Robert Stock’s story has picked up some steam as the year wears on. His is a story with plenty of twists and turns, but none as significant — or shocking — as the one that came this spring.
We’ve all read by now about Stock’s unexpected meeting with manager Mike Matheny and members of the coaching staff that took place well into spring training earlier this year. In that meeting, Matheny told the progressing catcher that the organization believed his strength were greatest not behind the plate, but rather on the mound; he was better suited to pitch than to catch.
Stock hadn’t pitched since his college days at USC (where he did a fine job of it, along with regular catching duties), but the organization had come to a consensus that his best shot at making the big league roster was as a pitcher, not a catcher.
Thus, the transition began.
Earlier in May, I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert and talk baseball, both growing up and now as a member of the Quad Cities River Bandits squad.
You can see the first portion of that interview here:
If it isn’t obvious, he really enjoys this whole baseball gig! And, he has a pretty good handle on the way Cardinal baseball works — even the “little guys” can be great! (Just ask his teammates and the founding members of the LGC.)
I’m also quite interested in this Mark Twain book he told me about. Somehow I get the feeling that the self-proclaimed “nerd” would be able to offer an impressive list of reading suggestions!
But I digress.
Later, I caught up with Robert again to talk details about his life in the minors and his jump to the pitcher’s mound.
A typical day consists of breakfast (eggs, if you’re curious), relaxing with the guys (most of them live in the same apartment complex), then heading off for a bit of weight training before arriving at Modern Woodmen Park. There, he’ll tackle the typical warmup routines — sprints, conditioning, playing catch, and shagging batting practice.
Come game time, though, life is a little different these days.
“Well, right off the bat, the first difference is, I’m a relief pitcher. So, instead of being ready at 7 — you know, you should be — but, most of the time you’re going to be coming into the game at 8:30-9 or something like that,” Stock said. “So, maybe some of the guys have an energy drink or something that they’ll consume in the third or fourth inning, so by the time it gets to the end of the game, they’re ready to get out there.”
Now, the catcher-to-pitcher conversion story should sound familiar to Cardinal fans, especially after the 2011 season. Though not officially declared the closer until after the World Series was over, Jason Motte’s success fast became a storyline in that storybook postseason. I’d say the guy who pitched the last out of one of the greatest World Series wins of all time might provide a hint of inspiration … wouldn’t you?
“I haven’t actually got to talk to him since I’ve been changed,” Stock said of Motte, though he had spoken to the Cardinal flamethrower before. “But regardless, I feel like just knowing he’s done it can’t hurt and it only helps me on my path.”
He also reminded me that David Carpenter — who is now pitching for the Astros — started out as a catcher in the Cardinals organization and made the move to the rubber in 2008. Stock actually caught Carpenter for a few games when the two were both in the Quad Cities a few years back.
Needless to say, there’s no shortage of proof that the transition can be made successfully. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s an easy road to travel. Back on the mound after three years away means the command and consistency aren’t quite where they’ll need to be. But, at this stage of the game, it’s not the results that matter.
“For me, personally, right now, the biggest challenge is, because I haven’t been doing it for very long, that even though the results might not be there, I’m know that I’m getting better,” Stock said. “So the challenge is, well, it’s not a challenge to stay positive, but you need to make sure you’re looking at the end picture and not the immediate that’s in front of your face.”
He is getting better. I saw the 6’1″ righty pitch on Mother’s Day where he threw three scoreless innings, striking out five Cedar Rapids Kernels in the process.
Through it all, he’s keeping his eye on the prize. In fact, Stock tweeted just today: “Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two forwards, but I want to be great, not passable. #bigpicture”
His ERA may still be a little high, and the walks a few too many, but what is evident is likely what Matheny and company saw this spring — the power of potential.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.