We’ve written about them many times — for example Tara did the weekly Bandits Buzz features, like this one on Tyrell Jenkins and many others, while in July I decided to go see them instead of MLB’s Home Run Derby and last year was there with Tara when they swept their way to the Midwest League Championship.
So, the news that the Cardinals did not renew their affiliation with the Bandits disappointed us greatly. In fact, I spent much time yesterday telling all the Cubs fans I know that it’s their team’s fault this is happening — since the rumor/presumption is the Cubs are moving their Midwest League team from Peoria to Kane County, opening up a spot that’s about 90 miles closer to St. Louis than the Quad Cities are. And even though I know that distance is one of the factors that the Cardinals consider in deciding where to locate their affiliates — as Tara wrote about yesterday, that was the very question I asked Cards general manager John Mozeliak on Sunday — I still wanted to point fingers at the Cubs.
But, today my sadness and bitterness is mostly over.
Instead, I’m grateful for the eight years I did have seeing future Cardinals right here in my own backyard. Because what an extraordinary time these past eight years have been. Look at the number of former Bandits I’ve now had the chance to see on the big league roster.
Like last year’s starter in that Midwest League Championship game mentioned above, Trevor Rosenthal. He pitched the Bandits to the title last Sept. 17. Last Saturday, I saw him pitch in person for the first time since — but this time at Busch Stadium. Quite the jump in less than a year! On Sunday, I had the chance to watch Joe Kelly in person again, this time of course in the bigger ballpark at Busch compared to Modern Woodmen Park. He also did something he hadn’t done back in 2010: bat, since the Midwest League uses the designated hitter. Plus I got to see him hit a double and score a run.
I’ve also watched with pride, though on television, as three other 2010 Bandits made their major league debuts this year: Matt Adams, Ryan Jackson and Shelby Miller. I saw the latter pitch numerous times — his starts two years ago were must-attends if possible.
The list of current/recent Cardinals who’ve played in the Quad Cities is tremendous: Matt Carpenter in 2009 (though he wasn’t here long, I definitely remember him … probably because of his last name); Adron Chambers, Pete Kozma, Lance Lynn (for two appearances, anyway) and Eduardo Sanchez in 2008; Tony Cruz, Brandon Dickson and Steven Hill in 2007 when they were the Swing of the Quad Cities; a big list in 2006 including Bryan Anderson, Jaime Garcia, Tyler Greene, Jon Jay, Jason Motte (a brief eight-game stint), Colby Rasmus, Shane Robinson and — for five whole innings on an injury rehab assignment — Mark Mulder; and in the QCs first year as a Cards affiliate in 2005, Rick Ankiel, Joe Mather, Kyle McClellan and Nick Stavinoha. I was there for Rick’s Swing debut, correcting the men seated near me when they had the details of his pitching implosion and comeback wrong plus marveling with them over a couple of amazing throws in from right field. Plus I’ll always remember the female public address announcer that year, as she really enjoyed dragging out the syllables of Stavinoha.
Oh, and Mark Mulder’s rehab assignment I mentioned — that was quite the experience. It was on a very hot early August afternoon and there was a traffic jam on River Drive in Davenport trying to get to the stadium parking lots. And, after his five innings were through, much of the crowd either left or headed for the air-conditioned club behind home plate. But it was definitely enjoyable to see a real major leaguer at our beautiful ballpark.
Last year also brought about a tremendous opportunity during one game in late June: the chance to sit with now Astros general manager/then Cardinals vice president of player development Jeff Luhnow. I learned so much during the course of those few hours, about the Cardinals and the minor league system and the prospects and just what a cool guy Jeff is. He told me then to keep an eye on Trevor Rosenthal, who started that night as well. Hmmm …
The team last year was definitely special to watch, from manager Johnny Rodriguez to players like Rosenthal and Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong — names Cardinals fans everywhere now know and are anxiously anticipating seeing in St. Louis as much as I am.
This year’s team was enjoyable too, in its own way, just like every team each year has its own personality and charm. Because at this level it’s not necessarily about winning — it’s about these kids learning and developing and moving up or moving on, even though the great majority of them won’t ever make it to the major leagues.
And that’s another valuable lesson for me to remember: I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of players here throughout all the years I’ve been going to games at what was John O’Donnell Stadium and is now Modern Woodmen Park. I watched the Quad Cities Angels when I was a kid, followed by the Quad Cities Cubs with Shawon Dunston in the early 1980s. When I moved back to the Quad Cities following college and a couple of years in Chicago, they were then the Quad Cities River Bandits with future Astros like Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner and even Aaron Miles, then the Twins-affiliated River Bandits with players like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. No matter which team’s minor leaguers take the field in April 2013 as the Quad Cities River Bandits, they will of course win me over and I’ll still love going to games at our riverfront ballpark.
Because it will still be baseball. No, not future Cardinals baseball anymore — but baseball just the same.
And, really, that’s what is most important of all.
To end, one final look back at one of my favorite Quad Cities teams: last year’s Midwest League champs.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email email@example.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.