1976 was the year of America’s bicentennial. Infielder Tony La Russa was one year away from his final season as a player – for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate then located in New Orleans. Mike Shildt was eight years old.
It was also the last time the Johnson City Cardinals unfurled the Appalachian League championship banner - prior to 2010.
|Shildt hoists the trophy|
Upon being informed of his selection as The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Minor League Manager of the Year, Johnson City skipper Shildt deflected the praise.
“It is humbling,” he said. “It is quite an honor. It really means a lot to me. I am completely awed by it. We had a good team. We had good players and a good staff. Quite honestly, toward the end, I just wanted to make sure I stayed out of the way and let them fulfill what was going to happen.
“(Pitching coach) Doug White and (hitting coach) Smoky Ortiz, the staff was great. They did a really good job with these kids, a talented group of kids. The organization has been good to me. Mo (GM John Mozeliak), Jeff (Luhnow) and John Vuch and those guys have been great, giving me opportunity. I never want to forget about that. It is sincerely a group effort,” Shildt remarked.
While manager Shildt’s short-season club proved they were winners on the scoreboard, posting a 42-24, .636 regular season record then sweeping both rounds of the playoffs, the primary objective at this and every level is player development. Shildt did a great job of melding skills on a roster that was a mix of graduates of the club’s Latin American academies and draft picks, some making their professional debuts.
“Development and winning go hand in hand,” Shildt said. “Development comes first. At a lower level, it is ok to lose a game to give a guy the experience to get in there and play. That is what minor league baseball is all about.
“When they learn how to win, and get the understanding of what it takes and the expectation on the day in and day out basis of winning a championship, that tells them what we are playing for at the big league level. Helping them to instill it, how to go about doing those things. For them to be able to get both experiences at early ages, is a real benefit for them as an individual and collectively as an organization,” he observed.
With a roster that could number up to 35 players, it would seem a challenge to play everyone. Shildt enjoyed having that opportunity to spread the innings and at-bats around.
“I felt really good about that at the end,” Shildt said. “Not to say we didn’t try to put our best foot forward with our club, especially in the playoffs. With our pitching a little different, we got away from the piggyback. We compete to win every night but we don’t play at all costs to win every night in rookie ball.
|Appy League president Lee Landers recognizes the champs|
“In the playoffs, we were playing to win, but that being said, every position player got to play, we used multiple lineups, we developed a group of guys that we had confidence in every night to play and to contribute. We got into the playoffs and it was nice because people got a chance to experience it – to play and to pitch. Every position player got into the game. We had some GCL call-ups and those guys didn’t get an opportunity in the playoffs, but the core of our group that was with us all year, we just kept moving forward,” the manager recalled.
While injuries are a part of the game, Shildt’s club continued to play well despite some key disabled list detours as well as promotions.
“We lost Chris Edmondson, a middle of the lineup bat hitting left handed, to Batavia, which was good and well deserved,” the manager recalled. “Then, Phil Cerreto goes down with a month to go when he was leading the league in hitting.
“We were a left-handed hitting dominant club. Cerreto was our right-handed presence in the middle of the lineup and he goes down. It is just a testament to the guys that remained. We definitely missed him and it was good to get him back in the playoffs against Elizabethton. They threw out some lefties against us. That was crucial, but we had some guys step up. It was a good experience,” Shildt recalled.
Among the standouts on the 2010 Johnson City roster were our system Rookie Position Player of the Year Oscar Taveras and Rookie Reliever of the Year Hector Corpas. The Cardinals led the league in All-Stars by taking six of the seventeen selections, including Taveras, Corpas, Cody Stanley, Ryan Copeland (also named league Pitcher of the Year) and of course, the Appalachian League Manager of the Year, Shildt.
|All-Stars L to R: Shildt, Copeland, Corpas, Taveras, Stanley|
One of Shildt’s biggest backers is his former boss, Mark DeJohn.
“I kind of have a special link to Mike as spent three years with me as a coach in 2005, 2006 and 2007,” DeJohn recalled.
“He did a great job this season. He relates to the players and has a lot of good qualities about him as a manager. He pays attention. He is really into the game. He doesn’t yet have a lot of experience, but like I said, he does a great job. He handles the game well, he handles the pitching well and the kids relate to him and he’s a hard worker and he’s organized. He just does a really good job.”
In recognition of his fine season and an acknowledgment of his future potential, Shildt was invited to spend ten days with the major league club in St. Louis during September. He later joined Batavia manager Dann Bilardello and three others leading a five-day MLB-sponsored clinic for 15- and 16-year-olds in Colombia.
With the impending return of the Field Coordinator’s position after a three-year absence, Shildt will yield his past roles as coordinator for minor league spring training and extended spring training camps, as well as fall instructional league - if it returns in the future.
“Mike is a big part of our minor league system because he does a great job in so many areas – managing, the work he’s done in spring training, the instructional league when we’ve had it and extended spring,” DeJohn said. “He is a good organization person and a good baseball guy.”
Making perhaps the ultimate compliment, DeJohn closed with a reminder of the organization’s greatest teaching legend, the late George Kissell.
“To put it simply, George Kissell would love Mike Shildt. If George was alive today, he’d say, ‘That’s a Cardinal, a real Cardinal.’”
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Minor League Manager of the Year for 2010, Mike Shildt.
Note: Link to article with all previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2010 team recaps, exclusively for subscribers.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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