Tony La Russa: “The Relentless Grinder”

Tony La Russa never wasted any words when speaking with the media during his career as a manager.   Whileimage (7) those words could be short ended and sparse at times, he is direct and carried a dry sense of humor about him.

When these media sessions go well, the player/coach treats them like a conversation and not an interrogation.   La Russa simply sat there and talked to us before he signed for the fans.  Here are are his thoughts on various subjects.

On Sunday, La Russa gave an intimate 25 minute conversation about his years in St. Louis, instant replay, and getting into the Hall of Fame.  It was one of those conversations that you didn’t want to see end and wouldn’t soon forget.

On getting into the Hall Of Fame-

“I had convinced myself it wasn’t going to happen.  This has been a surreal experience.  All the pieces they give you and the other guys.  It’s heavy stuff.  You get the call and they don’t tell you anything else.  They tell you to come down.   They tell you that your life will be different.  There’s some far out stuff that is impossible to comprehend.”

La Russa, even after making it into the Hall, isn’t comfortable being a part of it.

“I still think the Hall Of Fame is a place for players.  I always thought the managers in there were guys like Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson, who lit the room up with baseball.   When we won the Championship in 2006, there was a feeling something was there, having won one in each league(like Sparky).  It may be hard to avoid it.   I am not comfortable with it and the biggest reason is I never thought good fortune was hall of fame criteria.  I have been lucky enough to be in places like Chicago, (Oakland), and St. Louis.  The only thing I want is to not disrespect Chicago or Oakland.  They will make their decision soon.”

One year after Stan Musial passed away, the legendary Cardinal still comes to Tony’s mind.

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Day 3 At The Winter Warm-Up

photo (9)The final day saw a much more calming presence at the 2014 Winter Warmup.  The frenzy was dialed down but the passion was there.  Players like Peter Bourjos, Sam Freeman, Michael Wacha and Mike Matheny spent time with the media while fans flocked to them for signatures, small moments and a picture or two.

Part of my job here is separating the fan side of my personality from the professional side and being contingent on getting enough quotes from them for a good story and catching a glimpse into the way their minds work.  The balance isn’t always easy and one time I was totally swept up in fan zone mania with….Seth Maness.  After his session I asked him about his ability to quickly induce double play balls making the other bullpen guys jealous.  He may have been on the verge of telling me a huge secret when suddenly I wouldn’t shut up.   My rookie status stays quiet for only so long.

Here are some images, bits of info, quotes and other things from Day 3 of the Winter Warmup.

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Sam Freeman expects to come into camp ready to compete for a spot in the bullpen.  “Executing pitches one pitch at a time and letting everything fall into place.   Control everything I have control over and keep it as simple as possible.  The competition is something Freeman hasn’t thought about.  “Go out there and perform to the best of my abilities.”  Freeman does have things he wants to improve on.  “Putting batters away.  There were times where I had two strikes and let the batter back into the count.”  When asked if he lets the situation of moving between Memphis and St. Louis creep into his pitching, Freeman simply said no.  “I just let it fly man.  Every time.”

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Wacha is a confident kid and he gives that aura off every time he speaks, even though he appears very humble.  Has he sat back and surveyed the world wind experience? “Yes. It was a heck of a run and gets me itching for it to get going again.”  In his mind, the goal is to go out and be perfect, not giving up any hits or runs.  Does he feel the pressure to top last year? “I wouldn’t say that.  I can’t pay much attention to that.  I have my own expectations for myself.  The main goal is try not to do too much. Same mentality going into this year.”

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Meet Peter Bourjos, Outfield Specialist

photo 2 (1)For all the St. Louis Cardinals fans who have been craving a base stealing threat at Busch, Peter Bourjos could be the answer to your prayers.   He doesn’t plan on just swiping a few bases either.

“I’d like to be in the 40’s.  It’s all about how often you get on base.  How you swing the bat.  In the minor leagues, I stole 50 bags.  It would be nice to be in that range.”

Bourjos is gracious, smiling and looks genuinely excited to playing in Busch Stadium. When he first saw it in December, it was covered in snow but he still thought it was beautiful, especially coming from a guy who grew up in Arizona and played the last few years in Los Angeles.

Bourjos jumped at the chance to play for St. Louis and his ex-teammate Albert Pujols told him how great the city was.   “He told me the fans understand the game(here in St. Louis) and that they will root for each side.  They know how the game of baseball is supposed to be play.”  Bourjos said Pujols couldn’t speak higher of St. Louis.

The Cardinals had just competed in the World Series so Bourjos was excited to come into the ballclub.  “Just to have the opportunity to come here and prove what I can do.   I didn’t think I was going back to Anaheim.”

