his, the Cards game that night. Every night. My fondest and most vivid memories of the Cards involve that farm. Lying in bed, listening to the game, as Ma mere Toots would explain what was happening and why. Or what should happen and was not. All the dogs and cats sleeping around us. Every pet Ma mere ever had was named after a Cardinal. Every single one. From Red to Gussie, to Stanman and Dizzy, Brock, and Gibby to Ozzie. No Curt Flood though. She had a hard time forgiving him for the 68 WS.

We had a lot of relatives who lived in Chicago. Every summer we would take the train to visit. We always went when the Cards were there. It was a blast. Truly. Except for Uncle Kremer. He didn’t find it all that thrilling to have diehard Card fans in his house. I just don’t understand it. But that’s another story for another day. I have a hard time hating the Cubs, because I grew up going to the wooden wonder that is Wrigley. Aunts and uncles and cousins would all go. What memories. I don’t hate them. I feel really really bad for them. Okay…I might also feel really really superior. I blame Ma mere Toots.

Ma mere had a few “rules’. One did not talk when certain players were batting. One never ever spoke poorly about the Cards in public and specifically around “the Cubbie relatives”. Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal. Know what’s happening during the game at all times. Know the players names and positions and the all important batting order. One could say “merde” (French term for sh^t) if upset by a Cardinal play or player, but no American profanity allowed. “OH! MERDE!!!” was heard a lot when I grew up in the 70’s.

“Celebrate Good Times, Come On; It’s a Celebration!” I still remember Kool and the Gangs' song that became our WS theme. The 1980’s brought my very first Cardinal World Series. Growing up I heard all about those teams of the 30’s, 40’s and 60’s. So I tried hard to remember every game of that 82 series. How unbearably tense it was at times. All those wonderful moments of triumph. Sharing it with Ma mere Toots and my family just made it more indelible. My whole family was and is Card fans. My father went to every playoff and series game he could and always made sure that Ma mere and I went to as many as possible.

As for 1985, let’s just say “Oh! Merde”

Ma mere Toots had to finally move to a retirement village. I was living in Florida. (My grandparents would always go to Fl. in the winter so they could catch some fish and also catch Cards Spring Training.) I came home from Fl. to visit in the summertime. I would always stay all night with her and we would watch the game or listen to it on the radio, while lying in bed talking and just remembering. One summer I came home as usual. My parents told me Ma mere’s mind wasn’t quite as clear as it used to be. With me, she was perfectly lucid as we dissected the Cards play that summer. We lay in bed, Ma mere still teaching me about life, listening to Jack and the Cards.

Ma mere died nine days after I went home to Fl. Nine days. She had her two sons at her side. The Cards game was on the radio. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Right Down To The Very Last Pitch...

When I got up this morning, I didn’t bother reading any headlines, articles or blogs about the Cardinals because I already knew what they would say.  It is what the weary beat writers and naysayers spout every morning after a loss and I am just plain tired of  the complaining about how the Cardinals can’t hit or the managers can’t manage or how our postseason chances are slipping away.

I may be one of the few Cardinal fans who will say this today, but I actually enjoyed yesterday’s game. Sure, the final score was crummy, but right down to the very last pitch, I knew we had a chance.  And the game was full of moments that made me smile.  Albert may not have hit his 400th homerun, but he had a 3-hit night.  Matt Holliday sent one flying out of the park in the first inning. Jon Jay may have only gotten one hit, but I love that he tears out of the batters box and down the line to 1st base trying to beat the throw on an easy infield hit.  Even Yadier Molina and his catcher’s knees had some extra energy as he ran the bases.  And of course there is Adam Wainwright and the way his determined piercing eyes give him an entirely different (scary) demeanor on a night he’s pitching.

In the 9th inning when the boys came off the bench and sparked a rally, I thought “we are going to WIN this one!” Skip Schumaker, Randy Winn and Aaron Miles all made things happen.  Then Jon Jay’s RBI brought the Cardinals back within one run of tying the game. Even as Felipe Lopez stood in, switch-hitting at the plate with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the final countdown, I was glued to the television, firmly believing I would be witnessing a come-from-behind Cardinal victory.

