JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) – It wasn’t a retirement speech, not yet. But Cardinal legend Jose Oquendo sounded like a man who was seriously considering the next phase of his life as he met briefly with the media Monday morning.
Supported by crutches and standing on the field at Roger Dean Stadium before the Cards faced the New York Mets, Oquendo said he was offered the chance to remain on the Cards’ bench while he rehabilitated his knee from two surgeries in the offseason.
But he said he declined, choosing instead to stay in Jupiter to do his rehab so that he could be near his family. He also indicated that if he could not coach the way he wanted to, he would prefer to stay behind to assess and work with young Cardinal prospects in extended spring training, as well as for the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals who play their games at Roger Dean Stadium.
“I’ll somehow find a way to stay in touch” with the big league club, he said. “Yadi is like a son to me. I may see the guys when they come to Miami (to play the Marlins during the regular season).”
Facing a year without being in baseball will be a tough adjustment, he said, but the important objective right now is getting his knee strong. Oquendo has not healed as well as expected and Cards’ skipper Mike Matheny said the medical staff was concerned that if Oquendo was on the field instructing and coaching third base, his condition could deteriorate to the point that he would need a knee replacement.
The man known once as “the secret weapon” during his playing days for former Cardinal skipper Whitey Herzog, said the team tried to convince him to remain on the bench and help position fielders and offer instruction, but he declined, saying that if he was unable to coach the way he wanted, he would prefer to stay in Jupiter to be near his family.
Oquendo had previously indicated that at some point, he wanted to retire from coaching at the major league level and remain in the Cards complex to work with and assess young talent. He would not say that this would be that time, but did not rule it out either, saying he enjoyed being with young talented players and would do what he could during his rehab to continue that.
He said he did not know if he would be able to come to St. Louis for the Cards’ opener, but said he liked the way this team is progressing. “This is not an easy place to play,” he said, concerning the Cards’ recent defensive problems, citing the wind and the background. “The guys are anxious to start the season.”
Chris Maloney will coach third until Oquendo's possible return and Bill Mueller will handle the duties at first base. Mueller and bench coach David Bell will coach infielders and handle positioning assignments, one job at which Oquendo excelled.