What a year 2011 was! Many of my favorite moments came at the end of the year, thanks to you and the boys pulling off the unlikeliest of World Series wins.
But, one of my most favorite moments was all you — your celebration after Allen Craig caught the final out in the left field corner, as everyone was charging toward the pitchers mound. You dropped to your knees in a moment of private joy, then jumped around the infield with your teammates. Your relatively new teammates, at that.
It was pure joy, utter relief, with a hint of disbelief. It was perfect.
When you were traded to the Cardinals from the Dodgers in late July, things weren’t pretty. It got even worse as August wore on. But, you made your presence known, despite spending much of the first half injured.
Let’s face it, the defense in St. Louis had been less-than-spectacular all year. Add to that the number of GIDPs for the Redbirds, and we were all ready for a little infield magic. That’s where you came in. Suddenly, the Birds on the Bat were represented among Sports Center’s top plays, and with good reason.
We watched you chase down awkward pop ups, dive and throw to first, and jump start a boatload of defensive double plays! I won’t lie, it was fun to see quickness, intensity and athleticism along with undeniable likability at the shortstop position.
But, it wasn’t just about those defensive moments. Sure, you may not have put up the gaudy numbers of a power hitter. You did, though, play healthy. And health = power … at least sometimes.
We got a taste of it with this three-run shot against the Brewers on Aug. 3.
That was fun, right? Let’s try it again. This time, in the first inning. This time, off of Milwaukee’s Gallardo. And this time, I was there in person.
Thanks. That was fun too. So much fun, in fact, that we’d see it again before long! First inning blast, take two.
Cardinals fans looked forward to adding your speed to the running game too. Now, that “running game” was almost non-existent most of the time. But, that didn’t keep you from snagging a few bases, including the 300th of your career. That’s a nice stat to mark your first in the Cardinals record books!
Really, though, your charisma shined brightest as the team jetted off on its unexpected winning streak. No, not just that coming-from-10-back-to-make-the-postseason run. The one that involved “getaway days” and a certain, ever-cheery chant.
“Happy flight! Happy flight!”
Not much made me happier than seeing video highlights from the clubhouse after a game and awaiting the chants to start. For so long, we could all rest easy on travel days, because you just didn’t lose when a happy flight was on the line!
No, your postseason wasn’t quite what you had hoped, by the numbers at least. But the team you chose to play for picked it up, and made every last inning matter. You got your World Series championship. And it was oh-so-fun to watch.
You won me over with energy, heart and agility, and I couldn’t be happier to have you back on board for next year.
With Spring Training just around the corner (albeit a large corner!), welcome back, best of luck, and of course, happy flight!
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.