But the victory celebration would have to wait.  The Redbirds lost and that’s the way it goes sometimes.  The Cardinals record will show an L for the August 24th game against the Pirates, but that loss certainly does not tell the big picture for me.

If you haven’t figured out by now, I love baseball.  Warning: I am one of those fans who will occasionally cheer for the opposing team – not by mistake because I’m not paying attention, but because the hit or the play was just too good not to applaud.

So, even after a Cardinals loss like last night, I can smile because I saw some wonderful baseball.  Sure the wins and losses matter – they matter A LOT – but this is the game of baseball.  Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.  Anything can happen and that is why they play 9 innings and why teams like the Pirates and the Cubs and the Brewer even bother to take the field.  And that is why each game has the potential to provide countless individual moments of baseball magic that keep us coming back for more, that give every fan hope and that make us believe our team can still win… right down to the very last pitch.

The boys are back at it again for the last game of the series against the Pirates tonight at 6:05 PM! Albert will hit that 400th homerun and the Cardinals will win - I just know it!  ;)

FYI:  Today you can catch my article "What Is It About Aaron Miles?!" over at i70baseball.com.  Love him or hate him, Miles is certainly an interesting Cardinal issue.  Here's the link - and thanks for reading!  

GO CARDS!!  =)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gooooooing UP!

I kind of have a thing for roller coasters. Upside down, spinning in circles, and ridiculous drops... I love going to amusement parks just to ride the roller coasters.


I'll be honest. I've been on the same roller coaster for the past  5 months, and I think I'm getting ready to get off. I've been up, I've been down, and I think I was upside down for the better part of a few weeks. I haven't lost my lunch, but I thought about it for awhile.


However, I am a roller coaster junkie... and right now, I'm feeling that upward trend again. Yes, a 3-5 homestand is embarrassing, especially since we were playing 5 of those games against the Cubs and Brewers, who should have been a doormat waiting for the Cards happy cleats to run right over. But! Winning the last two games against the Giants and last night's game against the Pirates in rather dominating fashion has me looking up at the sky again, wondering how far I'll see the team climb this time. Is this the hill that pushes the team over the top? Am I being tricked again, raising my hopes and then watching them go down, down, down in a death spiral, then returning me to the start, forcing me to immediately get off and get back in the long line (unaffectionately called 'winter') until the Spring Training gates open and I can get back on for another go around?


Another plummet would be sickening, even for this roller coaster fan. That doesn't mean I'm giving up hope. Why? For that answer you have to go over to my post on i70baseball


I know, what a tease. :) Game time is 6:05 again tonight. Don't be like me last night and forget about that east coast start time!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jaime Garcia's Greatest Day

Chris Lee/STLToday.com
After being the hard-luck loser against the Brewers last Tuesday, Jaime Garcia deserved a better fate when he started yesterday. He definitely got it, as he went out pitched the best game of his young career. Jaime was masterful, throwing an 89-pitch, three-hit complete game shutout. The standing ovation he received from the Busch Stadium crowd when he came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning was goose-bump inducing, even watching on television. “I think this is the greatest day of my baseball career,” he said after the game.

Thankfully, the Cardinals offense provided more than enough support for Jaime to win. The Cards' bats came alive against Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito on Saturday and Sunday, as the Cardinals scored 14 runs in the two games to win a series for the first time since sweeping the Reds nearly two weeks ago. The contributions came from everyone, veterans and rookies alike – as well as from the newest Cardinal, Pedro Feliz. After the instant negativity at his acquisition, he had two hits in each of his first three games plus drove in two runs and scored three. He’s also, as expected, played well defensively at third base.

