It's been a week since a majority of the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers met in St. Louis for the third straight year. This trip, affectionately called UCB Weekend (with its own Twitter hashtag and, this year, Bonfyre dedicated to it), brings together many of those bloggers that you know from your daily reading. There have been plenty of people that have already gone over the weekend (and I should be setting up a post on the official UCB site soon to link to all of those) so there's little that will be surprising to you if you've been keeping up here, but in case you haven't (and to make sure I have a record of it), I'm writing it down anyway. Plus I can guarantee you that there is something in my pictures that you haven't seen on anyone else's posts. (Teaser!)
As always, UCB Weekend kicks off with dinner the night before at Patrick's Restaurant. Patrick's has been exceptionally good to us in the past couple of years, so much so that they set up a bar this year in the room we were being hosted in. (Granted, that didn't matter to me, but some of the others seemed to approve.) You couldn't ask for better service or more accommodating staff. I had the tuna melt again and it's a very tasty sandwich that comes highly recommended by this non-foodie.
Thanks have to go out to the sponsors of the event. For the second year in a row, Bill Ivie of I70 Baseball has done an incredible job lining up folks to help defray the cost of the room as well as enough to provide appetizers. We got a packet of information from BlitzCorner and, reading through it, it looks like a great program for any blog that might be looking to monetize their blog a little bit. Some neat stuff there that I might have to look into a little deeper. Of course, the Bonfyre folks were there and you know how highly I recommend that app. (Seriously, you really need to be involved in our regular conversations over there. Go sign up!)
We also had a short presentation by Any City Sports Fan, who helped sponsor last year as well. Really an interesting concept and I hope it continues to get off the ground. We also had a contribution from Out Of The Park Baseball, which is a great simulation game. I have the 2014 version on my computer and need to do a review of it, but if you are at all interested in simulations, that's the game to get. I love all the customization you can do with it--currently I have a 40-team, 8-division league with no DH and no wild-card.
Thanks also go out to Egraphs. Before they shut down their operation, they contributed some money toward the event and we appreciated that. I still wish they'd been able to keep that going, because it was a great concept that seemed to be embraced by the players. We also had giveaways from Rob Rains's STL Sports Page, Topps Baseball Cards, ISA Grading Service, and our good friends from Fox Sports Midwest brought over a couple of Hungos to give away.
Bloggers beginning to gather and socialize. Bill and Angela Ivie in the background with Geoff Goldman of FSMW, Rodney Knuppel of Saint Louis Sports in the center with the tan cap, and Corey Rudd of STL Sports Minute in the foreground.
Sponsors are great and all and we really enjoyed hearing from them and talking to them, but the main point of dinner is to hang out and talk with other bloggers. Because if there's one thing that bloggers are better at than writing about baseball, it's talking about baseball with other bloggers. Patrick's had the game up on the main screen in the room (at least, until it wrapped about an hour or so into the dinner) and we talked about how ugly it was getting, what in the world Mike Matheny was doing, and so on.
One of the things that was extremely cool about this gathering was represented in the picture above. We had our two resident historians, Mark Tomasik from RetroSimba (tan shirt on the left) and Bob Netherton of On The Outside Corner (Gibson jersey) sitting there watching the major league debut of the newest Cardinal, Jermaine Curtis. (Surprisingly, I caught John Nagel from CardinalsFarm looking away from the screen, but I'm sure that was just temporary.)
Some great discussions were going on and I continued to bounce from group to group, just listening in and enjoying the moment. When I started this group five and a half years ago, I never would have thought we'd have come to this moment when people from Florida and Texas and Arkansas and Iowa and Kansas and various other places would come together to talk Cardinal baseball and become like old friends, even though at most we've seen each other 4-5 times and some were making their first UCB Weekend appearance.
Saturday night ran well into the evening, but eventually everyone decamped and got off to rest up, because the big day was still to come. Sunday promised a time with John Mozeliak and a ball game, but what we didn't know was that there was a bigger surprise yet to come.
I'd like to say that Sunday dawned bright and clear with the best baseball weather imaginable. However, it's not like you don't know what that day was like, whether you were in the area or watching the game on TV. It was overcast, though the rain pretty much held off. At most, a light mist fell at times, but with the sun not coming out, temperatures hovered in the upper 40s to mid 50s all day long. We kept hoping that the sun would come out (just like we kept hoping the offense would) but it was not to be.
After getting downtown early to do my souvenir shopping, I waited around outside of the ballpark as the bloggers started to come to the park.
Tom Knuppel of CardinalsGM debates the topic of short sleeves on a freezing day with Bill and Angela.
