By Steve Robinson | January 21, 2019 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: St. Louis Cardinals, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Finishing in third place in the National League Central Division to close out the 2018 season – behind division nemesis Chicago Cubs, who finished in second place – understandably did not sit well with members of the St. Louis Cardinals who visited the Twin Cities Jan. 19 as they swung through central Illinois on their Caravan tour. Selected team members, joined by former pitcher now current broadcaster Al Hrabosky and former catcher now current Spanish language broadcaster Bengie Molina, visited with and signed autographs for fans at the Parke Hotel and Conference Center.

First baseman Jose Martinez, pitchers John Brebbia and John Gant, and minor league infielder Lane Thomas got the chance to help get fans excited for the upcoming season.

Martinez said the goal for him every season is “to help the team to make the playoffs and work to be better than you were before.”

Looking at his numbers from 2018, one would think the right hander did just that. In 2018, he finished seventh in the National League in batting average coming in with a .305 mark. He was the first Cards player to have single season highs seven stats: Home runs (17); RBIs (83); Hits (163); Runs (64); Doubles (30); Walks (49); and extra bases (47).

“We want to work together to make stuff happen,” Martinez said of how he and his teammates are approaching the new season. “This year is going to be really fun.”

He added “doing those things that help make you a better teammate” will be what Martinez said he looks forward to contributing this season. He included such things as advancing runners through hits is one way “you become a better player,” he explained.

Gant said he believed the only adjustment the team made last year was when the team fired Mike Matheny as manager and saw him replaced by Mike Shildt. “Changing managers was our biggest change last year in addition to a lot of call-ups at the start of the year,” Gant said. “We got on a tear at the beginning, and just, unfortunately fizzled out. Hopefully, this year, we stay on that tear.”

Relief pitcher Brebbia said going into a season and carrying on throughout the season, he sets certain standards for himself to help get team goals accomplished. He was recalled by the team six times and had 45 performances during the year, finishing with a 3.20 earned run average and achieving a career-high 60 strikeouts. In fact, Brebbia led Cards relief pitchers with a ratio of 10.66 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He earned his first major league win against the Cubs last June. He registered his first two career saves last season, as well, against the New York Mets in April and against Cincinnati in June.

Brebbia said something fans might not understand about relief pitchers is the fact that they never know when, or in some cases, if they will get put into games. “You hear the term ‘grind’ to describe the season, but as a reliever, playing every day is a difficult thing. But being one means we don’t know if we are playing that day or not. You find yourself having to be locked into what’s happening in the game, but then, maybe, you don’t play.”

Gant, who appeared in 26 games and made 19 starts, said one of his personal goals for the coming season “is to ultimately make the starting rotation and do the best I can.” He was added to the rotation after the All-Star break stepping in for the injured Michael Wacha. He posted a 7-6 record with a 3.47 E.R.A. on the year and admits, “I walked too many guys.”

Minor League infielder Lane Thomas was also part of the caravan as it rolled into the Twin Cities. The 23-year-old Knoxville, Tenn. native was drafted by Toronto in the 5th round of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft and traded to the Cards in 2017. Thus far in the Cards organization, he has played with Palm Beach in the Class A Florida State League before moving up to Class AA Springfield Cardinals of the Texas League and Class AAA Memphis Cardinals of the Pacific Coast League. He finished the season in Springfield.

From talking to the big leaguers he traveled with on the caravan, Thomas said they have tried to guide him to pay attention to the parts of his game he needs to improve. Thomas said he believes timing – being at the right place at the right time – will have the most to do with when his chance to move into the majors will come.

Broadcasters Bengie Molina And Al Hrabosky Joined The Caravan: Two Cardinals broadcasters joined the caravan. Al Hrabosky, known to fans as the “Mad Hungarian,” and Bengie Molina, known to fans as “Big Money,” tagged along with the players for this tour. Hrabosky is now a studio host and game color man for Fox Sports in St. Louis. Molina does color for Spanish language broadcasts on MLB At Bat.

In his remarks to fans during the event, Hrabosky, who spent eight seasons on the mound for the Cards and has had a 35-year broadcasting career with the team told fans the players “are committed to winning.” Proof of that, he told the fans was the team signing veteran first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to a $14.5 million deal. Goldschmidt was traded to the Cards by Arizona during the offseason. “If the other teams are as good as the Cards are, we’ll see good teams this year,” Hrabosky told the gathering.

In his day with the Cards, fans got their money’s worth with Hrabosky, who had 13 years in the majors, eight of them in St. Louis, who drafted him in 1969.

Molina has World Series chops having been to two – as a player in 2002 when the Angels, using the name Anaheim Angels, beat San Francisco 4 games to 3, and 2010 when he played for the Texas Rangers and they lost to the Giants in five games. During the interaction with the fans, Molina gave a shout out to Steve Holm, the new baseball coach for Illinois State University.

“It’s very important for fans to understand we are doing for people who follow players like Jose Martinez from Venezuela and Carlos Martinez from the Dominican Republic, and Yadi Molina from Mexico. Those fans in those countries don’t understand English,” Molina said. For them to watch the game but turn to us to hear the game makes the game more enjoyable for them.”