GENEVA, Ill. (Baseball StL) -- Another St. Louis Cardinal game is concluding. The Redbirds have thumped the New York Mets again, 10-4, in the successful major league debut of yet another young Cardinal pitcher, John Gast.
Announcers Mike Shannon and John Rooney are marveling at the Cardinals farm system, using the phrase “the Cardinal way” liberally.
Dann Bilardello, manager of the Cardinals Class A team, the Peoria Chiefs, along with coaches Erik Pappas and Jason Simontacchi, are three of the men who implement “the Cardinal way.”
“We’ve had very good drafts,” Bilardello says, understating the Cardinals’ recent incredible run of securing major league prospects via the free agent draft.
“But sometimes, a lot of times, it’s a crap shoot. Not every first round pick makes it to the majors. Our scouts and advance scouts have done an excellent job and we’ve been very fortunate.”
But it’s more than luck with the Redbirds. Bilardello, who worked with Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox, says it’s different with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’m not knocking LA or Boston, they are very good organizations,” he stresses. “But with the Cardinals, it’s a organizational thing. We get a lot of backing from Mike Matheny and his coaches and the front office. They are all involved in discussions of techniques they want taught and a code of respect and discipline,” he says.
“There is a manual for all the coaches and players on how the Cardinals want us to approach every situation. That is distributed to everyone from the rookie league to the big club. Every fundamental is taught the same throughout the organization. We teach the same hitting philosophy, the same bunt plays, pick-off moves, cut-offs and relays, everything is done the same on every team in the organization,” he says.
That is one of many differences between the Cardinals and other big league clubs. “They (the major league club) should never ask, ‘What are they teaching these guys down in the minors?’”
Discipline and personal expectations are also part of that manual and codes of personal conduct are stressed along with baseball fundamentals.
“It’s all about respect,” says assistant coach Erik Pappas. “They stress playing the game the right way, but they also expect all of their players to have character, to be good people. If they don’t, they’re not around long. This is an organization with 120 years of tradition. They won’t tolerate anyone with poor character.”
Earlier, prior to their ball game with the Kane County Cougars in Geneva, the Chiefs went through their standard warm-ups, which began more than 2 hours before the first pitch.
To the untrained eye, the field is a sea of chaos with red shirts darting here and there as baseballs whistle off Chief bats into the afternoon sun. But it is not chaos. It is well orchestrated and purposeful, with fielders stabbing hot liners and practicing exchanges at second base, or accepting relays from outfielders with precise footwork.
In the cage, batters consciously work on taking a short stride and driving their top hands through the hitting zone in choreographed rhythm, ending their swings alike with balance and hip rotation that betrays the hours spent mastering this technique.
Bilardello tosses pitch after pitch from behind the L screen, ducking as line drives whizz past. He nods encouragement at liners and shakes his head at pop-ups. All three coaches will toss batting practice, Simontacchi last after he talks tonight’s starting pitcher through warm-ups.
Hitters mill around the cage, exchanging thoughts on stance and swing. Fielders shag balls with a purpose. They are loose and friendly but serious. They smile, but they don’t laugh. They don’t clown. They work at getting better with every pitch, every ground ball, every throw.
That is “The Cardinal way.”
NEXT: “The Cardinal Way is more than mechanics. Peoria Chief ballplayers discuss the philosophy of “The Cardinal Way.”