Today provides the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for me: the first workout by Cardinals pitchers and catchers. Yes, of course, there are 25 guys on a roster and not just 12 pitchers (or 13, depending on Tony La Russa’s latest strategy), but those 12 (or 13) guys hold a special place in my heart.
A pitcher is in control of the action when he’s out there. He has his own stage on which to perform, slightly elevated from the field occupied by the rest of his team. Nothing happens until he decides it’s time and throws a pitch. He’s that powerful, that crucial to the flow of a game.
(Even this site’s name is an ode to pitching prowess.)
It was Mark McGwire who first made me contemplate becoming a Cardinals fan back in 1999, when I was becoming disillusioned with the Cubs after my honeymoon return to following them in 1998. Yet it was Rick Ankiel who charmed me, even at Wrigley Field late in the 1999 season during a Cardinals-Cubs game. Those striped socks, that powerful left arm … he sucked me right in.
Although there was no way to know at the time, I even got an early glimpse of Rick’s hitting abilities during the second game of the 2000 season. It was again Cubs-Cardinals, but this time at Busch Stadium. I was captivated just by the atmosphere in St. Louis. The fans around me were so different, more serious and focused on the game than those I’d been around at Wrigley the year before. Plus the game was almost a laugher. The Cards were up 8-3 (thanks in part to Jim Edmonds’ first Cards hit, a homer) when Rick stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. He was pitching in relief that day, a quick couple of innings to get some work in before his first start. And, to the delight of the crowd and of me, he launched a long fly ball to right center. He raced around the bases, winding up at third with a triple. I instantly fell in love.
And stayed in love, through the struggles (I was there for his final start in 2001, part of the crowd standing and applauding in hopes that somehow it would help him throw a strike) and triumphs (crying when he won a game again in 2004, bawling like crazy when he hit the homer in his Cards outfield debut in 2007). I even saw his minor league outfield debut, since it was conveniently in the Quad Cities.
But after Rick was sent to the minors in 2001, I needed a new favorite Cardinal who I could watch regularly. Matt Morris took on that role, although I certainly liked Darryl Kile a lot too. Which means, of course, many tears were shed during the summer and fall of 2002.
In 2004, again at Busch Stadium, I saw Chris Carpenter in the dugout … and realized that he looks much better in person than he does on television. (Not that he ever looked bad on TV.) So, once Matty Mo left as a free agent, my new favorite Cardinal was right there waiting. And he’s remained so, as I’ve admired his determination and tenacity through his own injuries and reveled in his success. Sometimes I’ll even rewind the DVR to see a curve ball again … and again. The first game I finally saw him pitch in person, on Labor Day 2009, he threw a 99-pitch complete game shut-out. (See? He likes me too.) As with any relationship, it’s not all been pretty (like those temper tantrums last season), but he’s still my guy. And this is despite my aversion to tattoos. Luckily, most of the time they are covered so I can just pretend they don’t exist.
So, yes, Chris Carpenter starting his 2011 season today, along with Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia and Ryan Franklin and Trever Miller and Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs and Kyle Lohse and his new tattoo and all the rest — I’m not forgetting Yadi, don’t worry — is the best Valentine’s gift I can ask for this year. The winter has been long, cold and snowy and I’ve waited for this day to arrive. Yesterday was good, with all the pitchers and catchers reporting, but today’s when it really starts. Everything is positive and hopeful (at least when you ignore Albertageddon), the sun will surely be shining in Jupiter this morning and I’ll be anxiously awaiting reports from today’s workout.
Baseball is back, with my pitchers taking the field. and it’s about time. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or e-mail email@example.com.