St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter comes from humble roots. He goes about what he is doing quietly.
The Cardinals selected Carpenter in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Texas Christian University, where he played for baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle. He would make his MLB debut ever so briefly in 2011 but played most of the year with the Cardinals during the 2012 season. He would end up finishing in sixth place for Rookie of the Year voting, despite the fact that he missed a month of baseball during May and June.
His father, Rick Carpenter, coached him in high school at Lawrence E. Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas. It was not a guarantee that Matt would play in the major leagues but it certainly helped him become the player that he is. Did his dad ever think that he would have the season that is he having right now?
“I’ve been coaching for a long, long time and I’ve had 40 some kids drafted in my career so I already know how hard it is to even make it, let alone have a good season like this,” the coach said over the phone. “So the answer to that is no. It’s just so hard to catch a break and make all this happen.”
This season, the way Matt has gone about things is surprising to some. Outside of St. Louis, nobody is talking about it all that much. But inside of Cardinals Nation? Everyone is. Jon Heyman, an MLB Network insider and a baseball writer for CBS Sports tweeted this on June 5, 2013.
best season nobody is talking about: #STLCards matt carpenter is in top 5 in nl w/ 47 runs,.407 obp, 70 hits, 18 2B
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) June 5, 2013
I asked his dad for comments on what he thinks of when he hears something like that of Heyman’s tweet.
“Well, we’re a humble family and we just stay quiet about it,” he said. “Honestly, we don’t talk about it. We, you know, congratulate Matt on a good game and he talks about it to us but I don’t get the people at my school to vote for him for the All-Star team. I don’t want to do things like that. I don’t know if jinx (laughs) is the word I’m looking for but I don’t want to interrupt the karma or whatever word you want to use. Jinx, karma, whatever.”
While the coach is not good at computers, Matt did set up Google Alerts for them. The family has been “enjoying that thoroughly” with the good press of late.
Carpenter was a third baseman as he came up through the Cardinals system but once he came up, he played almost everywhere as Carpenter played first base, third base, right field, left field, and briefly played 5 games at second base–including two starts.
After the season ended in 2012, the Cardinals assigned Carpenter a homework assignment. It was to learn how to play second base. He never played a day at second until he played for the Cardinals according to his father, who is now the head baseball coach for Prosper High School in Texas.
“It’s really kind of funny,” said Coach Carpenter. “He had never played a single game at second base until he played in the major leagues. When he was a little guy, he was the best kid in the league so he was always the shortstop. When he got into high school, I had a really good shortstop so I moved Matt to third and that’s what he played in college. So he never, not even for an inning, played second base that I can recall. So, yeah, I’ve been real impressed with that. He really put some time into it, worked hard at it, and didn’t just fall into place. He really earned that. Plus, Jose Oquendo is just a guru. He helped Matt out tons and sings his praises.”
Given that he played high school baseball for his father, what did Coach Schlossnagle see in him as he was recruiting him to play baseball for TCU?
“We thought Matt could become a elite Division I power hitting corner infielder,” said the TCU coach. “He played hard, seemed to have leadership skills and, because his dad was a successful coach, he really knew how to play the game.”
Things changed for Matt at TCU after an injury.
“If you know Matt’s story, he underwent an amazing transformation here,” Schlossnagle said of the leadership and value that Matt brought with him to the clubhouse. “He transformed himself after an injury in his junior year. He would admit that he had underachieved in every area of his life leading up to that injury. After the injury, he completely changed everything in his life…his body, his grades, his nutrition, his performance on the baseball field and his leadership in the classroom. From then on, he was the perfect college baseball player and student-athlete….a model that we try to get all of our players to follow.”
Schlossnagle is surprised by Matt’s success this season to an extent.
“I’m only surprised by his success because I know how hard the game of baseball is and how hard it is to succeed at such an elite level,” he said. “But I’m not surprised that Matt is doing so well. He is incredibly driven to be the absolute best he can be…no one will outwork him, he’s coachable and, best of all, he’s a tremendous teammate.”
Cardinals farm director John Vuch tells me that what excited him the most was Carpenter’s it was his ability to consistently take a quality at-bat.”
“He was good at working the count to get himself into a hitter’s count, would utilize the whole field, and if the pitcher didn’t throw strikes, would take his walks,” Vuch said.
Regarding the national media, Carpenter is having a quiet year. One that ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcaster Dan Shulman calls an “under publicized part of (the) Cardinals offense.”
“I remember the first time I asked Cardinals GM John Mozeliak why they’d keep an unproven guy as a pinch-hitter at the outset of 2012, because typically bench guys are veterans who have learned how to be effective while sitting,” ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney said. “‘Matt knows how to hit,’ he said, and to me, that’s the best way to describe him: He just knows how to hit. He reminds me a lot of Paul O’Neill, and I’d bet that some day during his career, he’ll win a batting title.”