Yes, once again the Cardinals 2010 rollercoaster is on the upswing. With six more weeks left, anything really can happen in the NL Central race between the Cards and the Reds. But yesterday was all about Jaime. Going into the game, he was only 1-2 with a 4.41 ERA for the month of August (including that not-so-memorable start on Diamond Diaries night Aug. 3 when the Cards lost 18-4). Jaime’s numbers for the second half of the season were perfectly fine, 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA, but not quite on the same pace as the first half when he was 8-4 with a 2.17 ERA. He’s been given extra rest this month, with a week between each of his previous August starts, as the innings have piled up in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, and his total innings pitched will likely continue to be monitored. Yesterday everything paid off, as he proved just how talented he is.

I will admit to not realizing Jaime’s efficiency yesterday until seeing a couple of tweets after the fifth inning saying that he’d only thrown 50 pitches. Of course I’d noticed he’d been doing well and hadn’t allowed anything beyond Pat Burrell’s two singles, but was focused more on the offense as the Cards scored in the third, fourth and fifth innings (including Jaime’s base hit and his going from first base to third on Brendan Ryan’s single). From then, each inning became a joy to watch as he retired Giant after Giant. Before yesterday, Jaime’s longest outing had been seven innings – something he’d done five times this season, and not since July 21 – so it was exciting to see him move through the eighth so quickly. Then came the top of the ninth. How appropriate that the first two outs were right to him, although it was a bit disappointing that Nick Schierholtz singled. But in the end, of course it didn’t matter, and Jaime finished the game in 89 total pitches.

He’s now 11-6 for the season, with an ERA of 2.42 (sixth best in the National League). His name continues to be rightfully mentioned in the NL Rookie of the Year race. Jaime continues to anchor his third of the Cardinals Big Three starters along with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. And all three continue to dominate, as the team is 50-27 in games they’ve started (and 17-27 otherwise).

Jaime's masterpiece yesterday is definitely something to be savored, a game to watch again and appreciate all the more – most definitely his greatest game, and day, to date. Here's to many more career highlights like that in his future.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Back-to-School Success

Kids everywhere are heading back to school, and unless you are a student, a parent, or (like me) a teacher, you don't really care, unless your morning commute is suddenly crowded with big yellow school buses. People everywhere are wondering where their summers went, why the sun is suddenly setting much earlier than it had been, and whether those 100 degree days are really behind us or if another major heat wave is still waiting to sneak up on us in the end of the month.


For the Cardinals, maybe they need a little back to school kick in the pants to remember all the things they need to keep doing (or start doing again) in order to be successful in life, October, and in the eyes of their fans. Let's brainstorm, shall we?


Starting at the top, the team needs to trust their leaders. From John Mozeliak to Tony LaRussa to Dave Duncan, the team has some pretty stellar leaders. Critics claim that the Cardinals don't really have a high standard set for teaching their 'pupils' for success. I point over to Cardinals GM, who wrote a post awhile back about how the Cardinals as a whole fail to teach their players the fundamentals (Click over and scroll down a bit to the post labeled 'Teaching' to see more). However, Tony and company have stated that the big leagues is not a place to 'teach,' so I hope the plan is to at least lead, or else we're all in trouble.


If a student would ever walk into  my classroom
with one of these... automatic A.
Is mid-to-late August too late to get back to basics? Most likely yes, but that's where the team is right now. It has felt like this all year - the team has not been putting everything together all at once. It felt like it a couple of times (see here and here if you need some reminders), but then things fell apart again. The start to any good school year has to include some review of the basics, so here are a few things the boys need to pack into their backpacks for the stretch run:

