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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Winter Warm-Up Day 2 Sights and Sounds

As the second day of Cards fan crazy mania came to a close, I found myself seeing this experience go by way too quickly.  This has been an amazing experience mixing it up with players, other writers and fans.   For Cardinals faithful, this is their comic con.   A chance to meet, greet and talk to a few of your favorite players.

In the media room, Sunday saw a flurry of players come across the microphone.   Matt Adams got things rolling, and he was followed by Shelby Miller, Shane Robinson, Joe Kelly, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and Lance Lynn.   A surprise appearance by Tony La Russa gave way to the most candid and laid back discussion with the newly minted Hall of Fame manager I have ever seen.   All in all, a wonderful day.  Here are some bits to enjoy as we come up on the final day of festivities.

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What did 2013 do for Joe Kelly and what did he find out?  “That I can be pretty good. Gaining confidence.  It’s not a fluke.  I carried some swagger and confidence, and proved I can be better than my opponents.”

Are you expecting to be a starter in 2014?  “I haven’t really thought about it to be honest.   I can’t even remember pitching in the World Series.  I had to watch it recently.  It’s the same since I was 5 years old.  That feeling.  It’s hard for ordinary people to understand.  It’s not like I say I have earned anything.  I will go out there and do what I can.”

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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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Shelby Miller Turns The Page on 2013

shelbyIt’s an interesting question.  Why didn’t Shelby Miller see time in last year’s playoffs. During his media session Sunday afternoon, that was the topic of discussion.  That and the fact that Adam Wainwright called him the second strongest guy on the team.

“The biggest thing is trying to have a bigger offseason.  Two years ago, I lost too much weight.  This past month, I have gotten better with it.  Putting on more muscle. Weight room wise I am a lot stronger than last year.  It could allow me to throw more pitches.”

He did address the Holliday effect quickly.

“Just being around Holliday.   He makes the weights scared of him.   He lifts 100 pound dumbbells.   Whoever wanted to go for 2nd on the team I would definitely work out with them.”

What were his feelings on October?  “The media asks you.  Family asked you.  I don’t have a good answer for you.  We had a good thing going with the rotation and the bullpen was throwing hard, so with these dominant guys, I didn’t have the opportunity to pitch.”

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Q & A with Newest Cardinal Mark Ellis

photo (3)One of the good things about veteran baseball players is they aren’t afraid of any question and they are ready to answer completely without thinking about it.  Mark Ellis, fresh off facing the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and since joined the Redbirds, is the epitome of candid honesty.

Standing in front of the media, Ellis shed plenty of light on expectations, why he came to St. Louis with playing time a question mark and facing young pitchers like Michael Wacha.

Q-Were you surprised the Cardinals got a hold of you?

A-Yes. Very surprised.  I have always been attracted to this team.  I didn’t know that Matt Carpenter would be playing third base.  He just had 200 hits and was playing second base so I didn’t expect it.

Q-What did they tell you about Kolten Wong?

A-They like him from an organizational standpoint.  He’s a good young player.  They didn’t promise me anything.   I just want to play baseball.  I’ll back up Yadi.  Being a part of a winning organization.  No one wants to be a mentor but that’s a role you take on being a veteran player.  You want to help the team win.

Q-Game plan?

A-Help this team win.  I want to help Kolten and they will decide what they want to do.  My game plan is go out there and get prepared and be an everyday player.  I want to win a championship.

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Player Feedback From the Winter Warmup

Now that the hysteria and maniac writing in the room has died down and there are seconds to process thoughts let me provide you with player feedback, pictures, analysis and other information from the first day of the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warmup.

*Funniest moment of the day.   Yadi Molina coming into the conference room at the end of Adam Wainwright’s media session and raising his hand, “I have a question.” This event is where you can match a face with the player and see them as the regular people they are away from the field.  People have undervalued Molina’s sense of humor for a while. When asked his knee injury lingering into the offseason, Molina admitted some exhaustion.  “Sometimes you go that long into the postseason, your body needs the rest.  Then you are lying around your house, getting bored and you want to go back to the ballpark.”  Molina was excited about Peralta’s addition to the team, admiring his offensive production.  Like many teammates, Yadi was sad to see David Freese go.  “With David, it’s a business and I wish the best of luck to him.  But we will stay friends.”

*Kevin Siegrist spoke about his work his offseason.  “Working on the same stuff, getting stronger, working on my pitches and refining the ones I have.”  Asked about his role this season, Siegrist was blunt.  “For my development, it is better to work on my pitches as if I am going to start.  It’s easier to translate that to the bullpen.” On his role this season, “I am ready for whatever they want me to do.”  In person, the young lefthander is a tall monster and bigger than he appears on television.  They say it adds 10 pounds but they didn’t mention height.


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Adam Wainwright Dishes on 2014 & What’s Ahead

Adam Wainwright didn’t waste any time in greeting the press this afternoon.  “It’s great to see you again,” Waino said as the room full of moving pens and recording devices laughed which made the staff ace ask what was so funny.   This is Waino as a person in any environment.  Certain players let the burn of the stage overwhelm them.  Waino is the opposite.   When asked right off the bat about coming back so quick after the World Series, he wanted more action.

Waino“Short off seasons are good off seasons.   When you think about what we did last year and in 2011 and this last season, we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

With Chris Carpenter out of the mix, Waino is ready to be the ace but also cautioned that other arms are joining him fast.”These young bucks are pushing me. I was so proud of Shelby.  Lance Lynn pitching 200 innings.  We have a great young mix and I am going to enjoy it while I can.”

Waino had a heavy workload in 2013 and that can always leads to questions about his health going into 2014.  What did he do to balance the load?

“I pushed my throwing program back a couple weeks.   I didn’t mess with my workout regime.  I felt like pushing back throwing was a good idea. My arm felt exactly the same as it has in the past, but I felt like it was a wise thing to push it back.  If I expect to go into the season thinking I’ll be tired, then I will be tired.  It’s a mental game there ”

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