Though the weather might have been cool and the crowd small, it did not dampen the spirits of the Quad Cities River Bandits as they were able to see their dreams come to reality. Those dreams of playing in a big league stadium were met on Thursday evening at Busch Stadium. It was probably most evident when the team stepped into the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse and no one said a word for several minutes according to River Bandits manager Johnny Rodriguez.
The fans arrived early to line up to take advantage of the general admission seating and half-price concessions. Plus, they wanted to get a seat close enough to see the man of the hour, pitcher Carlos Martinez. Compared favorably by his manager to another Martinez, Pedro, the 19-year-old did not disappoint. Scouts reported that he worked 95-97 MPH and hit 99 on a couple of occasions.
Many fans were disappointed that the gun in the stadium was not up and running (an outside firm posts the gun readings and were not in house because it was not a major league game). Even so, the fans did get to hear Martinez pop the mitt of catcher Robert Stock, the sounds of which seemed to echo through the predominantly empty Busch III.
Admittedly hyped up, Martinez settled in. He allowed only one run and struck out five in his five innings of work. The $1.5 million bonus baby not only flashed an electric fastball but impressive secondary outings that manager Rodriguez says are “more advanced” than future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez’ at the same age.
The crowd of just over 1,600 seemed a little nervous when Martinez appeared to come up lame in the cool, wet evening. Along with the infield players, Rodriguez and trainer Manabu Kuwazuru rushed out to the mound to check on the intriguing prospect. But after stretching out his legs, Martinez was able to continue and finish out the frame.
Kane County pitcher Leonel Santiago did not want to be overshadowed by the more hyped Martinez and impressed as well. Possessing a fastball with late life that seemed to explode out of his hand, the 21-year-old struck out five Bandits in six scoreless innings.
During batting practice, the players seemed to have interest in not only watching the action in the cage but looking around the stadium as well. As third baseman Jonathan Rodriguez told me, it was a dream come true, appearing in the home of the ten-time World Champion Cardinals. Adding to the batting practice experience was the fact that Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak and farm director John Vuch were at the cage watching rather intently.
Quad Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez expects outfielder Oscar Taveras back in about two weeks. Rodriguez described Taveras as the best outfield prospect he has seen in the last 10 years and reminded me that he had seen both Grady Sizemore and Jason Bay early in their careers.
Coming soon for The Cardinal Nation subscribers: A scouting report on the Quad Cities River Bandits.
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