Tag Archive | "Professional Athlete"

Minus Chris Carpenter, Cardinals pitchers strong

Without the big bat of former first baseman Albert Pujols in the lineup and five position players over the age of 30, the St. Louis Cardinals desperately need their pitching staff to lead the team, and so far it has.

Cardinals starters have given up just two runs in their first five starts of the spring and a combined 10 innings. Kyle Lohse gave up a homerun to Miami Marlins infielder Greg Dobbs in the second inning of the Cardinals first game of the spring. Shelby Miller also gave up a run to the Washington Nationals in the first inning of Wednesday’s game.

Other than that the team’s starters have been flawless. Their success is particularly vital considering uncertainty surrounds the Cardinals two best pitchers: Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.

Wainwright dominated in his first game, holding the New York Mets scoreless Tuesday in his two innings of work. That outing was a huge step for Wainwright and will hopefully propel him into the regular season with no lingering concerns about his right elbow that required Tommy John surgery a year ago.

Carpenter, on the other hand, has not had the best of starts to Spring Training. He has yet to appear in a game and doesn’t seem likely to take the mound anytime soon. Since arriving in Jupitar, Fla., in February, Carpenter has dealt with neck discomfort.

Following the Peyton Manning neck surgery fiasco, right now is not a good time for a professional athlete to have neck concerns. As is the case with Manning, Carpenter is not a young pup and answers about how and when he will heal are nowhere to be found.

Given Carpenter’s issues, it is especially important for Miller to perform well during Spring Training this year. Who knows, maybe he will find himself at the back of the starting rotation for the Cardinals on Opening Day rather than leading the minor-league Memphis Redbirds staff.

Although it would be nearly devastating emotionally for fans and players alike if Carpenter’s situation takes a turn for the worse, the Cardinals might be the team best prepared to handle problems to a key member of the starting rotation.

When Wainwright went down on the first day of Spring Training a year ago, many people wrote the Cardinals off and said they had no chance without their best pitcher. Well, the rings the players receive in April will show everyone how that worked out. If Carpenter can’t go this season, the Cardinals still have a pitcher of his equal to lead the rotation in Wainwright.

That’s not to say everything is still puppies and rainbows. The Cardinals were going to need better, more consistent pitching performances this year because the offense is still an unknown. Sure, the team signed Carlos Beltran to cover some of the run production left when Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but Beltran is not near as much of an impact bat as Pujols.

Maybe the team will catch lightning in a bottle with Beltran and the Cardinals will again lead the league in several offensive categories, but that is doubtful. To make up for that difference, the Cardinals were going to have to rely more on the pitching and defense side of things.

An old group of position players doesn’t figure to lead the league defensively, so that means the Cardinals would need their pitchers to perform terrifically just to cover some of the other holes in the team.

All hope won’t be lost for the Cardinals if Carpenter is not able to start the season in the starting rotation, but fans might need a little more hope to potentially see another trip to the World Series for the Cardinals in 2012.

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Colby Rasmus Is A Bad Centerfielder

In Friday night’s 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Chris Narveson and the Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals came to face a hard truth: they might have the worst defensive starting centerfielder in all of baseball, and his name is Colby Rasmus.

(A quick aside: I know I am not a Major League baseball player. I am not a professional athlete of any kind, nor to I pretend to know what it takes to be one. So if any of my millions of loyal readers are, at this point, ready to scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a scathing comment akin to “I’d like to see you get out there and do better,” save it…and hear me out.)

In the bottom of the third inning, Craig Counsell sent a Kyle Lohse delivery to deep right-center. Right fielder Jon Jay tracked it to the wall and leaped but could not come up with the catch. The ball rattled around a quirky little notch in the Miller Park wall and Counsell ended up with a stand-up triple. On the telecast, Al Hrabosky practically screamed about it and the Fox Sports Midwest replay confirmed it: Rasmus was standing in his centerfield position watching Jay attempt to make the play. He simply did not move. He was an innocent bystander, just like the 33,000+ spectators in the stands. It honestly looked like he could not care less.

Could Rasmus have made the catch? Certainly not. But had he run to back up his right fielder, Rasmus would have been in position to do two things which could have been immensely helpful to the situation: he could have chirped at Jay, who was watching the ball, about his location and approach to the wall/notch; and he could have grabbed the ball on the carom and fired it back into the infield to keep Counsell’s hit to a double. As it was, Jay had to chase the ball after his leaping miss and get it to the infield. It was not all that far from being an inside-the-park home run.

Counsell later scored on a magnificent slide around what was otherwise a perfect tag attempt by Yadier Molina after a bunt, but his run was hardly a back-breaker as the Brewers eventually broke the game wide open and the Cards had no answer for Narveson.

