Let's do the numbers first. At this writing, Taguchi has had 20 at-bats for the Cardinals this year. His .350 average stands in stark contrast to the averages of several regulars. He has driven in seven runs with a homer, a triple, and a double among his hits. His defensive play as primarily a late-inning defensive substitute has been flawless. He is perfectly at home in any of the outfield positions and has played all three already, appearing in 11 of the 18 games so far. Given the fragility of the aging starting outfield corps, So should see plenty of action this year. He deserves that.
The amazing thing about So Taguchi is that he does so many little things so selflessly and so well. It's almost unfair, but his versatility essentially dooms him to a reserve role that he might not have to endure were he playing for another team. He plays small ball in Whitey-esque fashion. He is a terrific bunter, especially when sacrificing runners into scoring position. He is showing an increasing ability to hit for average. He can also muscle up on occasion as he demonstrated in the huge comeback win against the Cubs at Wrigley last summer.
It is seldom that I watch So Taguchi play baseball and don't stop to admire something he does. In his appearance last night in the Cardinals' 5-3 win over Milwaukee, that moment came when he was a runner on second base. Leading off second, the batter hit a bouncing grounder to the shortstop. Conventional wisdom demanded that So stay on second with the ball hit in front of him. He correctly judged, though, that the ball was hit slowly enough that he could get a sufficient jump off second to advance safely. He did that, and the throw went to first. He arrived at third standing up, turned to third base coach Jose Oquendo and smiled. So did I.
So Taguchi's respect for the umpires, coaches, players, opponents, and fans should be contagious. If I had a busload of little leaguers and wanted them to key on one player on the Cardinals team, I would tell them to watch Taguchi and learn from him both on the field and off. He is an absolute delight to have on this team and will be a major factor in the success of the Cardinals in 2005 as they advance to the World Series.
You can write to Rex Duncan at email@example.com