  • Bats. Bats have to be number one on the supply list. Why? Because more often than not this year, when there have been problems, missing bats seem to be one of the culprits. Sometimes it feels like the big bats have fallen silent, since 'the Machine' has had a 'down for maintenance' sign hanging on his locker a few times this year and other big bats like Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick have had slow starts, injuries, or (*sniff*) been traded. On the flip side, the big bats can't do all the heavy lifting, and having the bottom 3-4 players in a lineup all have 0-for-the-game in the same evening doesn't help either. 
  • Gloves. Some of the boys are pretty good about remembering to bring their glove to the game, but a few of them need a sticky note on their keys with a reminder from day to day. It doesn't matter who is in the lineup and running around the diamond - they need to remember that Dave Duncan likes groundballs, and pitchers who get them frequently. No glove? No play (I made that point over at Baseball Digest a few weeks ago). There's a reason that Johnny Mo and the team picked up Pedro Feliz yesterday... at least, I think there is. It's not for his bat, so it must be for his glove. I honestly don't care who they picked up, as long as it gives the horrendously slumping Felipe Lopez a breather, and will allow him to play again in a middle infield position, where he is both more comfortable and more capable of having solid play with the glove. Okay, lies, I do care. Inserting another .220 hitter into the lineup is obviously not great (sorry Brendan), and really, WHY do we keep upgrading other things at the expense of the lineup (see trade, Ryan Ludwick)?
  • Brains. Mental lapses on the basepaths have been absolutely brutal this year. I would add more here, but it's painful. Boys, bring your brain. Turn it on. We're begging you.
  • Arms. A note from the teacher to the pitchers: 
Boys, thanks for all your stellar work this year. Yes, especially you, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and a good chunk of the bullpen. You have battled and gave the rest of the team a chance to win much more often than not. Please accept these gold stars as a token of my love (teachers don't make enough money for anything better). 
Now, the rest of the 'arms'... Yadi's arm most definitely made it into the ballpark every day, but like all those homework assignments eaten by all those dogs, excuses are not going to cut it come the stretch run as to why you missed the cut-off man, the plate, or Albert's waiting glove. 
I wouldn't put my children on this bus.
I don't care how smart she is!
If only the boys had a Ms. Frizzle to do her thing and make everyone play better. Actually, no, she kind of creeps me out a little. But if the Cards are looking for a teacher, all they have to do is match my pittance of a salary and I'll be there tomorrow (and trust me, I make way less than every rookie in the bigs)!


I'm tired of losing. How about we beat up some Giants over the weekend and make a climb back into this division race, okay?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Who are the 2010 Cardinals, really?

Chris Lee/STLToday.com
Here we are again. Another off day, two more losses tacked onto the latest losing streak (which is tied for the longest of the season), now trailing the Reds by three games in the NL Central (tied for this year’s biggest deficit), the Giants (who took two of three from the Cards out in San Francisco in late April) headed to town to conclude what’s been a rotten home stand for a team that had a great home record ... 

The Cardinals are 7-7 for August, which seems appropriate: mediocre once again. In this latest losing streak, it’s the offense that’s (once again) the source of the dive, particularly against the Brewers. This is after the team scored four or more runs every day from July 31 until the streak started last Saturday, Aug. 14.

With the exception of Albert (who had at least one hit in each game), the numbers over the last four games for the rest of the team look expectedly anemic given the game results. Matt Holliday was 2 for 15, Yadi was 1 for 13, Felipe Lopez and Jon Jay were each 2 for 13, Allen Craig was 1 for 11. The team struck out 26 times, with six for Jay alone. Each of the Big Three starters had a loss, with each having a quality start. Jaime’s loss was particularly painful, since he allowed no earned runs in his six innings Tuesday night. Yesterday was Adam Wainwright's first loss at home this year.

Yet this all seems familiar, right? Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra famously said. Maybe instead of inconsistency being the defining trait of this team, it’s underachievement. This is a team with five All-Stars, a team picked to run away with the NL Central. And at times, obviously, they do play like that team. They have won 65 games and are still 12 games over .500. The pitching overall is still number three in the majors in ERA, and the Big Three are in the NL top eight in ERA (with Wainwright still first with 2.06). Albert is leading the league in RBI with 87, tied for first in homers with 31 and fourth in batting average at .314. But there are the Reds, playing the way they are. The “last 10 games” column in the standings is one I always look at. Currently the Reds are 7-3, the Cardinals 5-5.