Of course, when you have bloggers waiting, they likely have phones with them. Which means, picture time! I meant to get my picture taken with more of the bloggers, something that I'll have to rectify for next time. Until then, here's a few I took.
The Ivies with Mr. Netherton
The Gilliams--Josh (of Pitchers Hit Eighth fame) and his wife Christi, who were gracious enough to let me stay with them Saturday evening.
Finally, we decided to see if they'd let us into the lobby a few minutes early and, sure enough, they did. While it got us out of the cold, we still had to wait a bit longer before we could get in the elevator and head up to the conference area where the program was going to take place.
Crammed into the lobby, Mark Tomasik talks with sweatshirt-clad Dennis Lawson (ManFridge Baseball) while Kevin Reynolds (Stl Cards 'N Stuff) confers with his wife Kim in the center of the frame.
Eventually, the time came when the elevator doors opened and we started making the trip up to the next level. We signed in, were handed our Carlos Beltran bobbleheads (which was extremely generous of the Cards--most times we miss out on the giveaways since we don't come in through the gates), and made our way into the conference area. This wasn't without incident, as Corey Noles of Balls & Strikes didn't see a low-hanging TV screen and cracked his head on it. After we were sure he was OK, let's just say there was a bit of merriment made at his expense over that one.
The infamous attack TV is the one in the back center, next to Wes Keene (Keene on MLB) in his powder blues. When everyone was settled, most every seat in the place was full.
We milled around, got a soft drink, chatted some and looked at the various pictures and memorabilia that was hanging around on the walls. Finally, about noon we settled in and were welcomed to the event by Ron Watermon, who is the director of public relations for the Cardinals and one of the contacts that we bloggers tend to bug during the year. Ron made a few remarks, then went ahead and turned things over to John Mozeliak for a general update on the club. While Mo was talking, Bill DeWitt III, team president and, of course, son of the principal owner, made his way in (accompanied by his son, who later on posed his own question to his dad, which made for a humorous response from his dad).
Ron Watermon, Bill DeWitt III, John Mozeliak (l-r)
Some general points from Mozeliak's initial comments:
--He felt good about the club, though obviously that need to click more on offense (which seems a little strange as I write this and the Cards are up 9-1, but it was definitely relevant that day as they were shut out). Even if things weren't perfect, the club was winning games and that was the biggest thing. There were a lot of positives both on the big club and in the minors.
--He stated he believed Oscar Taveras and Michael Wacha were major league ready right now and could succeed, especially Wacha, but there just really isn't any place to play them. Wacha especially they want to see adjust from the once-a-week rotation in college to the every-five-days rotation in professional baseball. That said, if the need arose, they might slide him into the bullpen like they did with Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, then get him into the rotation in a later year.
Bill DeWitt talked mainly about Ballpark Village in his pre-Q&A comments. He said they were still on track for spring of 2014 (though I noticed he didn't specifically say Opening Day like we've heard before). They expect that steel will start going up in the next 3-4 weeks and the buildings will be enclosed by the end of the season. Parking should be done by July of this year, which will be convenient for those attending the second half of the season.
I took this picture--well, I'll get to that in a bit. However, you can see where the footings were being dug and getting ready for steel. The rain actually helped for illustration, as you can see some water in the holes. The right part of this picture will be where the Budweiser Brew House will be, while the left side will be the Cardinal Nation restaurant/Hall of Fame. In the middle will be the Cardinals Live! area which will hold concerts and the like and will have a retractable roof. Both the Brew House and Cardinal Nation will have seats on the top of the building, as you'll be able to look into the park on the third base side of things. I think this is going to be outstanding and I can't wait to see it go up over this summer.
Back to Mr. Dewitt. He said that they have four other tenants for the Village that haven't been announced yet but should be shortly. He gave no hint for what they might be, though I'm guessing a blogging area for visiting UCB members wasn't one of them.
He also gave a business report, saying that all the business metrics were doing well. Ticket sales were going well and they liked what they were seeing out of dynamic prices. Something I was not aware of is that they had guaranteed season ticket holders that ticket prices would never drop below what they paid for the seats, so that you wouldn't have a season ticket holder spending $20 for a seat and then find out that there's a deal that they could get them for that series for just $10. Great way to balance the need for season ticket holders but allowing one game purchasers to still get a good price.
Then the questions started. I tried to jot down who was asking them but finally had to give up. Still, there were a lot of interesting things asked. Dennis wanted to know if they were looking at getting wi-fi throughout the stadium. BDW3 said that AT&T had gone through and strengthened the cell signal throughout the park, but if that didn't show an impact they might look into it. It's also a league-wide issue, as MLB Advanced Media is taking an interest in that issue throughout baseball.
