ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – As Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter and his wife, Alyson, arrived at Jackson Park in Berkeley on Wednesday, they watched a group of local kids walk from their school to where an infield diamond, outfield fences, giant scoreboard and green grass awaited them.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Carpenter said. “This is the nicest Little League field I’ve ever seen.”
Not just any field, Chris.
It’s Chris Carpenter Field.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of this,” Carpenter said as he was surrounded by some of the 180 boys and girls who will be involved with the Berkeley Redbird Rookies program. “I’m very honored to have a field named after me, I can tell you that.”
Since 1997, Cardinals Care has built 20 youth ball fields in disadvantaged neighborhoods in both Missouri and Illinois. And over that time period, the club has invested nearly $20 million in helping children, both through grants to youth organizations and beautiful parks like Chris Carpenter Field.
On this morning, the sun is shining brightly, the wind tussling Carpenter’s hair. The 38-year-old pitcher, who is trying to make an improbable comeback from a nearly career-ending nerve condition, is smiling like a little kid.
“What a beautiful field,” Carpenter says again. “And an opportunity for young kids in this community. To get them excited about baseball is something that we need to continue to do.”
It was baseball that guided Carpenter as a youth: “I love this game. I’ve always loved it.”
He had a message for the wide-eyed children sitting nearby.
“Continue to learn and take pride in this field,” Carpenter told them. “It was something that kept me out of trouble when I was a kid, being able to come play baseball every single weekend — and practice during the week — and keep my mind towards school and baseball. It was able to keep me going.”
These days, the love of the game still pushes Carpenter. Like a modern-day Bob Gibson, he still has the fire to compete. He doesn’t want to let go of it. Sidelined with thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve condition near his right shoulder, Carpenter has been able to recover well enough to throw on the side — and he likes what he sees. A comeback appears to be as real as ever.
“It’s amazing,” Carpenter said. “I’m excited about the way I feel. I’m going to continue to move forward and see what happens.”
Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III is enjoying Carpenter’s moment.
“(He’s) still giving it a go,” DeWitt said. “Maybe we’ll see him again this year on the mound.”
“More importantly,” DeWitt continued, “when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be in this community. And this field is a living representation, an ongoing one of that great commitment to the community. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have somebody that carries on that tradition of Stan Musial.”
Gibson. Musial. Carpenter. That’s good company.
Who knows? Perhaps the next star will emerge from Berkeley.
Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX Radio in St. Louis.