Posted on January 20, 2013 at 2:01 PM
Michael Wacha put together a man-like season last year, his first experience with pro ball, and finished a partial season with Double-A Springfield and their impressive championship run. Yesterday, he found himself at the Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up function, standing in front of a gaggle of media-types, marveling at the intensity of Cardinal Nation.
"I just walked in there for the first time," Wacha said, "And I just saw a sea of red. It's pretty crazy to see all these guys come out here and really supporting us. It's great to see."
* * * * *
Wacha's grin splits his face like a ten year old boy with a new Adam Wainwright autographed ball. One of the media guys asks if he's been mistaken for Adam yet - the two share that same sense of innocence sitting just behind a wide-eyed gaze. He says "no" with a laugh - there's that grin again - and settles in answering questions like a seasoned vet.
Yes, he's been working out in the Houston area. Yes, he's been throwing since early December. Of course he wants to build off his success last season. No, he has no specific personal goals for the season. He just wants to "do the best I can."
But every so often an interchange reminds us that it wasn't quite so long ago that this pitcher - this 21 year old kid - was in school. Maybe it's a reference to a particular coach in college, or maybe it's when his voice cracks while answering a question and he has to swallow and start over. Or maybe it's an explanation of how his assortment developed.
"Whenever I was younger," he says, "I mainly just stuck with fastball-changeup. My dad didn't really teach me a curveball until I was a freshman, sophomore in high school."
It's a bit odd standing in front of a ball player expected to answer questions for ravenous scribes and sign hundreds of autographs for rabid fans...and find yourself listening to a story about a father teaching his son how to throw a baseball. And even more surreal is when that same player - himself just recently able to legally buy an adult beverage - uses the phrase "whenever I was younger."
It reminds me that these players, these "promising young arms" and "highly valued assets" are little more than kids in a much bigger sandbox.
The thought is still with me as we re-enter the media room to begin a fresh round of questions with yet another "young arm" in the Cardinals' system. Seth Maness, ready and willing to field questions from a scrum of media hounds, begins the interview process by answering a question about his experience at his first Winter Warm-Up.
"It's quite an experience - it's a little overwhelming. I just had to go to Macy's to get another dress shirt."
- Kevin Reynolds
A BIT MORE FROM WWU:
- It seems the Cardinals may be taking yet another step towards managing player fitness and dietary habits. Slimmer, fitter players standing at the podium continues to be the norm. Matt Adams has lost 10-15 pounds, as has a physically strong Rzepcynski. Mitchell Boggs appears to have slimmed even more than he had this same time last season while Jake Westbrook made a point to continue the same diet from last offseason. Waino and Shelby Miller, on the other hand, looked to gain weight - a noticeable change from a year ago.
- As we meet with young arm after young arm, the log jam in the rotation is becoming more and more tangible. Already the rotation includes Wainwright, Carpenter, Westbrook, and Garcia. That leaves Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and potentially Trevor Rosenthal to compete for a fifth rotation slot. Of course, the health and dependability of Carpenter and Garcia are question marks, and Rosenthal will likely find a valuable spot in the pen, but regardless - the time for young, quality, cost-effective pitching in the STL rotation seems to be much closer than ever before.
- Bill DeWitt, Jr. spoke with the media at length regarding Stan Musial's life and death. Earlier in the day, Tony LaRussa stopped in to offer his thoughts, and other Cardinals alum have made their presence known in the room as well. Stan's death has hung over the Winter Warm-Up events today. Near as I can tell, the atmosphere is one of sadness, yes, but also of peace. Tony even used the term "relief", I'm assuming to mean a time for well-earned rest for The Man. Fans sporting Musial #6 jerseys and sharing stories and thoughts about Stan "The Man" seem to be grieving and saying a heartfelt goodbye to their beloved icon.
- Mujica said the biggest difference between his innings with Miami last season and those with the Cardinals was "confidence." He then went on to blend that concept with the idea of comfort and a "predictable role" in the pen. He said Matheny told him to prepare for the 6th and/or 7th inning when he joined the Redbirds.
- Pete Kozma, contrary to popular opinion, handles the media very well. Yes, he's short and simple in his responses, but I didn't get a nervous vibe from him at all. He seems excited and positive about opportunities that can easily be visualized in this year's Spring Training. Between comments by Mozeliak and Kozma thus far, it seems his status has greatly improved and could translate to more playing time and chances to impress in Florida. We'll follow-up with Matheny if possible tomorrow.
- Allen Craig is clearly more comfortable entering this Spring Training. For the first time in the last three years, there's no need to assure him that at-bats will be found for him. I hope to have a story on the site later tonight or tomorrow.
- Shelby Miller's demeanor was night and day different when compared to last season. At 2011's Winter Warm-Up, his "confidence" was clear, even stating he would be "disappointed" if he didn't get a call to STL that season. This year, however, the kid is at least attempting to put on a humble front. He references Wainwright more than once - apparently Adam reached out to him during his struggles to encourage a renewed focus on what he was doing right - and even broke out references to what he called "my stubbornness." He dismissed attempts to maintain a "beach body" in the future and even spoke a bit about a weight gain bet between himself and Wainwright.
- Perhaps not unrelated to the Shelby Miller development, many veteran Cardinal pitchers have made statements like, "They listen to the right way to do things. No one is sitting in the corner and thinking they're going to do it their own way." Coincidentally, Chris Carpenter made a similar statement during a speech at the Baseball Writer's dinner last year. In attendance to accept an award, and sitting 15 feet behind Carp's standing position - the young Shelby Miller.
- The team is clearly going to miss Kyle Lohse. Waino even said, "I refuse to close the door on Kyle." More than a few players have expressed a sense of loss at seeing Lohse move on. Joe Kelly wants to mimic him, Jake Westbrook said "it's a loss," and Waino spoke at length about his desire to continue pitching with him. He was/is clearly a friend and mentor to many on the staff.
- Randy Choate and Mujica both discussed Choate's desire to pitch for the Cardinals. Apparently, Choate talked with Mujica - a former teammate - about his experience in St. Louis, and Mujica responded with glowing reviews about the team, the fans, and the experience of baseball in STL on the whole. Randy said it came down to three teams and the Cardinals were the only team willing to go three years - the others were aiming for two - but he was very, very glad it ended the way it did in St. Louis.
More to come later on and in the days following Winter Warm-Up. Stay tuned...
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