WEEK ONE IN THE BOOKS

Well the first week of full squad workouts is in the books. And with Grapefruit League games about to start, lets take a look at what we all have learned about the Cardinals from Jupiter so far.

First off was the news that IZZY seams to be healthy, and well on his way to returning as the Cardinals closer. I think it’s also important to point out just how unhappy IZZY is with the Cardinals fans at Busch III. They were on him from the first game at the new stadium. In case anyone has forgotten, he was booed when he gave up a single to Prince Fielder in the 9th inning. That’s right folks, all IZZY did was give up a single, and the home crowed booed him. Nice. What a way to show the Cardinals that you really are the best fans in baseball by booing the closer when all he does is give up a single. Granted they just watched Loop give up a run, but still, there was no reason to boo IZZY then. IZZY biggest gripe was that he felt the fans treated him poorly all year long. You have to understand his feelings about that then when the booing started off from day one at Busch III. I understand why he feels upset. I am sorry his wife no longer feels welcome at Busch III. I hate it that his friends got into fights with the home town fans when they stuck up for their friend while it seamed the whole stadium turned against him. But as a fan, my take on this is all the booing would have stopped if IZZY was simply honest with the Cardinals and the fans that he could not have proper control over his signature pitch, the cutter, because his left hip was giving out on him. The Cardinals already knew he was getting regular injections of a gel like substance into his hip to help him. But they had no idea he was hurt so badly. If IZZY simply would have let it be known he was pitching with a very severe injury, I am very confident the boo’s he heard, would have not been so loud, so often, or so numerous. But IZZY feels that goes against everything he believes in as a player. His mantra is to play through the pain. And to not let that be an excuse for a bad pitching performance. Very old school. Also very courageous. But, I don’t think you can have it both ways. If your performance as a player is effected by an injury, and your play is so bad that it’s costing your team victories, then I think you owe it not only to yourself and your team, but also to the fans to let everyone know just how badly injured you are. I love IZZY. I always have, and I always will. I hate that he no longer feels he can end his career as a Cardinal. It would be a shame if he left after this year and continued playing for another team. He has earned the right to end his career at home, with the team he grew up rooting for. And if that does not happen, it will truly be a shame of epic proportions. I hope that IZZY, and the home crowd make amends and he has a healthy and successful year. Then after the season is over he signs a new deal and ends his career where is should end. At home. So if you attend a game at Busch III this season, make sure you give IZZY the standing O he so richly deserves.  

The next news item is that our ace, Chris Carpenter is trying to get his change up back. According to Chris his change up was the second best pitch for him when he was with the Blue Jays. He stopped throwing it when he signed with the Cardinals. My first and only question is why? Why did Carp stop throwing it in the first place? The reason I’m asking that is I’m scared it had something to do with Carp’s shoulder injury. If it did, I would get down on my hands and knees and beg him to never throw it again. There really never was an explanation as to why Carp stopped throwing the change. Just that he stopped, and now he wants to start throwing it again so he can have it as another off speed pitch in case his curve ball is not working one day. Ok, fair enough, most of my fears then have eased that the change won’t do our resident Cy Young any damage. Early reports out of camp last week said he was experimenting with grips on it. And so far was not happy with how it felt, or with how it flew to the batters. Then on Sunday Mookie, err, Preston Wilson said the he “had no chance” against Carp when he threw him the change. Looks like it’s all coming together nicely then with Carp and his old friend the change up. As if Carp needed another pitch. But that’s why the great ones are great folks. They are never, EVER satisfied with themselves, and are always looking for another advantage over the opposition. Thank GOD Carp is on our side. 

Next on the list is the news that Jimmy Ballgame, and Juan Enc are both coming along slower than expected. One big concern with Jimmy is that he did not do any work outs over the winter. Meaning he has not run to exercise. Thrown a baseball to even play catch. Or hit anything since last October. The running joke down in Jupiter is that Jimmy can take off the entire spring, sit on the beach and enjoy drinks with little umbrellas in them. And come April when the team heads north for the STL, hit .350 for the first couple months. I think that’s a big stretch to expect a 36 year old Edmond’s to do that. Not that he can’t mind you. But even he said last week he is going to need all the spring training he can get to just get his body in shape to play baseball. Let alone recover from the two surgeries he had. One on his right shoulder, and one on his foot to fix a toe. Let’s all just pray he takes all the time he needs to get ready. The last thing the Cardinals need is to rush Jimmy back, just to have a 10 game lead in the division on May 1st. Then loose him for the rest of the year.

So Jimmy won’t do any sort of baseball activities for at least two weeks. Same goes for everyone resident fall guy, Juan Enc. He had wrist surgery late in the winter to repair torn ligaments in his wrist. The Cardinals are telling us that’s what caused him to fall off the planet in the second half of last year. OK, I’ll buy that he was playing hurt. It was Juan’s first year on a new team, and he was trying to impress not only his teammates, but the fans. And after his godawful start to the season, I understand why he didn’t tell anyone he was hurt till the NLCS. But still, his play was not helping the team. It was hurting them in the playoffs. That’s why Tony sat him down. Once Jimmy got his head cleared out, and Preston was doing pretty well. We no longer needed Juan to play every day. And it all worked out in the end. But once again it showed that if a player is simply honest with his team, and the fans, he will save himself a world of hurt.

