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Close your eyes and imagine you are in Jupiter, Florida today. Sitting in the stands behind home plate. Can you hear that sound? Ah, the “whaap” of the bat hitting the baseball. It’s the sound of spring. The sound of hope. The sound of a new season.
Unfortunately, if you are reading this you are likely not in Jupiter. Neither am I. But even if you don’t make the trek to spring training, you know that the baseball season, the Cardinal season, is not too far away.
I’ve covered the Cardinals for radio and television for about 40 years and there’s something magical about spring training. Every team has a chance to win. Even when few think they can. I recall seeing a report on television last spring the day after it was announced that Adam Wainwright would have season ending surgery on his elbow. Former major leaguer John Kruk, one of the MLB Netwwork analysts, proclaimed that the season was over before it started for the Cardinals. “No chance”, he said. Ah, John, check who won the World Series.
This will be a very unusual and curious spring for the Cardinals because there have been so many major changes in the off season. Albert Pujols gone. Tony LaRussa gone. Dave Duncan gone. So are coaches Dave McKay and Joe Pettini. So are some of the other players who helped the Cardinals win it all. The dugout will look dramatically different. Maybe the philosophy will be too. Tony LaRussa managed 5,097 regular season games. New manager Mike Matheny–none. He was hand picked by General Manager John Mozeliak. Many in baseball view the choice as a big gamble. It will be on the job training for Matheny because, while he has studied other managers throughout his playing career, he’s in uncharted waters. How will he handle pitching? Will the team run more? Will he hit the pitcher 8th? (Probably not). He will be managing players that are his friends. Will he be able to get tough when necessary? Will some players still be allowed to jog to first base rather than run out ground balls hard?
I’m personally disappointed that Matheny will not join me for baseball talk with KMOX listeners on Sports On a Sunday Morning like LaRussa did for many years. Mike feels it’s too close to game time for him to be distracted doing a radio show. I am disappointed but completely understand. The plan is for him to do a show at some other time during the week.
Matheny is fortunate that he has inherited a very good baseball team. There are some questions, as there are every spring. But, getting Adam Wainwright back is like making a huge trade. Will Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran be able to stay healthy? Both are in the twilight of their careers. Who will play second base? Will David Freese live up the expectations after his storybook post season? When will Alan Craig be able to play? But there is no doubt in my mind, that the Central Division, possibly the weakest in baseball, is the Cardinals to lose.
So, close your eyes and imagine you are in Jupiter. Can you hear the crack of the bat?