Mr. Ivie asked the other Bill to elaborate some on the Hall of Fame that would be part of Cardinal Nation. Mr. DeWitt stated they'd have specific inductions for players that were short of Cooperstown but had made an impact in St. Louis (you'd figure Willie McGee and Chris Carpenter are on that short list) and they were doing their best to round up some great memorabilia for the museum. The DeWitts have spent over $2 million buying things on the open market, which should have bought quite a number of things. I spoke with Ron afterwards and he said so many teams don't have control over their own history, that the Cards may have the second-most extensive collection behind Cooperstown. I was a bit surprised the Yankees weren't in that discussion, but Ron said that they really haven't got much in their personal collection, though of course a ton of that stuff is at the MLB HOF.
Dathan Brooks (Cards Tied For First) brought up the DH and there was some welcome news on that front. Mo stated that didn't feel that the DH to the National League was at all inevitable or imminent and Bill DeWitt stated that he goes to the owners meetings and there had been absolutely no discussion of that at all. So all of this media talk about the NL having to change in the next year or two seems to be a bit overworked.
Matt Whitener, spending a lot of time at I70 Baseball but also seen at Cheap Seats Please, asked about Shelby Miller. Mo immediately leaned forward and rapped his knuckles on the wooden podium while indicating that he felt very good about his transition to the big leagues.
One of our newer members, Mike Grabowski from St. Louis Perfectos, asked about how they were using fielding metrics, both the publicly available and those the club might be creating internally. Mo said that they weren't using them so much in drafting and targeting players, though there is some of that, but that they seemed to be used by the Cards and others in improving positioning in the games, noting how much Pittsburgh was shifting around during the series.
Tara Wellman, writer at Aaron Miles' Fastball and my co-host on Gateway To Baseball Heaven, asked about infielders in the system. Mo acknowledged that there was a gap in the coverage, as it were, but that they'd probably do their best to fix that through the draft or international signings, though he noted that this wasn't necessarily a shortstop-heavy draft coming up.
Listen to a couple of knowledgeable Cardinal fans every Sunday night at 9:30 PM. Would you believe one knowledgeable baseball fan and a guy with a Cardinal cap?
Corey Rudd asked about home runs being tougher to hit at Busch and whether that factored into draft discussions. Mo said that it really didn't, that they looked for good hitters and didn't worry too much about Busch being a bit more of a pitcher's park.
Mr. Tomasik brought up comparisons of Taveras to Vladimir Guerrero. Mozeliak stated he understood why people said that, but he thought that Taveras was much more disciplined at the plate than Vlad was. Mo said he usually compares Taveras to a couple of guys that have been through the system while he was here, Albert Pujols and J.D. Drew. (While Drew doesn't sound like a terribly great comparison, remember he had plenty of talent when he was healthy.)
Josh wanted to know about Carlos Martinez at Springfield, which elicited the best comment of the weekend from Mo: "Better get there quick, big boy." Obviously, as we've seen this week, Mo wasn't joking around.
I got a chance to take a crack at a question and asked if Mo had ever talked to Stan Musial about being a general manager, since Stan spent a year in the job (and won a World Series). Mozeliak said he never did, that by time he got the job Stan was already starting to decline and even before that, his interactions with Stan were more social than professional. He did say that Bing Devine had been a lot of help to him and was a mentor to him in the job.
A quick rundown of other questions: Mo said that they'd take the best available in the draft, but they would be keeping an eye on needs. So if they could find a middle infielder, they'd go for it, but that's an if in this draft. Mo and Matheny talk almost daily about the minor league system, what's going on down there, who might be available. He also said he didn't think people were necessarily throwing harder in these days than they used to be, but that technology could measure speeds more accurately. I've heard that point a couple of times this week on the broadcasts as well after never hearing it before.
Finally, Dennis wanted to know if he could borrow Mo's office to trade off Ty Wigginton. Mozeliak rose to the defense of Wiggy, asking rhetorically if it was better to start someone's clock for a couple of at-bats a week or use a guy that knows how to do it. He pointed out it is hard to develop skills while you are sitting on the bench so it's better to have a developed bat in that role. He did acknowledge that, if Wigginton was hitting .150 at this time next year, "I'll wear it."
Mo had to leave to take care of some business (whether that business was preparing to swap Marc Rzepczynski for Seth Maness, we'll never know) and we got a chance to hear from Stephanie Spargur, who is the retail director for the Cards. She had a display up of some of the various products you could get down at the store, including a few things that were Busch Stadium exclusives such as a Stan Musial shirt. There's also a great personalization program that they have now, with the option of memorializing a special day on some of their products.
