(Baseball StL) -- Last in a series about teaching “The Cardinal Way” in the St. Louis Cardinal minor league system.
At first, Peoria Chiefs’ coach Erik Pappas said he wasn’t sure what was going on.
At the Cardinals’ spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla., young players were being asked to play in ballgames alongside veterans.
“Then I realized why they were doing that,” he said. “They didn’t want any of these guys to be intimidated when they were called up. The Cardinals go out of their way to (integrate their ballplayers into their entire system). You are not just filling a position for them. They make you feel like you belong there, like you are part of us. They make you feel comfortable.”
Carson Kelly, an Oregon native two months short of his 19th birthday and a second round pick out of Westview High School in Oregon, said the Cardinal players treated him and all the minor leaguers as equals.
“David Freese, John Jay, Daniel Descalso, all would come over and talk to us and ask us how camp was going and offering advice. Mike Matheny talked to all of us early about being a Cardinal and made us feel like we were important to the Cardinals’ organization,” said Kelly, who is rated the #7 prospect in the Cardinal organization.
“There’s no arrogance in the Cardinals,” Pappas said. “They treat you the same no matter who you are. I remember when I was with the Cardinals, the clubhouse manager was Buddy Bates. He made you feel like he only worked for you. All the Cardinals are so welcoming. Now, the clubhouse guy is Rip Rowan and it’s the same thing. No arrogance.”
With that treatment comes expectations that the players understand.
“You can’t be lax,” said Patrick Wisdom, a 21-year-old California native who was taken in the first round of the 2012 supplemental draft. “You have to be prepared at all times. Your team is counting you. You can’t get too high or too low, otherwise one bad day could become four.” Wisdom is currently rated the 17th best prospect in the Cardinals’ farm system.
“We are competing against each other for a job,” Kelly agreed, “but if we work hard with each other, we make ourselves a little better every day.”
Thinking ahead and adjusting is also an important part of the Cardinals’ philosophy.
“When I’m on deck,” Wisdom said, “I try to think ahead and decide what my job as a hitter will be. I think about where the runners are and what I have to do.”
“When I’m at second base, I look at the location (of the catcher’s glove) and the pitch he calls and at the last minute, I may adjust my position accordingly,” said Kelly. “I try to think of the small things that separates a great fielder from a good fielder. Maybe I notice the hitter is pulling off the ball a little and I can make a late move here or there. That’s the Cardinal way, finding the little things.”
Kelly and Wisdom walk back into the Chief’s clubhouse to prepare for the second game of the day-night doubleheader at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva, Ill. against the Kane County Cougars.
The first game did not go well for the Chiefs; they were shut out for the second game in a row, something you would not know by their upbeat and positive demeanor.
Pappas lingers for a moment, thinking about his response to the final question.
“What advice do I give them? I tell them to respect the game, number one, and to appreciate it. But I also tell them to work so hard at it that there won’t be any reason to have any regrets.”
No regrets is what best summarizes The Cardinal Way.