Driving home last night, thinking about what to write, the song “I’ve Seen Better Days” by Citizen King came on the radio. Seemed appropriate. Then, listening to the chorus, I wondered if it was fitting for this latest streak or a sign of things to come: “I’ve seen better days – and the bottom drops out.”

There are six-and-a-half weeks left, so plenty of time for things to happen. A Twins fan friend reminded me yesterday that last year her team was seven games out in early September and still made the playoffs. Anything truly can happen. And I’ll guess we’ll see what the legacy of the 2010 team will be – one that lives up to its pre-season predictions and five All-Stars potential, or one that has the bottom drop out and fades away.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jinxing Jay and Operation Jack

Yesterday I was bragging on darling Jon Jay (you can see the lovefest here) and he responded with an 0-for-4 night, striking out 3 times.  Today, I am avoiding any potential jinx by switching gears and bringing you a public service announcement instead.  Well.... a public service that gets you a face-to-face with some Cardinal ballplayers!  WIN!!

I know where you can find starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and Cardinal cutie Skip Schumaker on Saturday October 2nd!  =)

Do not miss this great opportunity to meet some of our St. Louis Cardinals, snag some autographs and help a great cause.  The event is to support Operation Jack, a charity to raise money for autism.  Our Twitter friend Scott, who is also a big Cardinals fan and writes for the wonderful Cardinals/Royals baseball website i70baseball.com, has helped coordinate this event.




If you would like more information, please visit the Operation Jack website at www.operationjack.org
or to find out more information about the autograph event, click here

Thanks for reading, spread the word and buy some tickets to meet Waino and Skippy!

And GO CARDS!!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jon Jay - Rookie Luck or Here to Stay?

Welcome to your Tuesday Baseball Fans!


Warning! Slow baseball week ahead!

TWO Cardinal off-days (Monday and Thursday)  plus a day game on Wednesday will leave a lot of evenings to fill with something other than Cardinals games.  Last night I caught the Padres/Cubs game on WGN and watched our old pal Ryan Ludwick in San Diego blue as the Padres beat the Cubs (something the Cardinals should have been able to do in their last two games).

While I will always cherish the fond memories I have of Luddy wearing the Birds on the Bat and patrolling right field for the Cardinals, there is this new fella that has helped ease my heartache.  Jon Jay has stepped up and become the new darling of the Cardinal rookies.  *Sorry Freese... absence is not making my heart grow fonder! ;)*

Today I profile Jon Jay at BaseballDigest.com.
You can find it here.

Give it a read and let me know your thoughts/opinions.  Has Jay peaked as a rookie already or will the baseball magic continue?

Cardinals vs Brewers (2 game stand at Busch Stadium starts tonight at 7:15pm)
GO CARDS!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ugh

J.B. Forbes/STLToday.com
Well, that wasn’t what any Cardinals fan hoped to see this weekend.

Of course there are no absolutes in baseball, but there are definitely a few certainties about the 2010 Cards: Adam Wainwright will pitch extremely well. Albert will be Albert. Yadi will throw out any baserunner foolish enough to try to steal second. And the team will remain consistently inconsistent.

After the emotional sweep of the Reds and gaining a one-game lead in the NL Central, of course expectations were high for this weekend’s series against the Cubs. Friday’s game lived up to our hopes: Jake Westbrook finally received his first Cardinals win, Albert Pujols hit his 29th home run of the year in the first inning, and Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina continued hitting and driving in runs like they did in Cincinnati. Ryan Franklin even had a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 21st save as the Cards won 6-3.

Going into Saturday’s game, it seemed like things should keep rolling along with Chris Carpenter starting. But then things started to look eerily familiar to all those not-so-pleasant games this season. Carp allowed three runs in the first three innings (although he did settle in after that), although it was the lack of timely hitting – and especially the inability to bunt – that cost the Cards the game in the end.