We also heard from Chef Alex Eusebio, who told us about the four-hand nachos and the pasta dishes that were going to be waiting for us up in the suites. Needless to say, we were not disappointed when we got up there and tried them out. I had the nachos, which were outstanding.
Bill DeWitt took a few more questions after that. He noted Stan had donated a lot of his stuff when he retired, so there wasn't a lot of it to get when he passed. He said that they collaborate with the Hall of Fame and let them take first crack at things, but they usually don't show up unless it's the World Series.
Then he got into the road caps after Christine Coleman's (Aaron Miles' Fastball) question, which has been a sore spot for some people on Twitter and elsewhere. He acknowledged that it was an experiment, as he felt that if you were going to do blue caps, you should have a blue belt and blue shoes, but that was problematic. Players don't want a lot of different pairs of shoes and the manufacturers didn't want to make them.
DeWitt said they probably should have asked the question better, as there was a pretty even split between all blue and then people that wanted some red in the rotation. He also felt they probably should have waited until the season had started to ask people, as when they asked no one had had a chance to see what the red would look like on the road. DeWitt did a quick poll of the group and, like the on-line poll, it was fairly split. They are going to continue to tinker with it during the year and figure out exactly how they want to do things.
With that, DeWitt left and then Ron Watermon wrapped things up with an announcement that, honestly, made for an audible gasp in the group. He noted that all of the employees and staff of the Cardinals had received a pin that honored Stan Musial's legacy. He said that you'd see them all around the ballpark if you paid attention. He then said that they had those same pins for us, because they considered us part of the family and part of the organization.
It's not wrong that I've worn this pin three times in the last week, is it?
All of us were extremely touched by this gesture. Again, to think that this group had developed from a handful of blogs to an organization that was worthy of such an honor was stunning to me. We couldn't--and can't--thank the Cardinals enough for thinking of us in this manner.
As everyone filed out to get their pins and head up to the suites, I made my way over to talk with Ron about the pins and other various things. One thing led to another in our discussions and when we looked up, everyone was gone. (Lindsey Weber, who is our main contact with the organization as well as an incredible person to work and talk with and always a joy to see, had slipped my pin into the bag I was carrying.)
Ron offered to escort me to the suite. We took a bit of a different route and, as we walked by a few offices, I thanked him for letting me see a little bit of behind-the-scenes, as I've always been fascinated by the idea of the stadium as an office building. "Well, you want the nickel tour?" he said. Needless to say, I quickly acquiesced.
To be fair, the office portion of Busch Stadium could be the offices of any other major companies. Rows after rows of cubicles, though in this case the nameplates also had the Cardinal logo on them. We walked by ticket sales, by special events (and saw the workups of how football and soccer were going to work in Busch) and accounting (which got my attention, of course).
I was also able to look into the business conference room, which was very intriguing even before Ron mentioned that this is where they'd conduct the player draft in June. I had to snap a picture then (which, apparently, turned out a bit blurry) so as to be able to picture that when listening to the draft this summer. They had whiteboards and such just out of the picture, so you can imagine Mo and Dan Kantrovitz marking names off and rejuggling lists while the draft goes on.
I was able to also walk by Kantrovitz's office (and could see that he had some work up on the draft board, though I couldn't see any names or anything like that, unfortunately) as well as Mozeliak's and Bill DeWitt Jr.'s office as well. Then we stepped out onto DeWitt's Porch, a patio right off the hallway from the owner's office that had chairs where you could look out and watch the game. Part of it was blocked off by the stands hanging over, but there were still parts where you could see most all of the field. It's not a section that has ticketing, but I think many of the staff might sneak down there and get a few minutes out in the sun while a game is going on. That's where I took those pictures of Ballpark Village from as well, as the back side of the porch was open so that you could see across the street.
I really appreciated Ron giving me the tour and found it really fascinating. Of course, I'm a huge nerd as well, so your mileage may vary.
Finally, we made it up to the suites. The game was going on and we had the TVs showing the FSMW feed while the audio was of John Rooney and Mike Shannon on KMOX. There was a lot of mingling, a lot of eating, and a lot of talking going on as well as a little game watching as well.
Bloggers talking shop while monitoring the game. That's Diane Schultz (Women Who Love Cardinal Baseball), Christine and Dathan to the left, Tara, Lindsey and Mr. Tomasik to the right.
All in all, it was a wonderfully put together weekend by the Cardinals and by Bill with the dinner. You can see pictures of the Q&A on the official site as well, which is pretty cool, I think. We look forward to it again next year, hopefully from the brand new Cardinal Nation restaurant!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball