The life of a professional baseball player is tough. With the season beginning at the start of April and running through September, players are forced to make baseball a way of life instead of just a hobby. The hours of travel and time spent around teammates in a clubhouse seem never-ending when the season comes to a close. The ups and down of a full year of baseball can bring tension to even the calmest athlete. But most players make sure not to let these things get in the way of having fun.
Fans hear of community visits, games, pranks and other ways that players enjoy their long season with one another. Some ballplayers follow a pre-game routine or make sure to wear a certain undershirt out of superstition. But what Redbirds infielder Greg Garcia has done has shaped the way his team and others in the St. Louis organization interact before every game.
Garcia, a seventh-round selection in 2010 out of the University of Hawaii, has recruited a majority of his fellow Redbirds to participate in something every player looks forward to: pre-game handshakes. And these hand-slapping, wing-flapping, chest-bumping moves have taken over the Redbirds’ dugout.
Originating in rookie-level Johnson City during the 2010 season, Garcia and then-teammate Travis Tartamella compiled a basic handshake that enlisted the whole team following a win. As the infielder progressed through the various levels of the Cardinals’ organization, so did the number of different routines. By 2012, when Garcia was stationed with the Springfield Cardinals in the Texas League, “everyone had a handshake with everyone.” It was something he made sure he carried over to Memphis during his first season with the Redbirds in 2013.
For the variety of handshakes that Garcia possesses, coming up with fresh material can be a challenge. It is something he relies on strange methods to produce.
“Usually the handshakes come to me in a dream so I see them before they happen,” Garcia jokingly said. “But honestly, guys will come up with ideas and run them by me. If I like the idea then we’ll go with it and if it works, it works.”
The second baseman prefers no particular order to perform the eight to nine pre-game handshakes. For him, it is whoever comes down off the field into the dugout from stretching first. Having no specific order helps keep Garcia on his toes, which he appreciates considering the depth and speed of each handshake.
“It’s like a dance routine honestly,” Garcia explained. “I just practice them enough that it becomes second nature to me. I see a guys face, just let my instincts go and the handshake comes out.”
Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. Garcia said that messing up a teammates’ individual handshake is “like stepping on a girls’ toes when dancing.” Forgetting a move can be embarrassing for both players involved, although the Redbirds’ leadoff hitter claims it to be rare.
Making a mistake is always in the back of his mind though and when he was promoted to St. Louis in May to make his Major League debut, Garcia was cautious about his pre-game routine.
“I only did it with Grich (referring to Randal Grichuk who was promoted to St. Louis at the same time as Garcia) when we were both there together,” Garcia hesitantly admitted, “but we did it in the corner where no one could see us. It wasn’t like it is here. I wasn’t as comfortable doing it up there.”
If fans get to the park early enough, they will witness a third base dugout full of players partaking in what has become series business. Garcia has enough handshakes with his Memphis teammates to fill a starting lineup. Of those recruited, Redbirds’ catcher Ed Easley confessed their handshake gets him ready for every game.
“I know when Greg comes to me for our handshake, it’s time to lock it in,” Easley stated.
When it comes down to it, Garcia’s easy-going attitude has translated something as simple as a handshake into a staple within the Redbirds’ clubhouse
“It’s just something we do to keep the clubhouse light and fun before the game and it kind of bonds you a little bit with the other guys,” Garcia said.
Spring Training is the perfect time to see a majority of an organization’s top prospects on display. Talented players get to show whether they have progressed or regressed during the offseason. Prospect talk becomes a hot topic around this time of the year with players from low levels given the potential chance to go up against Major League veterans.
Baseball America released its Top 100 prospect list last week, and this week MLB is releasing each organization’s Top 20 list through the MLB Pipeline. The list for the Cardinals was revealed on Tuesday and we offer more information below on those that we project to spend some part of the season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 20 Sam Freeman: The southpaw has contributed in the St. Louis bullpen the past two seasons with a combined 4.21 ERA in 37 games. Delivering from the left side the past two seasons with the Cardinals, Freeman actually saw better success when dealing with right-handers, holding them to a .179 clip.
The former 32nd round draft pick has some room for improvement to become a sharp middle reliever. Two encouraging signs from Freeman is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased and WHIP has decreased during his rise to higher levels of play.
No. 19 Mike O’Neill: Playing the outfield in every single game during his professional career, O’Neill has never had more strikeouts than walks at any level during his four year career. With a career .435 on-base percentage, he is a player that relies on speed and plate discipline to reach base. O’Neill has never hit more than five home runs in a season, but has yet to commit more than four errors also. The former USC Trojan hits for average and hustles in the field, but it may be tough for him to become a regular at the Major League level.
No. 18 Lee Stoppelman: The fourth left-handed pitcher on the list, Stoppelman is coming off a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings. Not known for blowing the competition away with velocity, he relies on pitch movement and location to keep hitters off balance. A season after holding hitters to a .150 average in 37 games at Double-A Springfield, Stoppelman will more than likely spend his first full season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 17 Zach Petrick: Even through his college days, Petrick has been known for striking out hitters in excess. Named the 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the Cardinals’ organization, he posted a 1.99 ERA and 122 strikeouts through three different levels. The right-hander relies on location and using a three-pitch mix to keep hitters guessing. Still young, Petrick is entering only his third professional season and was one of eight pitchers that received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year. His future seems bright with a likely landing spot at Triple-A Memphis.
