Cardinal baseball, from the girls
Winter Warm-Up, Day 1
The Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up kicked off today at the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis. Throngs of Cardinal fans, all clad in red and looking for a midwinter baseball boost crowded the 2nd and 4th floors to see favorite baseball players, buy souvenirs, collect autographs and talk ball.
As I mentioned earlier in the week (click HERE for that post), I have had varying levels of anxiety mixed with complete joy over the Cardinals’ invitation to cover the event as a credentialed member of “the press”.
My Winter Warm-Up began at the St. Louis airport, where while waiting for my bags I looked up to see Tyler Greene walking my way. I of course greeted him with a warm “Hi Tyler.” He stopped, smiled, said “Hi,” and paused…
(This “press” thing had me all confused! Here I’d been working on suppressing fan tendencies all week in preparation for WWU, yet there I was at the airport dressed in my not-fan press’ly attire mentally preparing to be professional and what happens? I run into one of the Cardinals. My mind short-circuits, knowing this was not the place to ask my prepared interview questions. So…. what to do???)
I went with the obvious, and brilliantly asked him if he was on his was to WWU. Small, mundane chatter. My mental dialogue is sarcastically critical: “Perfect, Erika.” Tyler answers, smiles again. and pauses… (I am not blocking his way. promise.) We established what time he was signing autographs & I finally (mercifully) waved him on his way, ending with a mostly fan-like “I’ll see you there!” ugh.
Awkward Tyler Greene airport conversation. My WWU is starting off oddly.
I arrived at the Hyatt around noon, dropped my bags in the room, grabbed my camera, my spare iphone (voice recorder) and all the questions I had worked on for the day’s listed player interviews. (The players come to the press area after signing autographs and answer questions, as time allows. Well actually, I thought the players would come after signing, but learned that they may instead come to the interview area before scheduled WWU autograph sessions. [lesson #1] So, I was a bit disappointed to discover that I had already missed interview opportunities with minor leaguers Jordan Swagerty, Zack Cox, and Ryan Jackson (yep, they missed out on those amazing questions I had prepared for them) as well as the big boys, Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal.
Despite studying maps of the layout beforehand, I was lost in the crowd on the 2nd floor while hunting for the spot to pick up my credentials. Who should come to the rescue, but Matt Sebek (there with Josh Bacott to hunt their Joe SportsFan WWU bread-and-butter: the elusive, but always rewarding Unusual Cardinal Fan photos). With good directions from Sebek, I found the lovely Cardinals Care volunteers who handed over my credentials, and I was off to the 4th floor! … into another crowd, and lost. again. A text to a friendly blogger buddy: Kevin (covering the WWU for Daniel Shoptaw’s site: C70 at the Bat) helped me find my way to the media work room. I had arrived! Late, but ready to hit the ground running!
I spent the next 20-30 minutes hearing what I had missed and waiting for my first media scrum. Yep, the word is “scrum”. Apparently that is the term used to describe how the press crowds around a player to ask questions and record soundbites. It isn’t actually as horribly nasty as it sounds, but the experienced scrummers definitely had an advantage and there is most assuredly a scrum pecking order. The pros were up close, on the player’s immediate right or left. The television cameras had front and center. The tall guys holding the microphones were in front. This, of course, made it hard on us shorter folk left in the back. However, later in the afternoon, I found a loophole: stand on a chair. [lesson #3] (I was assured by Brian Stull of 101 ESPN in St. Louis that standing on a chair was perfectly acceptable and he would take the blame if it was not.) I believe he was right because another (more seasoned-looking) photographer stood on a chair next to me during Adam Wainwright’s scrum time. When in Rome…. ;)
My first scrum experience was with John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ GM. As advised by my fellow newly credentialed blogger comrades, I set my iphone recorder on the podium and managed to snag a prime position with a clear shot of Mo – right next to the tv cameras (beginners luck).
Mozeliak talked for over 20 minutes. Topics ranging from the opening at second base, to Yadier Molina’s no-show (again) at WWU and including bits about Kyle McClellan- is he staying or going?, how he (Mo) felt when he got the call that Albert had accepted the deal with the Angels, and the future of the organization with all the offseason staffing/coaching changes.
