Escaping the Ordinary

Yesterday morning, the Cardinals’ camp was enlivened by the fact half the team got on a bus and took off and the manager wouldn’t say where they were going.  That’s not quite what we’re used to out of the Redbirds, is it?  I mean, if this was Arizona and we were watching Joe Maddon work a team, sure, anything goes, but the routine-based Cardinals?  And a mystery?

While there were plenty of guesses going on (my most well-received stab was this one), it turns out that the “team-building” exercise was one of the local escape rooms, where you have a time limit to solve a mystery or figure out how to get out of the room.  Which explained why they split the teams in half, because there just wasn’t room for everyone at the time.

Of course, news about this came out throughout the day and it quickly was noted that this was Adam Wainwright‘s idea, which led to a couple of lines of thinking.  The pro-Mike Matheny camp would say that the manager has fostered an atmosphere where players can come up with things like this, whereas the less-than-charitable would say that it’s the manager’s job–especially one that is supposed to be a strong leader–to figure these kind of things out.

Through Derrick Goold’s reporting, we see that Matheny actually had been trying to come up with something like this and took Wainwright’s idea and made it happen.  Credit has to be given where credit is due.  Matheny made the teams up with the idea of putting people together that normally weren’t interacting, which is the mark of some good thinking as well.  (Why it had to be such a mystery, I don’t know.  I’m sure there was some sort of benefit–maybe the players didn’t know where they were going until they were on the way, so it would have spoiled the surprise for the second half that went in the afternoon–but on the face of it it seems irrelevant.)

Which really blunted the post that I was planning to write this morning, which was based on some comments by the ace coupled with the mystery room being his idea.  Wainwright, speaking to Mark Saxon of ESPN, said the following:

“Last year, we just weren’t on the same page.  I think everyone would say that.  We’re just doing so much of a better job to just check in on everybody this year.”

Give credit to Matheny for trying to fix the issue this season, though we’ll have to wait and see if this is something that sticks throughout the year or if there is some more unrest, especially if the team struggles for consistent winning again.  I tried to point out on Twitter yesterday (though the limitations of 140 characters didn’t help) that Matheny doesn’t have anything to fall back on if he winds up losing the clubhouse.  Some managers can at least claim to have some in-game skills as well as personnel management.  While I think Matheny is improving in that regard, the entire reason he’s manager is because he’s supposed to be a strong leader.  As we saw last year in the Kolten Wong interview, that has shown some cracks.  Perhaps activities like this–and more importantly, a little different approach–can seal those cracks up.  Of course, it’s probably not a coincidence that the first time we hear much about any clubhouse dissention is the same season they miss the playoffs.  Winning papers over a lot.

I do wonder just how much the leadership of the clubhouse comes from Matheny and how much it comes from players like Wainwright and Yadier Molina (and, before he left, Matt Holliday).  If those guys weren’t there as a buffer or as a guide, how would things go?  Maybe the same.  Probably similar.  Still, so many things like this seem to have Waino’s fingerprints on them.

Quick thoughts about some other things on the Post-Dispatch‘s site:

  • Sandy Alcantara is making a name for himself so far in camp.  Not that he was unknown before, but with the Alex Reyes spotlight shifted due to his Tommy John surgery, there’s always a desire to find the “next big thing” and Alcantara might be it.  While he’s been a starter in his young career and could well continue to develop that way, there’s also a path that sees him in the big league bullpen by the end of the season.  And that’s not just me saying that, or even folks you should respect in these matters like John Nagel.  That’s John Mozeliak talking.  When you’ve got a fireballer like that, who reaches 102 with his fastball, it wouldn’t take much for him to be able to be effective in the big leagues.  I think the Cards would hope that they won’t need him, but if the bullpen needs strengthening in August or September, he might get a look.
  • Unsurprisingly, Matt Adams‘s physical transformation is still being remarked upon (though Jose de Jesus Ortiz seems to spend more time on Adams’s new tattoo to start this story than much else).  Ortiz also tossed out the idea that Adams could play left field, which seems fairly ridiculous for a team that is supposed to be improving its defense.  Adams plays a very good first, I think.  Even significantly slimmed down, though, moving him to the outfield is unlikely to have the same impact.  If Adams can show this spring that he can hit consistently–and so far, there’s been no indications that Adams’s decrease in body mass has sapped him of any power–you’d like to think that Matt Carpenter to third could be back on the table.
  • Marco Gonzales is still working his way back from his Tommy John surgery, running just a little behind the fully healthy pitchers in his work.  It’s interesting that Goold ranks Gonzalez behind Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons and Austin Gomber when it comes to lefties closest to pitching in the majors.  Lyons makes sense, of course–he’s ahead of Gonzales when it comes to health and he’s already proven a valuable part of the big league team–but for Gonzales to have slipped behind Gomber probably says more about how Gomber has risen than how far away Gonzales is.  I’d still probably expect to see Marco in the big leagues first, somewhere around mid-season after he’s gotten some work in at Memphis–but you never know.

Games start tomorrow!  The Cardinals and the Marlins match up at noon Central in the first of many spring meetings between the clubs.  You can find it on KMOX and on FSM, so it’ll really give you that taste of baseball you’ve needed since October.  There’s basically a game every day between now and the end of the season.  It’s a beautiful thing!

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