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A Tale of Two Closers: Motte and Rosenthal

MotteTrevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte aren’t going to escape the question this spring or season.   It’s not so much about who is the closer but who will be the closer at the end.   Jason Motte took over the job in the latter parts of 2011 and thrived, saving 42 games in 2012 and performing well in the playoffs.  In the spring of 2013, Motte went down with Tommy John Surgery and after Edward Mujica bridged the gap for 4 months, Trevor Rosenthal took over and was outstanding.  2014 will bring interesting events to every part of the team but the closer role could be a riddle that lasts into 2015 and beyond.

What did Motte think of Trevor’s job at the end of the season?  “(Trevor) didn’t do anything any different.  He was pretty good.  You look at the stuff they have and he hasn’t done anything any different.  It’s been fun to watch. It wasn’t a surprise to me.”

Trevor sees the situation as another sign of the great depth of pitching on this team.  “We are both here to help the team win.  You see a team with so much pitching.  Like with Mujica last year, he was the closer all year and then I had to help him out in the end.”

The main thing on Motte’s mind right now is getting healthy and that started with an exam this week and gets more serious this coming week as he starts to throw in Florida.  There is no timetable for his return. “We are going to throw more next week and work our way up.  It won’t be a normal spring training.  There isn’t a timetable.  You don’t want to rush it back and then end up hurting yourself and the team. I just need to take my time and get healthy so I can get out there and help the team win.”

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And Now I’m Over Andrew McCutchen

It was never a secret I adored Andrew McCutchen. A love letter to him a year ago made that very clear (and, not to pat myself on the back, but check out the final paragraph — pretty impressive for something I basically made up to close out the letter and, really, Yadi should have finished second for MVP) as did many, many tweets over the past couple seasons.

Yes, even a photo like this won't persuade me to continue my crush. (Photo: Pittsburgh Magazine)

Really, even a photo like this won’t persuade me to continue my crush. (Photo: Pittsburgh Magazine)

But I’m done. Yep, just like that. (Don’t crushes just tend to flame out anyway?)

And, yes, it has to do with his marriage proposal this week. Not because he did it, not at all. It’s not like I harbored any secret fantasy he really likes women 20 years older than him who live 600 miles from Pittsburgh and are Cardinals fans

Good for him that he’s now engaged, sure. Best wishes and much happiness and all that. But everything else about the proposal just turned me off — that he did it on “Ellen,” and it was the sole reason for him being on the show at all. I mean, what? Why? It just didn’t make any sense.

I realize I am likely the one and only female in the entire universe who feels this way. My reaction is supposed to be like that of every other woman who saw it. I should think it was so romantic and beautiful and perfect, and there were supposed to be tears springing to my eyes as I watched it like there were for all those women who tweeted about it and for my friend Tracy when she watched the video at work. Even male Pirates bloggers were writing that “he also proved he can propose to his girlfriend better than any man ever will. The guy continues to show his superiority over the male species.”

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Two Friends, One Epic Game, Neither Was Ever Quite the Same

Of course we remember Oct. 7, 2011. Game Five of the National League Division Series, the epic match-up of best buddies Chris Carpenter and the wild card Cardinals against Roy Halladay and the 102-win-best-record-in-MLB Phillies.

And now, with the retirement on Monday of Halladay and the official retirement of Carpenter last month, we remember it anew.

roy_halladay_chris_carpenterThat the long-time friends were facing each other for the first time, and in such a situation, was of course much hyped, yet justifiably so. Each was a Cy Young winner, Carpenter in 2005 and Halladay twice — winning as a Blue Jay in 2003 and a Phillie in 2010, the season he threw a perfect game against the Marlins and a no-hitter against the Reds in his postseason debut. (Thank you again, baseball gods, for letting Brandon Phillips be the final batter in that one.)

Then came Game Five itself, living up to every bit of the hype. The Cardinals took charge in the first inning, with a lead-off triple from Rafael Furcal followed by a Skip Schumaker double providing the only run of the game. Halladay scattered four other hits throughout his eight total innings, striking out seven and walking one — That Guy Who Used to Play First Base — intentionally. Carpenter was even better, as we all so gladly remember: only three hits, an equal number of strikeouts, no walks, one final out primal scream and one Nick Punto shredding.

