To paraphrase Smokey and the Bandit, the St. Louis Cardinals loaded up their truck Friday because they’ve got a run to make. That trip will take the Cardinals to Jupiter, Fla., to begin Spring Training 2012 and kick off the six-week journey to Opening Day April 5 in Miami against the Marlins. That means this is the last weekend without official St. Louis Cardinals baseball activities on the lush, green fields in Florida set underneath the backdrop of palm trees.
Some teams such as the Seattle Mariners have already reported to their Spring Training complex. The Cardinals will get everything set up during the week, and pitchers and catchers will report to camp Saturday. Hear that? I said Saturday. We are finally close enough to count down the remaining days by the day of the week rather than the date on the calendar.
A few players have already begun practice at the Cardinals’ Roger Dean Stadium facilities. Most notably, starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has thrown regularly from a mound and came away from those sessions saying he felt “danged good.” That comment should bring a giddy smile to Cardinals fans’ faces. Wainwright’s competitive fire is right up there with teammate Chris Carpenter. Both guys have talent, but they can also will themselves through a game to put the team in position to win. He also says the Cardinals will be better than last year. Time will tell us if that is the case for a 90-win team coming off of a World Series championship, but Spring Training is all about optimism, after all.
Most of Wainwright’s optimism is based on solid reasoning rather than mere hope. Unless something terrible happens to derail the season, the Cardinals will not be horrible. Most baseball fans would likely consider the team a disappointment this year if it finished close to .500 or worse. A return trip to the playoffs, much less the World Series, will still be difficult for the Cardinals. The Milwaukee Brewers are worse on paper this year than last, and the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros are not substantially better than last year at this time. The Cincinnati Reds are better now on paper than they were at the beginning of Spring Training in 2011, and they look to be the main competition for the Cardinals to win the division crown.
Either way, the Cardinals will be competitive, and that is really what makes a baseball game fun.
Yes, it is excruciating to lose late in the late innings of a game after the starter threw a terrific seven innings, but the fact the Cardinals are often in games where the late innings matter keeps the fan base energized. That energy will start to build Saturday when Spring Training officially opens for the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. Doesn’t that sound nice?
The delivery trucks might still have a long way to go and the team might have a relatively short time to get ready for the season, but it is time to say goodbye to winter.
This team is going to try to do what many say can’t be done: successfully defend its title in 2012.