No. 13 Jordan Swagerty: Unfortunately for Swagerty, the injury bug has plagued him much of the past two seasons. A victim of Tommy John surgery that made him miss the 2012 season and a majority of the 2013 season, the right-hander started as a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year, but was sent to minor league camp after experiencing inflammation in his elbow. Nonetheless, he notches the list because of plus stuff that includes a strong fastball with a solid curveball. He had an impressive run in 2011, spanning three levels of play and possessing a 1.83 ERA. With two plus pitches and past experience, Swagerty has the potential to turn heads if he can stay healthy.
No. 12 Randal Grichuk: Acquired from the Angels with Peter Boujos in the trade that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to Los Angeles, Grichuk may be best known for being picked one spot ahead of superstar outfielder Mike Trout. The 22-year old has put up sturdy power numbers the past two seasons that include 114 extra-base hits, 40 of those home runs. He may be better known for a good glove though after earning the 2013 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award at right field. He committed two errors while throwing out 11 runners, five of those as part of double plays. If Grichuk can find plate discipline and hit for a higher average, he will have the tools needed to make an impact at the Major League level.
No. 11 Charlie Tilson: Known best for his speed, Tilson has the makeup of a quick outfielder that covers lots of ground and hustles around the base pads. The defense is there and as he progresses through higher levels of play, his offense hopes to remain strong as well.
No. 10 Tim Cooney: Selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, Cooney progressed to Double-A in only his second professional season in 2013. The lefty recorded 148 strikeouts last season, most of any St. Louis minor leaguer. His ability to strike batters out stem from his sinking changeup and strong location skills. He uses his fastball wisely, getting ahead of hitters through the ability to spot the pitch on both sides of the plate. Cooney received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year and has already received buzz about the terrific job he has done. He will get the chance to prove his stuff at Triple-A this year, and could be a key starter from the left side for St. Louis down the road.
No. 7 James Ramsey: Playing at Florida State University, Ramsey hit above .360 in both his junior and senior seasons. He has struggled to repeat that success at the professional level though, posting a .253 mark through his first two seasons. While his average dipped in 2013, his power numbers surged, as he recorded 16 home runs and a total of 36 extra-base hits. One thing some overlook is Ramsey’s speed that allows him good range in the outfield and the ability to leg out infield hits.
No. 5 Marco Gonzalez: The second left-hander in the top 5, Gonzalez is known for coupling his quality control with steady off-speed pitches. While he continues to pitch, look for a good strikeout-to-walk ratio as he consistently pounds the zone. With velocity that will not blow any hitters away, Gonzalez never relies too much on one side of the plate and works in his secondary pitches smoothly. The former Gonzaga Bulldog is expected to make a rapid expansion through the minor leagues, with a chance of seeing action at Triple-A.
No. 3 Stephen Piscotty: The organization is high, and should be, on Piscotty after an excellent 2013 season that was followed up by a first-class showing in the Arizona Fall League. The now-outfielder began his career as a third baseman, but with past experience as a pitcher, the arm strength is not a problem. Even with the ability to get around on inside pitches, Piscotty is more of a line drive hitter that can crack a home run from time to time. The former Stanford Cardinal will look for another strong showing coming off an impressive year.
No. 2 Kolten Wong: At 5’9”, Wong has proved to be a perfect fit at second base. Combining quick bat speed, good baseball instincts and a swift agility running the bases and tracking balls down, the former University of Hawaii Warrior has the tools to be an everyday starter on the right side of the infield. Already acquiring big league experience in his third season during 2013 puts Wong a step ahead in trying to secure a job with St. Louis for the 2014 season. He has proven his ability at the minor league level and now things need to translate offensively with the big league club for Wong’s hope of earning a job in St. Louis.
No. 1 Oscar Taveras: Simply put, Taveras is the next superstar to come through the St. Louis organization. With a smooth swing, good speed, strong arm and a lot of potential, the outfielder should see time with the big league club at sometime this year.
For a complete list of the prospects, take a look here.
Spring Training is a few days old and all those invited to Major League camp have reported. Drills are in full swing and the team has started to take live batting practice. Here’s the weekly Twitter Talk update on word around camp.
Players make sure to have some fun before the season starts. Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter play a game of ping pong.
— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) February 13, 2014
Jason Motte appreciated the support after the Cardinals’ Twitter account posted a picture of his beard.
— Jason Motte (@JMotte30) February 13, 2014
Outfielder Randal Grichuk enjoyed his first day in Cardinals’ camp.
Good first early workout in Jupiter #Cardinals
— Randal Grichuk (@RGrich15) February 14, 2014
Mike O’Neill tried to get clever on Twitter during Valentine’s Day.
Happy Valentines Day to my Valentine @taylorswift13
— Mike O'Neill (@MikeONeillUSC) February 14, 2014
Infielder Xavier Scruggs enjoys a good tune now and then.
The Radio is on point with the old school Jams this afternoon
— Xavier Scruggs (@Xavier_Scruggs) February 14, 2014
It’s not everyday you refer to a kitchen appliance as “the Bugatti of blenders.”
— Zach Petrick (@Zach_Petrick) February 17, 2014
The funny things that happen when pitchers get together.
— Jason Motte (@JMotte30) February 19, 2014
Even the players keep tabs on when ESPN shows up to camp.
— Jordan Swagerty (@JordanSwagerty) February 19, 2014