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Today, and Every Day, Thankful for Baseball

I’m not sure where my life would be without baseball.

baseballheartI realized this yesterday, when thinking about Thanksgiving and the multitude of blessings I am so grateful for: my family, friends, good health (even though I now can’t eat or drink everything I used to enjoy without getting sick), a good job where I can see the end result of my efforts every February, money for food and clothing and shelter … the list could go on and on. It also includes the chance to do something I’ve been compelled to do since I was a kid — write — and know that people read and even react to it.

Much of the writing, obviously, is here and about the Cardinals and baseball. I don’t remember when I first started watching baseball — it was a very, very long time ago. Baseball became a daily part of my summers back when my brother turned 8 and started playing and my Dad was his coach. In high school, when my family got cable TV, the magic fact we received WGN and the Cubs played in the afternoon is part of the reason I first followed them. (The cuteness of Jody Davis was the other.) In college, my daily routine of listening or watching every Cubs game led to an internship with the team — and afterward a 10-year baseball break that lasted until Harry Caray died in 1998. That year’s Cubs team brought me back to baseball, yet Mark McGwire made me notice the Cardinals. It took a couple years, and a typical Cubs season in 1999 following the gloriousness of 1998, to finally bring me to where I am today: on the right, and red, side of the rivalry since 2000.

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Bid Now in Chiefs Online Auction for Tornado Relief

You’ve likely seen images of the utter devastation caused by tornadoes last Sunday around the Peoria, Ill., area, especially in Washington. It’s heartbreaking.

Chiefs logoHere’s a way you can support those affected: bid in an online auction organized by the Peoria Chiefs, the Cardinals Midwest League affiliate.

The auction currently includes great Cardinals items including baseballs autographed by Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Tony La Russa, Willie McGee, Lee Smith, David Freese and Joe Kelly; a hat signed by Matt Adams; Allen Craig and Yadier Molina jerseys; and a Chris Carpenter game-used bat.

There also are terrific Cubs items — the Chiefs were the Cubs Midwest League affiliate for years up until the 2013 season — including a Hall of Fame induction program, baseball cards and a Chiefs pennant all signed by Ryne Sandberg; baseballs autographed by Greg Maddux and Jeff Samardzija; and a Carlos Zambrano autographed bat.

Plus there are other items such as Notre Dame basketball tickets, Bears and Illini apparel, and even an American Girl doll still in the box donated by a 7-year-old girl who wanted to help out.

More auction items will be added as they are received, including tickets for several 2014 games from the Cardinals plus items from the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks and other Midwest League teams.

The auction is ongoing — and the holidays are coming. Great gift ideas for your favorite people and, more importantly, all proceeds support the victims of last Sunday’s tornadoes.

Check out the Chiefs online auction here and sign up to start bidding.

Just know that you’ll have competition for that Chris Carpenter bat. (At the moment, I’m the top bidder.)

A New Appreciation of Baseball’s Family Ties

Most of us love baseball because of a family connection — our dad, mom, grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt or cousin sparked our interest in the game as kids in some way, then that interest took hold and grew. For me, there are several family members: my Grandpa who taught me to play catch, my Dad who taught me to keep score and, later, my Uncle Jim who taught me about the Cardinals and their history.

For Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, it was his grandma.

jose fernandezI will readily admit to not knowing much beyond the basics about Fernandez — his terrific stats during this rookie season, sure (especially since I picked him up for my fantasy baseball team early on), his age and that he’s Cuban. Plus I knew how he did against the Cardinals this season: he won one game (the first of the Marlins three-game June sweep in Miami) where he struck out 10, and lost at Busch Stadium as Matt Holliday homered and stole second in a rundown as Carlos Beltran stole home. Beyond that, though, there is only so much baseball I have time to keep up with, and the Cardinals rookie pitchers were my priority.

So, last week, when I heard the story of Fernandez’s surprise reunion with his grandma the day before he was named National League Rookie of the Year, I was incredibly touched. Take a look at the photo above — even that tells you at least part of the story.

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Division Series Times Through Saturday Announced

Major League Baseball today announced the start times for all Division Series games through Saturday. TBS will exclusively televise up to 18 of the 20 potential Division Series games, while MLB Network will carry two Division Series games – one on Friday, October 4, and the other on Monday, October 7.

3471__nlds-primary-2013The National League Central Champion St. Louis Cardinals will host the winner of the National League Wild Card Game (either the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Cincinnati Reds) in Game 1 of the N.L. Division Series at Busch Stadium on Thursday, October 3, at 5:07 p.m. (ET)/4:07 p.m. (CT).

In the evening, the N.L. East Champion Atlanta Braves will host the N.L. West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers with an 8:37 p.m. (ET) first pitch in Game 1 of the NLDS at Turner Field. Both of Thursday’s games will be exclusively televised by TBS.

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