By Steve Robinson | January 20, 2020 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: St. Louis Cardinals, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Central Illinois may be facing another winter at the moment, but St. Louis Cardinals fans got a jump on thinking about spring and summer thanks to a visit with a mix of veteran and newcomer players when the team’s annual St. Louis Cardinals Caravan rolled through town on Saturday, stopping at the Parke Regency Hotel and Conference Center.

Three Generations Of Rosendale Family Take In Event: For father and son Bob and Jake Rosendale, love of baseball was something that has been passed down. And Jake Rosendale is now watching as his daughter, Shelby, and son, Tyler, carry on the family tradition of rooting for the boys from St. Louis. Bob said he has been a Cardinals fan since he was a boy, when fans could find guys like pitchers Curt Simmons and Curt Flood, and outfielders Al Dark and Del Ennis on a lineup card. Jake Rosendale said he and his dad and kids have attended a number of Cards Caravan events since the team put the Twin Cities back in their rotation.

Tyler, a Northpoint Elementary School sixth grader said he likes the Cards because of the loyalty he sees players showing the team. “The team is just really cool,” Shelby, a Kingsley Junior High School eighth grader, added.

“Doing this and going to games teaches the kids about being a fan and to enjoy the athletes that are out there and the atmosphere when you’re at the ballpark,” Jake Rosendale explained.

The Rosendales, however, were missing one member of the family at this event who, clearly, does not share loyalty for the Cardinals the way the folks who came to this event do. That missing member would be Jake’s wife, Tricia. She was not at this event because, for you see, she is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, Jake explained.

Young Fans Begin The Questioning: Third baseman and outfielder Tommy Erdman, Pitchers Daniel Ponce De Leon and Matthew Libertore, and Cards minor league infielder Nolan Gorman appeared during this visit to whet baseball appetites of 300 Cards faithful, young and old alike. In addition to current players, fans also got visit and get autographs from Cardinals alums Kyle McClellan and Bernard Gilkey, who also came along for this leg of the trip. Players were introduced and asked follow-up questions by Cardinals broadcaster Mike Claibourne. Members of Illinois State University’s baseball team also were present for this event.

“How great was last season?,” asked the emcee for the event, WJBC personality Marc Strauss asked fans to begin the 90-minute session, reminding the crowd the Cards won the Central Division title last season, not to mention making the postseason for the fifth time in nine years. The crowd responded with applause having been witness to their favorite team winning the National League Divisional Series 3 games to 2 over Atlanta, but falling to Washington in the NL championship series.

Youthful fans sat on the floor in front of the dais the players gathered at as the questioning of players about the upcoming season began. The first question came from a young fan who wanted to know who the team thought would make the bigs first, either Matthew Rutherford or Gorman. Gorman diplomatically said he hoped both he and Rutherford would arrive to play for St. Louis “on the same day.” The diplomatic answer drew applause from the gathering.

Another young fan asked Erdman what it was like to hit his first major league grand slam, as he did at Cincinnati in July. “It was a great feeling to run around the bases after that hit,” Erdman responded. That hit was just one of 11 homers Erdman hit last season contributing to a season where he had 99 hits including 17 doubles and 35 extra base hits since getting promoted to the majors in early June. He started in 75 of 92 games last season and led the team with 32 hits.

Another fan asked about, upon finding out they were being called up to the majors, who did players call and break the news to first. Gorman said he contacted his wife. “It was a cool moment for me, but only thing was I found out when I was playing catch. And since it was the first day of spring training, I couldn’t to the locker room to call my wife or anybody. So I told my teammates and then my parents.”

To the same question, Ponce De Leon said he contacted his father. Upon hearing the news, he said, “My father just started screaming. He said, ‘Woooooooo.’ You could hear him drop the phone and run around the house. He told my mom and it was pretty cool because he was, like, my number one fan.”

“I called my wife and my parents,” explained Edman. “Fortunately, they were all able to come out to Chicago. We had a crew of 10 or 15 people there.”

Gilkey said the reaction to the news when he called his folks was his parents. “My mom answered the phone and she was who I told first. She was totally elated by the news,” he explained, adding that when his father got on the line, he renewed the feeling he had about his son being able to make the big leagues. “He said, instead of telling me how happy he was, he went into a long schpeel about when I started playing in little league and told me then he thought I could make it.”

McLellan admitted to being nervous when he first took the mound as a major leaguer with St. Louis in a game against Colorado in 2008. His career lasted six seasons, ending with his retirement from the game in 2013 playing for the Texas Rangers.

Libertore said his trade from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Cardinals took, in reality, 25 minutes to transpire. He said he was going through workouts when the call came and after checking with his agent, called his father to alert him to it. “I am super happy to be here,” he told attendees.

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.”