I learned that John Mozeliak really likes to talk about Tyler Greene’s athleticism and his being a superb athlete. When asked about the 2B options for 2012, Mo was insistent that Tyler Greene would have every opportunity to get more playing time in 2012 and went on to be very supportive of Greene and his potential. This ode to Tyler Greene caught me off guard, as it seemed to shock others in the room as well because Mo was then questioned about Greene’s prior chances to prove himself. I am proud to say that I did speak up and ask Mo what getting Tyler Greene more playing time would mean for Daniel Descalso. In response, Mo praised Descalso’s contributions, emphasizing his abililty to play multiple positions, but finished up with another nod to Tyler Greene’s ability to ALSO play multiple positions. From the sounds of it, Spring Training may bring quite the battle for 2B, which at this time is “open”.
Another tantalizing tidbit from Mo’s moments: Yadi will be making a donation to the Cardinals Care fund since he has backed out of Winter Warm-Up this year. (All proceeds from the Annual Winter Warm-Up benefit Cardinals Care, the team’s community foundation supporting kids.) Mo also mentioned that Yadi doesn’t like to do public autograph sessions, which although not surprising, was disappointing to hear (from a fan’s perspective, which I would never admit to while being a member of the press.) But truthfully, Yadi… what gives??
I did discover lesson #2 after the Mozeliak ditty: ”when hurriedly putting your voice recorder on the podium prior to the scrummage, you should check to make sure it is actually recording.” In the excitement of it all, I thought I hit the little red button. I did not. And that is why I am relying on memory here for the Mozeliak interview… (consider that my disclaimer). You can check out the links below from the other Cardinal bloggers who were smart enough to turn on their recorders.
My 2nd scrum was less informative and cut short. Matt Carpenter (AAA Memphis), pitcher Lance Lynn and the previously-showered-with-Mo-love Tyler Greene all came in together about 10 minutes before their scheduled autograph sessions. Matt Carpenter looked as though he knew the other two would get most of the questions (he was right.) The highlights: appearing slimmer than when we last saw him, Lance Lynn discussed how his mentality had changed from starting to relieving and how he “just wants to pitch, wherever it may be.”
Tyler Greene talked about being “ready to play… to come into Spring Training ready to play…to play as much as he can….” When told that Mo was pretty adamant about his getting every opportunity to win the 2B job, Tyler said “it’s great! it’s an open spot… there’s going to be some competition… everybody’s going to be working for it & working hard.” Tyler then deflected some questions about his prior efforts at the Cardinal infield, reiterating that it was in the past and he is just looking forward to Spring Training while emphasizing his extra practice at 2B this offseason. Matt Carpenter spoke about working on being versatile and practicing other positions. (An assumed reference to the burgeoning wealth of 3B talent with World Series MVP David Freese ahead of him and Zack Cox likely surging up to AAA this season.) All three spoke highly of their former Memphis skipper, Chris Maloney, newly promoted to Cardinals 1st base coach for 2012, and then they were quickly scooted off to the autograph tables.
Adam Wainwright was the highlight of my first day Winter Warm-Up. Although slumming it in a boring gray hoodie, he was darling, as usual. Waino answered questions about his rehab (“feeling great” and saying “I am actually worried that I’m too far along instead of the other way around.”) He joked about when he might feel comfortable ribbing new teammate Carlos Beltran about “the curve” and told how Matt Holliday liked to tease him about his gardening hobby that helped occupy his time and “kept him sane” in 2011. It was obvious Waino is ready to get back to the game.
Some more Waino highlights: In his humble, yet upstanding way, Adam spoke about his role in the clubhouse, saying “I feel like I have a leadership role on the team. I feel like I can help in a lot of different ways.” He also took the opportunity to elaborate on the role faith played in his recovery, explaining “when you are leaning on somebody who is a lot stronger than any human could be and is inspiring like God is, then you are always going to be okay.”
And as luck would have it, my first day of Winter Warm-Up wrapped up with my baseball player talking about a football player. You may have heard of him? His name’s Tim Tebow, and Adam Wainwright is a huge fan.
For more WWU goodies, be sure to check out my partners in crime:
Nick is covering WWU at PitchersHitEighth
and Ann is posting updates at Aaron Miles Fastball
Tomorrow, I’m back at it again. More pictures, more player info. Winter Warm-Up Day 2!