Day Two of the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up got off to a slow start but the pace picked up when the manager Tony La Russa made his first appearance of the event followed by the homecoming of the team’s new hitting coach Mark McGwire. But those were not the only highlights on what has to be one of the most memorable days in Winter Warm Up history.
Though he was fashionably late to his question-and-answer session, La Russa received a huge ovation from the crowd. He confirmed that Mark McGwire is at Busch Stadium working with Cardinals shortstop Tyler Greene.
In discussing bring McGwire in to be a coach, LaRussa said all his coaches have four qualities that are a must to be on his staff.
• Willing to Work
• Bleed to lose and enjoy the wins
He believes that Big Mac holds all those qualities.
Acknowledged that he is about to begin his 15th season as the Cardinals manager. Over the previous 14 seasons, he has learned what it means to be a Cardinal. In having that knowledge, he is the one that invited McGwire to be on his staff.
With regard to the former home run king, TLR says, “He deserves another shot and we are going to give it to him.”
The manager knows that McGwire is a really good man and he has been very apologetic.
On his team, the future hall-of-famer believes that it is an important spring for Colby Rasmus. The team’s centerfielder has a season under his belt and he doesn’t want the youngster to rest on his accomplishments of 2009. He wants him to be like Albert Pujols, to come in even hungrier.
The skipper believes that Skip Schumaker’s transformation to become a second baseman is the most impressive thing he has seen as a manager. Like Pujols, he believes Skip is a true Cardinal.
When addressing the third base and fifth spot in the rotation, LaRussa reminded all that there are plenty of good free agents still available.
In regards to David Freese, he thinks that the St. Louis native should look at Rasmus’ performance last spring. There was no guarantee that Rasmus would be on the opening day roster. But the outfielder went to spring training and put together a solid performance that led to his big league debut. He has the same requirements of Freese.
Skip Schumaker told the media that his next contract is getting really close but not done yet. He seemed optimistic that an announcement could be soon.
The 29-year-old says it has been a busy off-season with a new baby, the Matt Holliday signing, and the news regarding Big Mac.
Though he won’t call himself a veteran, it is obvious that he is a team leader off the field. Schumaker says that David Freese called him the day after the Cardinal rookie’s DWI arrest and he felt sorry for him. But he knows that Freese needs to prove himself to his teammates if he is going to nail down a job in spring training.
On his role as a team leader, Schumaker adds, “I just happen to be a nice guy who happens to play baseball.”
Though he is the team’s incumbent second baseman, it is ironic that this time last year that he had played outfield exclusively during his professional career. He admitted that it was a tough journey and had harbored of thoughts of abandoning the position switch.
“As a big leaguer, you don’t want to be embarrassed and I was embarrassed a lot during spring training,” said Schumaker.
If someone called him an average second baseman, Schumaker would consider that a complement. His goal is to continue to work hard to eventually be an above average second baseman.
With regard to David Freese, the native St. Louisian is taking full responsibility for his recent off the field troubles. He showed a lot of maturity in his ownership of the matter and is “taking steps to ensure it never happens again.”
He has realized that a lot of kids want to be where he is and if his baseball career was to end, he wants it to be because he can’t play, not due to other issues.
The 26-year-old believes the signing of Matt Holliday opened the door for him at third base. But he knows that he has to continue to work hard to prove he deserves his shot.
Freese is working out at Busch Stadium six days a week and has lost 16 pounds over the winter. He is in a weight loss completion with fellow St. Louisian Kyle McClellan. Freese reports his body fat is down to nine percent.
Though he was admittedly excited about being in the big leagues, he admits that he wouldn’t trade his Pacific Coast League championship for the world.
Though he has not lost as much weight as his teammate Freese, Kyle McClellan has lost 15 pounds but acknowledge that Freese had a head start.
The Cardinals reliever is getting himself into the best possible shape in order to claim the club’s fifth rotation spot. He is very happy with his bullpen spot but he has always been a starter.
McClellan felt stronger at the end of last season after running out of gas at the end of his rookie year.
The St. Louis native is excited about the return of Mark McGwire to the team. He even admitted that he had posters of Big Mac when he was growing up. When asked if he still has them, he reluctantly said that he had to hang more grown up items.
After the saga of his contract negotiations, Matt Holliday is happy to have the comfort of a seven-year contract.
With a young family, the length of the contract and no trade clause were very important to the Cardinals’ left fielder. He has begun looking at houses in areas suggested to him by his teammates.
The discussion quickly turned to his relationship with Mark McGwire. Holliday let it be known that Big Mac is his friend and that he supports him. When asked if he believes that PEDs did not help his performance, the Oklahoma native remarked, “I know he hit 49 home runs as a rookie.”
Regarding his own PED experiences, Holliday says he has never been exposed nor has he ever heard anyone discussing their use.
“I think it’s my responsibility as an athlete to know what I’m putting in it,” Holliday added. “I quit taking supplements all together. I don’t think that’s an area that I would ever take a chance not knowing.”
Colby Rasmus was the talk of last year’s Warm Up after making his appearance with a new bulked up look. This offseason he has taken a different approach to his conditioning to hopefully stay better prepared for the 162-game season.
"This year I'm doing more conditioning, running, sleds, hills, that type of thing,” the young Rasmus added. “Just trying to see if that will change things up a little bit and help me last a little longer instead of being big and looking for more power.”
Rasmus feels he will come into this season more relaxed after last year’s experience. He learned to take things in stride and not let the little things bother him. Also, he plans to try to not do too much. Something he did during the playoffs in 2009.
The centerfielder was scheduled to hit with Big Mac after his appearance at the Warm Up.
After letting it known that he wanted to hit 50 home runs at last year’s event, Ryan Ludwick was not willing to make such a bold statement this time around. This time around, his goal was much more modest, one.
More than putting up numbers, he wants what his teammate Josh Kinney has, a World Series ring.
The 31-year-old is excited about his new hitting coach and the mental approach he brings to hitting.
Penciled in as the team’s fifth hitter, Ludwick welcomes the thought of Pujols and Holliday hitting in front of him. “The fifth and sixth hitters should get a lot of opportunities with runners on base,” said Ludwick.
Present with Ludwick was reliever Josh Kinney. The 30-year-old was married over the offseason and has a lot to prove in 2010.
His main goal for last season was to maintain his health, a goal he accomplished. This season his goal is to be effective, something he struggled with in 2009.
“I need to focus on me,” Kinney said when asked about the team’s desire to add a right-handed reliever. The former indy leaguer knows that rust played a part in his ineffectiveness, after he had missed around 300 games due to injury.
Link to Winter Warm-Up Day 1 Recap.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dustin on Twitter.
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