The real problem, though, is this was not an isolated incident. Rasmus has a history of playing somewhat aloof in the outfield. But, believe it or not, he is actually a pretty skilled defender…as long as his head is in the game. Rasmus has shown he can make big plays; he just doesn’t make them all the time. And that’s a mental lapse, not a physical one.

Centerfield is a special position. Traditionally, the best outfielder on the team plays center. He has to have a magnetic glove and he has to have a good, strong throwing arm. But he also has to intensely pay attention to every pitch to get an immediate read on every ball hit to the outfield, because he is expected to cover the most ground. And when a ball is hit in the vicinity of more than one fielder, he has to play traffic cop. These last traits are where Rasmus falls short.

How many times have we seen Rasmus pull up when he and another outfielder converge on a fly ball or line drive? How many times has Rasmus spiked a throw into the ground, almost like he forgot to release the ball? Friday night’s lapse was a new one. I’ve seen better backup out of a beer league softball team. Is this something the Cards will just have to live with as long as Rasmus wears the Birds on the Bat? Or can he still learn how to take charge out there?

Unfortunately, when the outfield consists of Rasmus, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday, the choice for centerfield is pretty obvious. Jay has spelled Rasmus in center adequately, but hasn’t yet pushed him to another position when both play at the same time. It’s a tough spot for the Cards, so Rasmus will probably stay in center as long as he is a Cardinal. And he is a valuable piece of the Cards’ offense, so this isn’t necessarily a plea to give Rasmus the JD Drew heave-ho.

Rasmus is no Jim Edmonds, but it would not be fair to expect that of him. If he wants to be an elite centerfielder, however, he must step up his defense and it starts with the fundamentals. He has to take charge, call the ball, direct traffic. Otherwise, the Cards may need to seriously think about a shuffle in the outfield sooner rather than later.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he wants. Follow him on Twitter at @birdbrained.

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Idiot: Johnny Damon’s Legacy

A few years ago I had the pleasure of getting to know an elderly woman who was one of the sweetest, most gentle people I’ve ever known. She was the old lady who gives everyone a hug when she shows up, who calls everyone “sweetheart” or “sugar.”

She lived alone, her children grown and living in other parts of the country. I got to know her pretty well, and at one point I found out that she had been married to a professional baseball player, but they had divorced decades ago.

Of course, being a baseball fan, my interest was piqued, so I had to ask her about her ex-husband. She was gracious and polite, but it didn’t take a lot of asking to learn their story.

He’d had a few seasons in the major leagues in the 1950s, but had been a long-time minor league player and coach. They had lived in California, mainly, but the game had taken him all over the country.

The thing was, the woman didn’t seem at all enamored with the glamour of being a ballplayer’s wife. She didn’t care if he had been a good player or not. She could care less what famous players he’d taken the field with. After all the years, the only thing she knew – and so delicately divulged – was that he’d been too busy, too absent, too unfaithful to marriage, and too poor a father to their children.

I grew up dreaming of being a professional ballplayer, and to this day I still feel an emptiness of not having that dream fulfilled. But I’m a father now, a husband. I have a job, a house, a normal life. So those dreams of being a professional athlete have faded, and that life seems more like fantasy than reality.

That’s why as story after story of athletes and their marital infidelity find their way into the news, I become more and more incredulous. Hearing the story of that sweet old lady who looked back on her shattered marriage and fatherless children, and knowing myself what having a family is like, I just don’t see how ballplayers can be so reckless, so arrogant, so callous.

While any mention of cheaters will immediately bring Tiger Woods to mind, I can’t shake from my memory the exploits of Johnny Damon. Damon brazenly revealed in his 2005 autobiography Idiot: Beating “The Curse” and Enjoying the Game of Life his wanton infidelity and his desire to shake loose the bonds of marriage because he “wanted to live, have fun, not pick out furniture.”

I’m just glad I didn’t know anything about Damon’s personal life while he was wearing a Royals’ uniform. All this came to light when he was winning a World Series in Boston, and I didn’t need any more reason to despise him. He’d rejected my beloved team for greener pastures, and it only seemed fitting that he’d abandoned his wife and children as well.

But now I’m older. And so is Damon. He’s 37 and is looking for a team to pick him up as a free agent. He hit .271 for Detroit last season, but he had a WAR of just 1.6 as his physical abilities, particularly on the defensive side, have deteriorated.

Damon is also remarried. He has children with his second wife. As age has changed my perspective on what’s important in life, I hope it’s changed Damon’s as well. His career may be over, but his life isn’t. Damon, and his wife, and his ex-wife, and his children – they’re all going to grow old. And the glory will fade.

I hope they don’t look back with sadness like my elderly friend does on what became of her life. To an 80-year-old woman, batting averages, wins and losses, money, fame – none of it seemed to matter. I hope I learned something from that woman. I hope Damon, along with a lot of other men, learns about what’s important in life as well.

For an interesting article on athletes and marital infidelity, click here to ESPN.

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