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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Is Opening Day Really Almost Here?

I can’t believe Opening Day is tomorrow night. It seems like the Cardinals just won the World Series a few weeks ago…and now they are trying to do it again? Feels rushed.

One of the common themes at Winter Warm-Up came in response to the question, “So, how was your offseason?” Player’s response: “Short.” I feel ya’, brother. It felt short to me, too. For weeks I watched my DVD copy of Game 6 over and over again…and in between I shopped online, in team stores, and various other places for 2011 World Series memorabilia. I went to Winter Warm-Up, attended my first Spring Training game, watched the St. Louis vs. Springfield exhibition game in person, and spent as much time as possible savoring the most unlikely Championship in Cards’ history with the hours left over.

And now we pack it all up and throw it in the back seat for another season. 12 in 12. A shot at a repeat.

There’s a bit of sadness in that for me. For a baseball fan, a World Series winning season is a grueling journey of frustration, celebration, and stress that leaves you exhausted and spent. Knowing that it all worked out…that your guys pulled it together and the story of the 2011 season has a happy ending…is an incredibly satisfying feeling of contentment and wholeness. But now…it starts all over again. And we really have no idea how this one will turn out.

Each baseball season starts with hope and optimism…with a dash of realism thrown in. Yes, maybe this is the year. You bet I hope it is. Of course everyone is starting from scratch. All the guys are healthy…mostly…and the aches and pains of the previous season are washed away. This could, actually, be the year.

But it most likely isn’t.

In the Cardinals’ illustrious – and long – existence, we’ve only managed to reach our goal of winning a World Series 11 times. And that’s the most in the National League…second in baseball behind only the Yankees. The odds of winning a World Series are – when all factors are considered – nearly impossible. Or at least it feels that way. When your team actually wins one…there’s a part of me that says, “Well…guess we should settle in for a while. The odds of winning another so soon aren’t good.”

So there’s an element of sadness to the beginning of the baseball season so soon after winning the World Series. There’s a part of me that just doesn’t want it to begin because I don’t want the 2011 season to end.

But it has ended…and tomorrow the Cardinals begin their title defense. The odds of 12 in 12 are unlikely, at best…but then…so were the odds of 11 in 11, eh? ūüėČ

Let’s get into the rest of it:

Tyler Greene is a free swinging dude.¬†Watching Tyler take ABs in the exhibition game – and at various times on TV and through Gameday¬†– it seems as if he swings and misses quite a bit. I’m not sure if it’s a discipline problem, a batting eye problem, an attempt to swing for too much power, or what it is…but it is a bit concerning to watch. Considering where Matheny is tempted to use him in the order – near the top – I really hope it’s correctable. With his speed and overall ability, he would be a real asset in the one or two hole in front of guys like Holliday, Berkman, and Beltran. I’m really looking forward to the increased power at second base…but I think the most meaningful stat this season for Greene will be OBP.

The St. Louis squad that came to Springfield last night was wonderful.¬†Matt Holliday, David Freese, and many others signed autographs for longer than I’ve ever seen a player sign for (outside of Winter Warm-Up). They patiently worked the wall, put up with people yelling, “Holliday!” or “Please, Freese!” or even “Sign for the baby! Sign for the baby!!”, and chatted with fans desperately attempting to get close to the champs. It was really good to watch. Skip Schumaker¬†signed for almost the entire game – and before – at various intervals. Holliday started before the game behind home plate and then patiently worked the entire wall down the first base side. Later – around the 6th inning – he even came back out and signed in left field again. And David Freese, of course, signed and posed relentlessly. Watching the guys make a real effort to try and¬†get everyone an autograph was an incredible sight to see. Springfield fans had been waiting for this game for two years…at least. It was good to get such a generous effort from the visitors. But I have to say…when Mark McGwire walked over to the wall, smiled, and started signing…that was the capper for me. Great show, guys. Great show.