Then there was yesterday. Realistically, it was difficult to know what to expect from Kyle Lohse. Our friend Bob had a great pre-game piece on his Throatwarbler’s Blog that detailed all Kyle has been through in the last year-plus, since he was hit on the forearm by a Ron Mahay pitch in May 2009. Unfortunately, Lohse had a terrible day and allowed seven earned runs as he pitched into the fourth inning. If the bullpen had been able to keep the Cubs scoreless the rest of the game, things would have been better and the Cards could have actually won. However, both Mike MacDougal and Dennys Reyes allowed a run each. The Cardinals did stage a valiant comeback attempt in the bottom of the ninth, scoring five runs, but it wasn’t quite enough.

So the team that got swept by the Reds last weekend beat the team that just swept the Reds this week, winning two out of three games. The Reds also had another sweep this weekend, beating the Marlins, and now find themselves back on top in the Central by a game. And the frustration is back among Cardinals fans again, that’s for sure. While there are definitely bright spots when you look at the team’s record since the All-Star break, it’s the ups and downs that stand out more than anything. Of course, no team is going to win every game and even great teams are going to lose around 60 games a season. But it’s the now season-long inconsistency that stands out as the hallmark of the 2010 Cardinals.

It’s difficult to know what to expect from this team during the next seven weeks. The optimist in me can easily see them winning the division. With the starting pitching of Carpenter, Wainwright and Jaime Garcia – plus Westbrook – they could do very well in the playoffs also. But then there’s the internal pessimist. I can just as easily see the Cardinals not winning the division, nor the wild card either. September has not been their most productive month in recent years. And look at what happened last year when they did win the division, with Carpenter and Wainwright as Cy Young-worthy starters.

Time will tell us what the 2010 Cardinals really are. And, unfortunately, we have an off day to dwell on what should have been instead of what was throughout the weekend.

Sunday’s Highlights

Congratulations to:
  • Albert, who hit his 30th home run of the season in the first inning yesterday. With the blast, he now has hit at least 30 homers in each of his first 10 seasons in the majors. He currently has 396 homers, the most ever by a player in his first 10 seasons.
J.B. Forbes/STLToday.com
  • Steven Hill on hitting his first major league home run to start the Cards’ rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. Steven was on what today are the Quad Cities River Bandits in 2007, when they were the Swing of the Quad Cities. He wasn’t the only former Quad Cities player getting that rally going, as Nick Stavinoha (2005) and Aaron Miles (1997/1998, when they were an Astros farm team) followed Hill by getting base hits. Jon Jay (2006) received a bases-loaded walk a bit later to score Stavinoha. (Personally, it’s nice to see some of the guys I remember seeing in the Quad Cities make contributions to the big league team. At this level, most of the guys I see year after year never make it to the majors.)
More on Rivalries

Obviously the Cardinals' rivalry with the Reds has intensified this season. Read more in Angela post "A Reflection on Rivalries" at i70baseball.com here.  

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Basebrawl: Boys Being Boys

    Wow.  First, I cannot believe how long it has been since I’ve blogged here.  My last post was in July?!  A lot has happened – including our week-long blog hiatus while we Diamond Diaries gals met up in St. Louis to watch our boys plays some ball.  Fun trip.  Absolutely amazing!  I finally met Angela and Chris in person -plus a few other great Cardinals fans we knew from our Twitter baseball watch parties.  The trip was wonderful even if the Cardinals gave up two games to the Astros and the devastating news broke that our hop-a-long hotcorner David Freese would have season-ending surgery to rebuild his ankle.   But enough about that….



    Yesterday we learned the penalties imposed on the players and managers for their actions during the mayhem that erupted during the 1st inning of Tuesday night’s game between the Cardinals and the Reds. (Chris disected the basebrawl details in yesterday’s Diamond Diaries post. and Viva El Birdos has broken the entire fight down into an amazing must-see video and picture sequence here.)



