Posted on January 19, 2013 at 2:13 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
Less than ten players in and already it's clear this Cardinals team is not what we're used to seeing.
After the 2011 season, the St.Louis Cardinals were hounded by media types from all corners. Late night talk shows, national sports networks, and even a sitcom couldn't get enough of our local boys. Interview after interview, appearance after appearance...it would wear on anyone.
But the players - and Tony LaRussa - ran the gauntlet and persevered. The strain, at least at Winter Warm-Up 2012, was clear.
Carpenter wore his patented scowl throughout the interview process and even smiling personas such as Matt Holliday made do with short, simple, subdued answers. Tony skipped the media room appearance after grueling dinners and interviews, etc., and each and every player wore the weary eyes of men worn out and overwhelmed.
Flash forward to Winter Warm-Up 2013, and the difference couldn't be more noticeable.
Chris Carpenter - his young daughter in hand - stepped lightly into the media room and started shaking hands. "How you doin'? Good to see you. Yeah, had a good offseason." His media session was light, frank, casual, and peppered with smiles. When finished, it was another interview - this time for TV - in the room next door. Again, Carp met the questions with smiles and even a few quips here and there. His daughter waited patiently while asking, "What station is this going to be on?"
Then it was Holliday's turn.
After his appearance last offseason, I fully expected Matt to withdraw beneath his stiff, Michael Jordan ball cap brim and face questions as if they were being presented with pinchers in hand. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Holliday spent his time laughing and chatting with scribes on a variety of questions. Do you feel a sense of urgency this season? How's the back? Are you going to sit more days than last year? And on and on...and then he disappeared through the "steel curtain" that separates fans from the "restricted area" that is the media room.
He was back just minutes later to sit and chat with cameras and microphones for another lengthy session. When he was done, it was smiles and handshakes all around.
And the stories go on, player after player, all the same...
This year's Cardinals team is just flat out more relaxed than last year's team. The pressure, while not necessarily "off", is perhaps more easily carried. Maybe they've had a breather. Maybe the longer offseason with fewer spotlights did them good.
And maybe it was a change in personnel.
Most agree Tony LaRussa was an intense leader, and personalities in the clubhouse like Albert Pujols set a rigid vibe with the team. But now, Mike Matheny leads the Cardinals and Pujols has departed for the casual beaches of California. And many believe it's the difference in leadership that's making all the difference.
It should be pointed out that the attitude of this Matheny team versus previous LaRussa teams is not, necessarily, better or worse...but it is different. A team formerly guided by an intense, rigid atmosphere is now coasting along with a manager and clubhouse rooted in relationship. They're more relaxed, more casual...and maybe even "more fitter?" (grammar suicide...)
One consistent theme - at least so far - is a trimmer body type to go with the revamped attitude. Matt Adams is 10-15 pounds lighter, as is Marc Rzepcynski. Both credit diet changes and workouts for the change, but the change is evident.
This Cardinals team is fitter, more relaxed - perhaps more ready - than the 2012 squad at this same time last season. And with the sting of last season's disappointing ending, everyone of them is poised to make a run all the way to the World Series.
- Kevin Reynolds
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