The St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up was two weeks ago, but the information that flows from that event covers the past, present, and future over what may be the most comprehensive weekend of the offseason. And its proximity to the start of Spring Training makes it kind of the unofficial straight-from-the-team preview for the season ahead.
All of the interviews are interesting, but many are predictable, too. Of course John Mozeliak and Bill Dewitt Jr. will be asked about the circumstances surrounding the departure of Albert Pujols. Of course David Freese will be asked about his whirlwind offseason. And of course Adam Wainwright will get questions about his health and availability for 2012. Not asking questions like these would represent poor journalism at its most blatant. But there really is a lot more going on than what is expected from a series of 10 minute press conferences.
For instance, Chris Carpenter laid out the whole story about his highly publicized fishing trip with Roy Halladay and the rescue of a naked fisherman who had just survived an anaconda attack. Wainwright waxed poetic about Tim Tebow. Freese and Matt Holliday may be building a friendly rivalry over the sport of squash. And Lance Berkman revealed that his comments last season about first base being a tougher position that the outfield was just a joke (Berkman is switching from outfield to first for 2012).
One really cool aspect of the Winter Warm Up is seeing how the prospects react to the attention lavished on players at the event. Many just received word that they are getting invited to their first Major League Spring Training. Others have the pedigree within the system but have not experienced the Winter Warm Up and its crush of fans and media. Regardless, it really is something to see the anticipation on their faces and hear the excitement in their voices. Zack Cox, Ryan Jackson, Jordan Swagerty, Shelby Miller, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, and Brandon Dickson were all in attendance and ready to get to Jupiter, Florida. A lot of what they have to say is boilerplate: they don’t care where they play in the field, as long as they can help the team win; the pitchers don’t care if they start or relieve because they’ll do whatever the team wants them to do; etc. But coming off a Cardinals World Series Championship, their anticipation and enthusiasm is markedly higher…it’s evident when they talk about watching the team on TV and knowing their shot to join the big club is right in front of them.
This offseason has had its lows, too. Based on what everyone close to them said, Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols will be sorely missed. But everyone understands the business aspect of the game, and no one faults La Russa or Duncan for taking control of their personal lives in the manner they did. The best thing the remaining Cardinals can do is go out and win—whether it’s winning for or in spite of a former member of the team.
Finally, the Winter Warm Up provides unique insight into the personalities of these ballplayers off the field. While the season is going on, it is understandable that the intensity of the game dominates their personas so much they cannot shut it off for a handful of interviewers. But in mid-January, things tend to be a little more laid back. So, to close out the I-70 Baseball Winter Warm Up coverage, the following is a few of my favorite one-liners from Cardinals while at the interview podium. It is obvious Berkman is the king of the one-liner; consequently it is easy to see why he is considered such a positive clubhouse presence. But others chimed in with great stuff as well.
“We were both wondering if it would be too early to ask for number five” –Lance Berkman, when asked if anything would change for him or Matt Holliday after the departure of Albert Pujols.
“Oh, is he publicly announcing it? Wow, he must be nervous because I beat him last time so he’s trying to get that record out there.” –David Freese, upon learning Matt Holliday told reporters he had a 4-2 lead over Freese in squash matches.
“I can just relax now, you know. And I’m playing first base, so I can get huge.” –Lance Berkman discussing his offseason program this year versus what he accomplished last offseason.
“Sometimes when you look back you regret certain things, and when I was sitting in front of my TV and they were winning the championship I was like ‘Wow.’” –J.C. Romero on his previous interest in pitching for the Cardinals before signing this offseason.
“I’ll have to work on it. I’m not giving anything away right now.” –Kyle Lohse on whether he plans on having a Mike Matheny costume on hand for this season.
“Well, far be it from me to give anyone financial advice.” –John Mozeliak on whether Kyle McClellan should feel secure enough with the Cards to take out a second mortgage. McClellan signed a few days later.
“He runs pretty out there.” –Lance Berkman on Carlos Beltran. “He runs like a puma.” –Carlos Beltran on Lance Berkman.
(Major Thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals for providing I-70 Baseball—as well as a handful of other United Cardinal Bloggers members—a press credential for this event. I also owe personal thanks to I-70 Baseball’s fearless leader, Bill Ivie, for selecting me to represent this fine site once again.)