    MLB’s disciplinary actions targeted 5 players and both team managers:
    Johnny Cueto, Reds pitcher – 7 game suspension plus fines
    Managers Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker – 2 game suspensions each
    Cincinnati players Russ Springer and Brandon Phillips - fines
    Cardinal players Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina - fines


    With one glaring exception, I found the penalties acceptable.  MLB made a point with the managers, and 4 of the 5 players did not deserve anything worse. Johnny Cueto was the only player in the melee who went berserk - violently kicking Chris Carpenter in the back and Jason LaRue in the head and ribs with his spikes, leaving Jason with a mild concussion and stitches in his lip.  Cueto’s actions were reprehensible and thankfully LaRue was not more seriously injured.  In my opinion, this was where MLB dropped the ball.  Cueto’s repeated thrashing of his spikes at the heads and bodies of players posed such risk to every player in that mobbed backstop that I believe he should be jailed for assault.

    Baseball fights are definitely their own creature, much as baseball has its own personality.  The fact that baseball’s unwritten rules extend to benches-clearing, emotion-driven pushing-and-shoving matches leaves me smiling at this sport I have fallen in love with.

    Sure, these grown men got all riled up and acted like a bunch of gorillas, but (with the exception of Johnny Cueto) they were civilized gorillas. 

    Not a fan of fights, I do not enjoy hockey. Ultimate Fighting makes me sick and boxing horrifies me.  But Tuesday’s brawl between the Cardinals and the Reds was different - mostly because baseball fights, while full of bravado, are rarely violent, but also because I understood and appreciated the underlying emotions behind the furor.  Reds 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips rudely and intentionally insulted the entire core of the Cardinal organization and catcher Yadier Molina took exception to Phillips’ attempt to gloss over his comments. 

    Don’t run on Yadi and don’t insult his baseball family. 

    Sure, Molina could have let it go.  He could have just ignored Phillips and excused him as the publicity-seeking big mouth that he is.  Instead, Yadi took a stand, and with that confrontation (punctuated by a heroic retaliatory homerun in the next inning) Yadi ignited what will in all likelihood be the turning point for the 2010 Cardinals.

    These Cardinals have been hungering for a unifying moment to ignite the type of fire that drives a talented team forward, and this sweep of the Reds - in the midst of the Phillips’ comment controversy- did just that.

    The Cardinals won much more than a sweep in this past series against the Reds.  Their bond as a team is now iron-clad.  Conversely, the Reds lost more than just these 3 games and 1st place in the NL Central.  Cincinnati may now be playing as a team divided.  With proud former Cardinals Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds in Reds’ uniforms, Brandon Phillips’ comments make him an unpopular teammate, and Johnny Cueto’s conduct was a disgrace.   

    Could we have just witnessed the downfall of the 2010 Reds? Time will tell. But the Reds will only have themselves to blame for sinking that ship.

    Today the Cardinals take on long-time rival Chicago Cubs with the Cubs seeming much more like that pesky neighbor kid that wastes your time than a bitter adversary. Tony LaRussa serves his two-game suspension at the start of this Cardinals-Cubs series, and our Cardinals have some well-earned momentum. 

    So, Let’s Play Ball!    …  and play nice.  =)




    And if you happen to be looking for more baseball reading, I wrote a story for i70baseball earlier this week about Surviving August Baseball.  You can check it out here.

      

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Two Nights and An Afternoon in August

    Talk about making a statement.

    In sweeping the Reds, the Cardinals provided the heroics and dominated the villainous antics of the Reds to take a one-game lead in the NL Central. The series featured a familiar cast for anyone who’s read Buzz Bissinger’s classic “Three Nights in August”: Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Yet the drama and intrigue provided during these two nights and an afternoon went far beyond anything that happened during that pivotal August 2003 Cubs-Cardinals series.

    Of course the main antagonist is well known by now: Brandon Phillips. The desperate-for-attention statements he made Monday provided him with the media attention he apparently craved, but also united the Cardinals as a team in a way we haven’t seen all season. Yes, the Cards have played with spark and energy at times – such as in April and during July’s eight-game winning streak – but these three games were different and more intense, particularly when they discovered what Phillips had said about them.

    Yet even before the Cards knew how they’d been disparaged, they were on a mission during Monday night’s game when the combination of scoring seven runs in the fourth inning and Chris Carpenter’s pitching brought them victory.

    Tuesday night, Yadier Molina played like a true Cardinal: standing up to Phillips’ shallow attempt to play nice after his words were blasted everywhere, and then hitting his most memorable home run since game seven of the 2006 NLCS. (The fact that Reds fans booed him the rest of the series, just like Mets fans still boo him today, proves how monumental the homer really was.) Jaime Garcia was able to rise above the literal fray that happened as he was ready to pitch and provided a solid performance that led the Cardinals into a tie for first place.

    Yesterday the Cardinals completed their statement to the Reds and moved to a season-high 15 games over .500, thanks especially to birthday boy Colby Rasmus and Adam Wainwright. Waino further enhanced his Cy Young qualifications, moving into a tie with Ubaldo Jimenez for the league lead in wins with 17 and lowering his ERA to 1.99 (just above current leader Josh Johnson’s 1.97). His numbers for this month are astounding: three wins, one earned run allowed in 23 innings pitched for a minuscule ERA of 0.39, one complete game shutout (and he was certainly on track for another yesterday until the rain came). And those are only through Aug. 11!

    His numbers weren’t the only impressive ones of the sweep. Matt Holliday hit .636 (7 for 11) during the three games and had four RBI. Including his Monday grand slam, Skip Schumaker hit .455 and had five RBI. Colby drove in six runs during the series. Yadi hit .417 for the three games, plus had a stolen base on Tuesday in addition to his homer. Jon Jay hit .385. Albert only hit .274, but his four walks definitely had an impact (particularly the intentional ones). Pitching-wise, the bullpen bounced back from last week’s struggles and turned in admirable performances. Fernando Salas especially deserves mention for his 1.2 innings pitched Tuesday night.

    It was, by far, the series of the season.

    Now, after a 4-1 road trip, the Cardinals return home and enjoy a day off today. Fittingly, after such an impressive sweep, they take on the Cubs this weekend for one night and two afternoons in August. (How can this really be the Cubs first time in St. Louis this season?) With Chicago currently in fifth place, the action won’t necessarily be as important as that August 2003 series – but it is still the Cubs vs. Cardinals, after all. And that always means something.



    Now for a few chick comments …

    Thanks to Twitter, Erika and I discovered we are not alone in our fascination with the now clean-cut Jason LaRue. His pre-game interview on Fox Sports Midwest to discuss his battle wounds from Johnny Cueto’s unbelievable form of fighting drew plenty of complimentary tweets yesterday morning. (There’s something rugged about seeing those stitches on his lip too, right? In addition to that scruff ...) Hopefully Jason will be healed up very soon and, more importantly, hopefully Cueto gets the punishment from MLB that he definitely deserves. If you didn’t have the chance to see Jason's interview, it’s available here.

    In addition, the dugout shots of Jason and his fellow wounded warrior Chris Carpenter sitting side by side Tuesday night were great. When Dan McLaughlin mentioned that the two had just been shown on the kiss-cam at Great American Ballpark and Carp obliged by kissing his pal on the cheek, my immediate reaction on Twitter was where’s the footage of that? My sentiments were not unique, I was happy to find out, although we unfortunately never did see video or a photo of the moment. And I wonder how the camera operator in Cincinnati felt following the kiss? My guess is that person purposely chose Carp in hopes of getting some negative reaction from our fiery ace. So way to go, Chris, for smooching your buddy and showing your softer side to the Reds crowd. Your intensity not surprisingly returned when you were discussing the fight following the game (you can see his reaction on the Fox Midwest link also), and we once again saw the literal and figurative hot Carp who we love.






    Photos: top, Gary Landers, Cincinnati Enquirer; bottom, New York Post

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