So what does all this mean? Well first and foremost one Rick Ankiel is going to get “a lot of 1pm starts this spring” according to Tony. There are plenty of outfield spots to be filled while Jimmy & Juan heal. And Ankiel is the one guy that might just benefit most. He is the one guy Tony says that needs the playing time more than any other outfielder in spring training. Personally I don’t know how I feel about Ankiel as an outfielder. Everyone says he has Baby Dunc like power. Can run like the wind. And is a natural athlete. So by all accounts he should be a great center fielder. But my thoughts are this. Is this just the Cardinals feeling bad for the guy? Are they still feeling guilty that maybe they had something to do with his break down? Is he really as good as they say he can be? First off, we don’t know that. Why? Because the kid can’t stay healthy. It’s tragic really. Every time he and the team thinks he has FINALLY turned the proverbial corner, he blows out a knee, an elbow, or a hammy. I don’t understand why Ankiel keeps getting hurt. I just hope for his sake, and everyone else that has any stake in his future, that he finally is healthy. And he can become a productive player for the Cardinals once again. I feel bad for the guy, I really do. But I think it’s now or never for the kid. It’s high time for him to prove his has been worth all this trouble. Or he needs to move on. If he can’t make it this year, I think the Cardinals should trade him, or simply cut him loose. He’s not getting any younger. He’s only a couple years younger than me. He’ll be 28 on his next birthday. So it’s time for him to either live up to the hype. Or sadly move on. I hate, hate to say that. But I simply can’t go through another year’s worth of *will Ankiel or won’t Ankiel finally break through?* It’s too much. I can’t take it anymore. Rick please, PLEASE stay healthy, do your time in Memphis. And then be our right or left fielder for the next 8 seasons come next year. It’s time dude. It’s time.

News also came down over the weekend that Scotty and Tony finally had it out and started talking again. Now both say the past is the past, it’s a new year. And everyone has a clean slate. It’s about time too. This was just so freakin stupid of both of them. First off Tony was stupid for not explaining to Scott why he sat him in the NLCS. And secondly Scott was stupid for being pissed Tony *benched* him again. Scott never should have said Tony “benched” him in the first place. Both times Scott knew what was going on. He knew he was dragging and needed a night off. But he was far to proud to admit it. So he took it out on Tony. And both were wrong. No one would have won with them still not having at least a relationship where they talk to each other. I get it not every one can get along with every one. But to have one of your leaders, a true star in the game, not even talking to his manager was just stupid. I’m glad Walt and the owners got involved and made the two come together and hash it out. What was scary was that Rolen almost called Walt and told him he would wave his no trade clause if Tony didn’t want him around. That right there should show every one just how fragile the player-manger relationship is. If two minor events can cause Tony LaRussa and Scott Rolen to stop talking, then it can happen to any player and manager on any team in professional sports.

Let’s see, what else was there? Ah yes, MVP David Eckstein is not holding his breath waiting on the Cardinals to offer him an extension on his current deal, or a whole new deal. Every one should remember how the Angels tossed him out to the curb like a bad of trash when Orlando Cabrera became available. And that was dead wrong. But I’m glad they did that. We would not have won it all last year if not for that little fella. I hope the Cardinals do the wise thing and lock him up for a few more seasons. Apparently they told Kennedy that they were, it was one of the many reasons he sighed to play for us for well under market value. But David is right about one thing. Baseball is a business first. And if they don’t think he is the best player they can have at that position for the money, then they will go get the player they think is better. I hope he sticks around. He is the perfect Cardinal player. He plays hard, and he plays hard to win. And he usually does. Without a better option in the minors that can play short stop next season, and without a better free agent out there, I think it’s a safe bet David will be a Cardinal for at least two or three more seasons. But I’ve been wrong before. I hope now is not one of those times.

One last item to get to is that Larry Walker is in camp yet again. This year it’s sounds like it’s more of a trial run to see if he likes coaching. And if so, the Cardinals have a job for him somewhere in the organization. First item of business for him is to help teach Chris Duncan to play the outfield. Not an easy task. Chris learned on the fly last season. He has some brilliant moments in the field. He made a diving catch in left center to rob that pest Reyes of the Mets of a sure triple. That should have won Chris a web gem for the night. It was flat out amazing that Chris got to that ball. But he also had moments that reminded every one that playing the outfield is not just like playing 1st. We all remember game 5 where he had two errors. I blame Jimmy for spooking him on the first one. And the second was a ball that Casey just killed to the wall in right. So neither one should be held against him. I mean come on people! It was on the biggest and brightest stage in baseball. The guy was a rookie. He was playing out of position. He had one bad game. And it’s a big stretch to say it was a bad game because it was the final game of the series, and we won the World Series! So I don’t see how anyone can hold  it against Duncan that he dropped those two balls. Now the ball he missed played into a double when he broke in on it, instead of breaking back against the Reds in July on a ball hit by Lopez that turned a sure out into a double, and that double turned into a run. That, that you can hold against him. But the guy is trying. And he has spent a lot of the winter working on his defence. When he’s not meeting with one Mark McGwire to talk about hitting that is. Man, how cool would it be to talk hitting with Mark Freakin McGwire? The life of a major leaguer. How sweet it is. Anyway, leave Baby Dunc alone. The kid is going to be fine. Without him carrying the team for a while we never would have made it to the playoffs. He will be a big reason the Cardinals continue to rack up win after win in the future. Hear me now, believe me later.

Well that’s it for week one of spring training 2007. We should have more to talk about once the Grapefruit league starts playing games. Fingers are crossed that everyone stays healthy and just gets their work in, at bats, pitchs counts. etc. One minor injury to report, Kennedy felt a pinch in his ribs taking BP on Sunday. So he’s not going to swing a bat for a few days. The Cardinals don’t seem to worried. And it didn’t stop him from making a diving stop on a hard hit ball to his left in the coaches game on Monday. So lets hope it’s nothing. We had are fill of oblique injuries from last season.

Till next time, keep makin it bounce.

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