ST. LOUIS -- Temperatures took a nosedive into the single digits, but that didn’t keep fans away from the final day of the Cardinals' 20th Winter Warm-Up.
The festivities ended with the opportunity to talk to two managers and two of the newest Redbirds as everyone prepares for the warmer weather baseball brings.
We will have longer stories on the app in the hours to come, but here’s a digest of the happenings of day three:
Tony La Russa
The former Cardinal manager took time off from his duties as chief baseball officer for the Diamondbacks to reminisce with players and fans about the 10-year anniversary of the 2006 World Series championship.
“You see all the guys from 2006 and I'm going to say something that I think is really important - 2006 was the very first one as a Cardinal. I felt that responsibility because we kept having those misses in the championship series. Then we miss against the Red Sox. I have no crystal ball. You don't know. That club looked like it was going to be tough. We knew we were going to be better but I didn't know if we were going to be good enough.”
While La Russa’s focus has shifted to the NL West, he knows the battle between the Cardinals and Cubs over the Central Division will enhance an already great rivalry.
“I would compare it to any Yankees/Red Sox, there isn't any of them any better than Cubs/Cardinals. But there's no doubt that when the teams are better and the stakes are higher then not only are the players more passionate but the fans get more excited. So what's happening - like last year, and what's going to happen this year - is the best of all worlds for fans of both teams.”
The left-handed reliever was manager Mike Matheny’s top choice to lean on in a overworked but highly successful bullpen last year. In his third MLB season the 26-year-old appeared in 81 games, just one shy of doubling his combined total from the previous two years. Despite the heavy load, Siegrist said he felt fine physically throughout the season.
“I made sure to take enough time off before I started getting back into it, but every offseason you start feeling the itch to get back into it. It’s hard just to rest in the offseason.”
As for offseason throwing, Siegrist said he used an old program.
“The difference between this year and last year is that I just had to see how my arm felt coming out of that injury two years ago. This year, I can pretty much work on more of my pitches and refine those.”
The addition of Leake gives the Cardinal lineup another pitcher who knows how to handle the bat. The soft-spoken righty wasted little time taking a jab at his new teammate Adam Wainwright, who credits Leake and his sinker with the reason why he has to wear a thumb guard to bat.
“I know he doesn’t like the ball on the inside part of the plate so I mean I was trying to break his thumb a little bit,” Leake said with a sly grin. “I mean I’m excited to hit again and hopefully I can teach Adam a few things about hitting.”
Leake spoke fondly of his former Reds catcher Brayan Pena as the two jump ship to a division rival.
“His personality is who he is. What you see is what you got with him. He’s energetic, loves the game. He’s ready to play every time he’s asked upon. I think St. Louis will enjoy him thoroughly. He’s a guy I would want on my team and he’s a guy that- I mean he’s scrappy, he gets clutch hits when you need him to.”
The Cardinals will try to figure out how to avoid the drastic fall off Peralta endured in 155 games last year. The shortstop put up All Star numbers blasting 13 home runs before the break but saw his batting average plummet 55 points over the final four months. The club hopes to alleviate Peralta’s workload with the addition of Jedd Gyorko.
“Gyorko is good for the team. I know he's a utility player, he can play a couple positions and it's good to have him on the team. I know he's going to help a lot with rest with a couple of guys like Kolten Wong, me and I think Carpenter. It's good to have him here.”
However Peralta contends he did not feel tired during the final months of last season. He says he wants to play 155 games even though he will turn 34 at the end of May.
“In the beginning of the season, I felt really good. For me I felt the same in the second half. Maybe the pitchers prepared better for me. I always like to play a lot of games.”
The new Cardinal utility man had a shock to his system Monday, opening his media session with an assertive “it’s cold.” Gyorko, acquired by trade from San Diego, is eager for action wherever he can get it. Mostly, he’s excited to be playing in the Gateway City full time, saying he always circled games in St. Louis on the schedule.
“It’s just a great place to play, a great atmosphere. Us baseball players like to be around baseball people. I don’t think you’re going to find anywhere in the country that has more baseball people than St. Louis. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited,” he said.
Martinez hit a major off-the-field milestone at the Winter Warm-Up, conducting his entire interview in English. Jhonny Peralta was on standby if the pitcher had any trouble, but the 24-year-old handled a couple dozen questions solo.
“I try everyday to learn a couple of words and that's why I'm here right now,” he said. “I just try to speak a lot with my teammates and with Mike and with everybody just try to learn some words everyday.”
As far as baseball goes, the righty will begin throwing Tuesday in Jupiter where he’s spent much the offseason. Coming back from a shoulder injury that shut him down at the end of the year, Martinez said he’s at about 90 percent and should be good to go by spring training.
The franchise record-holding closer signed a one-year, $5.6 million deal this offseason and avoided arbitration with the club. While the money certainly makes thing easier for the second-time father and his wife, Rosenthal said there aren’t any special plans to celebrate. Instead, he’s hoping to erase the sting of last season’s ending. Being bounced from October ball earlier than ever before in his career, Rosenthal said he had a hard time watching the rest of the playoffs.
“It’s one of those things where I think my wife wants to have it on and I kind of fight her, but I let her put it on. Then I try not to watch and play with the kids and kinda end up watching,” he said. “Like I said it makes you angry because you want to be there, you think our team- I could just picture us playing there and how those games are going to play out and how much fun it is. That’s the hardest part about it.”
The Cardinal skipper talked for 30 minutes on Monday, covering just about every topic touched on in the previous days’ interviews. One of the insights he offered into the transitional nature of the franchise was the talk of leadership.
While Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina aren’t exactly on their last legs, the club still likes to identify new leaders to learn from the ones in place. According to the manager, some of those new leaders are beginning to emerge.
“We’ve seen some guys who I’m not comfortable to start throwing their names out in this room, because they’re not ready for that yet. But in that clubhouse room, they’re ready. And they’re ready to just be given a little more freedom to take the reins and see what it’s like to lead a baseball club,” he said.
Bill DeWitt III
Changes are coming to Busch Stadium this season, and Bill DeWitt III started off Monday’s interview list talking shop. Some of the discussion was on the new scoreboard, which will be ready for the season opener and should be quite the sight. Estimated to be nearly three times as large as the existing one, it will also be fully high def and use all the screen real estate without any ads.
“The other thing the hi-def screen does it’s brighter so for example you’re familiar with the late evening sun as it sets in the west prior to a six o’clock game. Those games can start in the summer and the sun is beating down on our boards in right-center. It can be a little bit of an iffy picture. With the new hi-def boards it will cut through all that. The brightness will cut through all that.”
It was important to the club to maintain a balance between the traditional side and the cutting edge, and DeWitt said they aimed to be somewhere between old Wrigley field (before the upgrades) and Marlins Park in Miami.
“I feel the Cardinals should be somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. We do have traditional fans who appreciate the basic raw baseball but we also have young fans and families that want us to be cutting edge. I like the fact that we strike that balance.”