On Monday morning, I awoke with the giddiness of a kid on Christmas morning … except for one small detail. My stomach was in knots. What on earth was I going to say? How was I going to play it cool around these guys?
I had been attempting to mentally prepare for the past 48 hours, but you just can’t prepare yourself to meet the people who’ve been running bases in your mind for the past few years – and a heck of a lot longer if you consider the entire history of the Cardinals organization.
When I arrived at the gate to Roger Dean Stadium, Spring Training home of the St. Louis Cardinals, I almost couldn’t go in. I was too star struck by the whole situation! So … I went home…
Did I get you? Of course I didn’t go home!
I walked inside, legs trembling, found Rene Knott from KSDK, and got that golden ticket – that press pass – he had promised me! It was beautiful.
I had been fortunate enough to get a small preview of what was to come two days prior when Rene allowed me inside for a few minutes. I had a very fun conversation with Jason Motte and was even introduced to who we hope will be the man of the year. That’s right, Adam Wainwright! As if that wasn’t enough …
Monday found me shaking hands with Skip Schumaker right off the bat (pun intended). Muscles ablaze with tattoos, he was very personable and seemed genuinely happy to meet me. He then went on to say in the interview I witnessed that his 4-year-old son had just started to play tee-ball and it would have been impossible not to spot the proud twinkle in his eye.
A lot of the buzz on this particular day was about Skip and Tyler Greene, as they are currently vying for the same spot at second base. So next we headed over to watch some batting practice. And let me tell you – being in the middle of it all is amazing! I stood mere feet away from the net and the sound of the bat hitting the ball seemed to surround me as if telling me, “It’s alright. Baseball’s back.”
I think that was one of my favorite parts of all this – the sounds. The crunch of the gloves, the grunt of the pitchers, the banter and the intense whiz coming off of a bullet from Motte … but we’ll get to that in a minute.
As I stood in awe of the sheer force of the balls being blasted into the outfield, I noticed a few names walking around. John Mabry! … McGwire! Right there! And could it be? … Red Schoendienst?! Standing right there in the field at 89 years old! I couldn’t believe it. I wanted so badly to introduce myself, but I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries (and I was just a little bit in awe).
Rene then wrapped up our time at batting practice by relaying to me a story of Albert effortlessly knocking balls into the infield of the opposing arena and then shrugging at him as if to say, “No biggie.” I suppose they’re now getting a taste of that in Anaheim.
We then ventured over to the bullpen session. They’re hurling the balls and I was right there – I know I’ve stressed this already, but it was one of the most important parts of the whole experience! I felt like I could get hit at any moment, and from what I’ve heard it’s probably happened before. I stood, watching the masters at work, and I didn’t even have time to follow the ball all the way to the glove because I was that close. Just about five feet away from Yadi, a personal favorite of mine.
At this point, Motte finishes throwing and I have been warned that he wants to mess with me a bit. And I want to preface this by saying that he was just the coolest that past Saturday! There’s no other way to put it … He actually asked me questions about myself. Where I worked, where I’m from, etc. … The guy closed the World Series and he was willing to talk to me?!
After a few mean looks, and I must say he was a good actor (he is, after all, the closer – he needs a good game face), he finally cracks a smile.
After the workout we went into the clubhouse to see if we could get some post-practice interviews. Our Cardinals talked eagerly amongst themselves about the day and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Motte and I had another conversation in which we become friends again (can I say that? … because I just did!), and then Waino happens to walk by.
He stopped me, smiled, and said, “Kelsey, right?” I talked to him for mere minutes the time that we met, and he actually remembered my name. I think that’s a huge testament to his character … I was in shock.
We got a hold of Kyle Lohse on his way out, and he was also very gracious. And then Jon Jay rolled in, without afro but with smile and talked excitedly about the coming year.
And at some point in all this, I also got to meet John Mozeliak! He was extremely welcoming and seemed to be just as happy for it to finally be baseball season. I’m sure it was nice to get out of the office and into the open air.
Now, one of the people I wanted to meet most was, of course, Mike Matheny. I was a huge fan back when he caught for us, and I can’t wait to see him come into his own as manager. Two days into the job and he was being constantly swarmed by the press – I was even asked to stick a microphone in his face early on in the day. But he handled it with grace. And I could tell he was totally and completely focused on doing what he needs to do to put together a good team.
Finally, just as I’m about to leave, Rene grabbed his attention and introduced me. He was everything people say he is – the love of the game radiates from him. And he even laughed at the thought of calling himself “manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.” I think he’s still getting used to it.
As I walked back out through the gate I had to shake my head from side to side. I still don’t believe it all happened … I think I’m currently in a Cardinal coma.
And since my mind has shut down – it’s time for a mindless plug! Living my Cardinals fan’s dream would have never been possible without KDSK and the MLB Fan Cave! So please, please support them and vote for your favorite finalist online.
Even if it’s not me! Let’s face it – I can already die happy!