The St. Louis Cardinals played their AAA-affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, in the annual “Battle of the Birds” on Thursday night. This spectacular event allowed yours truly to meet, interview, and gawk at members of the Cardinals organization.
Picture it, Sicily, 1910… Immediate apologies for the “Golden Girls” reference, but having Stubby Clapp back in Memphis as the new St. Louis Cardinals‘ AAA Manager makes me feel like singing the “thank you for being a friend” song. And Thursday night’s “Battle of the Birds” felt like a great reunion on many fronts.
If you haven’t been following, I’ve been honking for this night for quite some time. I love the annual “Battle of the Birds.” As a matter of fact- thanks to a reminder on my Facebook wall- my now wife (who I had just started dating) and I attended the “Battle of the Birds” (the first one, I think; then the Civil Rights Game) some ten years ago on a date.
This year’s “Battle” essentially stood as the Memphis Media Day as well as this was our first convergence of Redbirds Media for the 2017 campaign. Our day was highlighted by Q&A sessions with new Memphis Manager Stubby Clapp, Q&A with Cardinals players in the visiting clubhouse (odd to have the Cards in the visitor side), Q&A with Mike Mathey, and Q&A with Mozeliak. These are my take-aways…
The Clapp Q&A was Rose Nylund (forgive the continuation of the “Golden Girls” motif). Rose is always kind and doesn’t ever really push the envelope. This is precisely what Clapp did: he spoke positively about the players who didn’t make the major squad, praised the young guys, and generally said nothing that would or could incriminate him or put a target on his back.
Oh, and he said he would do no back flips any longer because he is of the age that he worries he wouldn’t land them.
The St. Louis Cardinals Clubhouse Q&A free-for-all with the players was Blanche Devereaux. Blache is the excited and often loose-lipped and loose-hipped (trying to keep this PG) of the four girls. To continue this metaphor then, the players were kind and welcoming to each of us. Dexter Fowler was humorous and shared his plans for ribbing his once-teammates beginning on Sunday.
Before continuing, let me share that the analogy to Blanche as it relates to the players might be a gross misnomer: the players were professional and kind; I was the one who was excited and of high energy. There, I said it. I was the kid in the candy store (and most of the players exuded high energy too).
I had the privilege of speaking alone to Michael Wacha. What a nice guy. Wacha shared with me that he feels really good and that this spring felt great. I reference my recent article about his similar numbers here in 2017 to those of his earlier springs and Wacha laughed and said that he does feel like the younger him. He also shared that his shoulder- to him- is not something about which to worry.
My favorite one-on-one interview was with Jose Martinez. I gushed and shared with him how much of a fan I am of his. I referenced my writing and we joked and said that his making the team must have been all thanks to my championing him over Tommy Pham. What impressed me the most about Martinez was the candor with which he spoke with me about his approach at the plate.
I will not go into gross details here out of respect to him and out of a desire to not hand any details to opposing pitchers who might exploit them. Having said that, Martinez shared that he worked during the offseason in Miami with hitting coaches and the likes of Martin Prado and Miguel Cabrera. He shared that he is approaching the plate for increased fly balls, not ground balls.
Lastly, he actually took the time to show me the specific mechanics that he worked on with his hands and approach with the bat to generate the numbers we witnessed in spring. It was as if I had my own little hitting clinic with a rising star!
To Matheny… Matheny’s Q&A was as to be expected and was a true Dorothy Zbornak. On “Golden Girls,” Dorothy is the dry stick-in-the-mud character of the girls. This was Matheny. He was kind but I found him to be incredibly direct and incredibly dry.
Matheny did share that Randal Grichuk was feeling okay but that they were holding him out of play during the “Battle” as a precautionary measure. He said that Grichuk would take batting practice but nothing more on this night.
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The Mozeliak Q&A could well be compared to Dorothy Zbornak as well if it weren’t for his incredible presence and adept political abilities. This makes him a shoe-in for Sophia Petrillo. Sophia is the force that drives the retired ladies on the show and Mozeliak is very much in charge of what is happening with the organization: this much is clear.
During his talk, while waxing his poetics, Mozeliak did share that the organization was making a strong push to finalize the Yadier Molina extension and that he felt there was, “plenty of time,” before the season starts to achieve the finalization. Um, the season starts in a mere matter of hours, not days.
Mozeliak’s statement was almost immediately followed by the cacophony of Twitter swirling that the deal was in place. As of my publishing this piece, the finalized deal has yet to be announced but is anticipated. The clock is ticking.
After all of this excitement, the St. Louis Cardinals took to the field to play their friends whom they had held spring training with earlier this week. The Cardinals and Redbirds competed in front of a crowd of 10,221– a sell-out for AutoZone Park.
The Cardinals scored runs in the first inning (five), second inning (two), and another in the third. This gave them an 8-0 lead after only two-and-a-half frames.
The homers were active on Thursday night. Jhonny Peralta– batting in the number four spot- and Molina- batting in the five spot- hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning. Aledmys Diaz, after a great spring, added a homer of his own in the second. Designated hitter Jedd Gyorko, not to be left out of the mix, blasted his home run in the third.
The Memphis Redbirds would not go silently nor allow the Cardinals to be the only ones hitting home runs. Blake Drake (a name that rhymes so extra points there) and Alex Mejia went back-to-back off the St. Louis Cardinals’ Josh Lucas in the eighth inning. These homers were simply not enough though and the Redbirds fell to the Cardinals by the score of 9-3.
It was great seeing friends again. It was great sitting around the proverbial lanai sipping lemonade just like our other lovely retirees in Miami (except there was no lemonade nor lanai). It was wonderful being back to the ballpark and smelling the ballpark smells and hearing the crowd cheer with each crack of the bat.
I have this one final thing to say to the “Battle of the Birds:” …the biggest gift would be from me, and the card attached would say thank you for being a friend!