St. Louis Cardinals fans are truly the best to be around when you find yourself stuck in an autograph scrum.¬†Yes, just like everywhere else, there’s squishing¬†and wiggling…insistent fans yelling to players…full-grown men reaching long arms with hands clutching pen and ball over the heads of wide-eyed children. But there’s no cussing. There’s no pushing. There’s no – usually – bitter, aggressive jerks intent on getting an autograph at all costs. Instead, there’s, “Oh, sorry…” or “Am I hurting you? Here, let me see if I can move…” and even “Hey, there’s a kid here…come on up, kid…there you go…get right in front of me at the wall…yeah…don’t be shy…hold it right out there…he’ll sign…’Hey, Motte! There’s a kid here!'”. I’ve even seen multiple people at various times take my boy’s ball and pass it forward for him when he couldn’t wiggle into the front of the scrum. And this has been the autograph scrum atmosphere every time. At Busch, Roger Dean, and Hammons Field…Cardinal fans just seem to do it right. Kids first. Be courteous. Go get that autograph…be aggressive about it…but don’t forget what’s important. You’re all in this together. And no matter what…say “Thank you” to the player and understand when they have to quit and walk off. It’s not personal. They just can’t sign forever. Proud of Cardinal Nation.

I wonder how the middle of the infield will look in July.¬†With Furcal’s¬†struggles – he reportedly had an appendectomy in the offseason and has yet to regain his “playing weight” – and Descalso’s¬†success, I wonder if the team will be forced to switch Tyler Greene back to SS and plug DD into 2B. When Spring Training started, the club was fairly certain they would not be switching Tyler back and forth across second base. The belief was that asking him to consistently shift back and forth would go against the idea of letting him settle in and get comfortable so his talent could come out. Now, suddenly Greene at SS is an option…right as rumblings about Furcal’s¬†ability surface. Add to that the fact that Daniel Descalso¬†is pushing…and pushing hard…to get in the lineup with an incredible OBP¬†in Spring and more than one appearance at Furcal’s coveted leadoff spot in the order…and we could very well see the Cardinals pulling the trigger on some tough middle infield decisions mid-season. Greene at SS and Descalso at 2B doesn’t seem that far fetched. At least the solution appears to be in-house this season.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see McClellan and Anderson packaged in a trade later in the season.¬†If the club can’t get Carpenter right and dependable soon enough, Roy Oswalt¬†will be very tempting. So far, the club has implied that signing Oswalt¬†could necessitate a move to clear salary. Kyle McClellan’s name has come up more than once in trade discussions for just that reason. Combine that with Sanchez refining his delivery in AAA, and the Cardinals could decide it’s a good idea to ship K-Mac out to make salary room for Oswalt¬†and roster room for Sanchez. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see Bryan Anderson packaged in the same deal to address some as-of-yet undetermined need in July. Anderson has done all he can do with the Cardinals’ organization. It’s time for him to move on. Matheny essentially said as much when he told him he belonged in the major leagues, but there just isn’t room for him on the St. Louis squad. The team has committed to Tony Cruz to back up Yadi. Now, the best thing to do with Anderson – after a very strong Spring Training – is to position him as a trade chip in 2012. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Anderson MUST be traded this year. Otherwise, you risk losing any value you just re-established over Spring Training camp. I’m not sure if he’s eligible for minor league free agency after this year¬†– I really get confused by all that – but regardless, Anderson needs to get moved this season. Holding onto him at this point is just bad business.

I’m a bit concerned about tomorrow night.¬†It seems as if our team is poised and ready…to get off to a slow start. A sluggish World Series Championship hangover, the aches and pains of a short offseason, and so many new faces and unexpected changes could lead to a lot of uncertainty for the first month of the season. I’m not sure this team really knows who they are, yet. But this Marlins’ squad could be good…real good. As much as I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, I’m a bit apprehensive too. Whenever the boys are on national television, I want so badly for them to shine…to really show those coastal cities what baseball should look like. Tomorrow, they get a shot to do just that. It’s going to be tough…Lohse is going to have to shut down the Marlins’ pesky offense – an offense driven by the likes of Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes – and he’s going to have to do it for perhaps at least five or six innings…because Josh Johnson is going to be a tough assignment for the Cardinals hitters. Should be a good game to watch…(BONUS: It’s in a new stadium, too!).

Wrap-Up!

Alright…that’s going to do it for today. Go buy the brats and the beer…clean the grill and wash the jersey…’cause tomorrow, the Cardinals are kicking off another contending season of Major League Baseball.

GO CARDS!!!

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