St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig is having one hell of a season. Last night, the Wrench hit his first career grand slam of the season.
Craig is amongst the three players to have the highest batting average with runners in scoring position. George Brett hit .469 in 1980 and Tony Gwynn hit .459 in 1997. Entering tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, Craig is batting an impressive .452. In 124 at bats with RISP, Craig has 81 RBI.
With bases loaded this season, Craig is hitting .700 in ten at bats with one home run and 20 runs batted in.
In 2011, Craig put is name into the record books with an impressive World Series performance. He joined Kiki Cuyler (1925) and Hank Greenberg (1945) with 3 game-winning RBIs.
His former high school and college coaches have said nothing but good things about him during phone interviews that took place in the month of August.
Craig represented his country in 2002 when he played on USA Baseball’s 18U National Team 2002.
Now at Pima Community College, Edgar Soto was Craig’s coach when he played for Team USA.
“We had a lot of big time guys on that team and he was not as physical as they were,” Soto said in an email. “It looks like now through hard work he’s a physical guy and has power. I did not foresee him hitting for as much power but I am not surprised he’s done so well and is a big leaguer.
He was the kind of guy on that team that would quietly get it done. He would get on base a couple times a game and make every play at shortstop. What stands out most for me with him is that he was such a solid character guy and good person.
He’s the kind of guy that you would want your daughter to marry. I have never met Albert Pujols but I have heard he’s a good guy. I think Allen Craig is just as good a guy.”
Craig played high school baseball at Chaparral for then-coach David Barret. Interestingly enough, Craig was a teammate of Duke Snider’s grandson.
Talking at length with Coach Barret, he told me that Craig reminded him of Jason Giambi in high school. There was one quote in the conversation that stood out to me. Barret was telling me about a call he got from a reporter following the 2006 MLB Draft when the Cardinals selected Craig.
“If there’s any guy that I coached or played against that I would choose to come up in the bottom of the 9th inning, it would be Allen Craig,” Barret said.
Barret told me that his fan base in Southern California were happy on the day that Pujols signed with the Angels because it meant more playing time for Craig. Of course, he was just as happy about what he was able to watch in October 2011.
“As years go by and you get older and start having grandkids, you’re not able to watch as many games as you used to,” Barret said. “When the Cardinals made the playoff run and then went into World Series, it was the first time in a long time that I made it a point to watch every pitch of the World Series. Besides being excited and happy for Allen to have the opportunity, it ended up being the most exciting World Series in the last 60 years or so, especially that Game 6. But all of us here were glued to the TV and happy and thrilled to see him come in and get the big pinch-hit in that first game and second game. His performance, the 3 home runs, and to catch the last out of the World Series. It was a fun time for all of us to be able to witness that on TV. Really cool thing.”
Following his graduation from Chaparral, he played for David Esquer at Cal.
What did Coach Esquer see in Craig while recruiting him to play college baseball?
“We saw someone who we thought, at our level, could play the middle infield for us as well as some outfield,” Esquer said over the phone. “But we thought his versatility was tremendous. I’ll be honest with you. His offensive potential was great but I don’t even think that I envisioned…until he was actually here…that he would be making the strides he’s done with just runners in scoring position. He’s been an offensive force. He was a much leaner athlete. The strength he has put on phenomenal.”
Esquer is “tremendously proud” of what Craig accomplished with the Cardinals in winning the 2011 World Series.
“Just to see someone play on that stage and at that level,” Esquer said. “Someone who has been through our program. He’s always been loyal to our program and checked in on us. Again, last time we talked, we talked about a story. We’re playing a regional game at Rice. The Cardinals just got in town to play the Houston Astros. He walks in with 6 or 7 teammates to watch him play. He’s always been so supportive of us.”
“To think that he has hit around .500 with RISP is astonishing,” added Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin. “He seems to be able to slow the game down and rise to the occasion when he needs to make a play. He’s done that not only with the bat but, also with the glove. He’s locked in long-term with the club and he seems to be only getting better.”
“Craig has had an incredible year,” said MLB Network analyst Larry Bowa. “His knowledge of the strike zone is what has really separated himself from the pack. When he gets down in the count, he doesn’t try to do too much. He shortens his swing and tries to hit line drives to the middle of the field. I don’t even think it enters his mind anymore about how he’s had to replace Pujols. He knows what he is, which is a run producer in the middle of one of the best offenses in the National League.”