The Little (Cardinals) Engine That Could

You’ve heard the one about the little engine that could, right?


It’s a story about an unlikely hero, and some extraordinary will power.

In case it’s been a while since you cracked open one of the all-time greatest children’s books, allow me to offer a quick recap:

A train, full of joy and happiness (by way of candy and toys) broke down. Everyone was very sad. And yet, help, they believed, was surely just around the corner.

But alas, the newest and shiniest, the biggest and strongest, the kindest and wisest all chugged on by, unable or unwilling to help get the little train full of merriment to the other side of the mountain.

When all seemed lost, the dejected train and its brokenhearted passengers were greeted by a tiny, naive little engine, cute as a button, and confident as a knight in shining armor.

This engine had never been to the other side of the mountain, and had never pulled so many cars, or been responsible for such precious cargo. But this engine had something the others had forgotten over time — an insatiable desire to succeed.

So, with modest expectation, the train gave the little engine a chance, grateful for the help. And wouldn’t you know it? That little engine chugged along, faster and faster, freer and freer, all the way up and over the mountain, saying, “I think I can. I think I can…” which soon became, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

In case you haven’t quite drawn the comparison yet, the broken down train carrying joy and happiness to the anxious villagers? That’s the Cardinals. The spunky, little engine that could, when the newest and shiniest (Dexter Fowler), the biggest and strongest (Yadier Molina) and the kindest and wisest (Adam Wainwright) couldn’t?

That’d be Magneuris Sierra.

Standing just 5’11 (compared to Fowler’s 6’5), and as wide-eyed and innocent as a kid on Christmas morning, “Mags” made his Major League debut this weekend, fresh off of a week-long homestand at Class A Advanced Palm Beach, where he was hitting .272 with three doubles, four triples, and 16 runs scored on the year.

Talk about an unlikely hero, right?

Not entirely. Let’s not forget that this is a kid who, in Spring Training earlier this year, had opposing managers asking if he was going to make the Opening Day roster for the big club. Still, he wasn’t the guy the Cardinals had written into the 2017 story as the early-season hero.

I guess this is the part where someone stands up and yells, “PLOT TWIST!”

Sure, it’s only been four games. But, what a four games it has been!

One-for-six in Sunday’s 14-inning affair, and it just so happens he was the winning run (yes, on a two-run homer from another improbable hero, Tommy Pham). All he did in his second game was go 2-for-5, scoring the third and fourth runs, once scoring from 1st on a double by Carlos Martinez, then scoring from 2nd (after easily advancing on a wild pitch) on a base hit by the Cardinal pitcher.

And the little engine that could was just beginning to chug at full speed.

With Dexter Fowler still less than 100%, Mike Matheny (wisely) decided to jump on board the Sierra train, and let his spark continue to drive the Cardinals forward.

How did Mags respond to the vote of confidence?

Another two-hit night, where he scored both the tying run, and then later, the go-ahead run in one of the season’s most exciting moments to date.

“Sierra — His speed! — does it again!” Dan McLaughlin exclaimed, as if reading it right off the pages of Sierra’s very own fairy tale.

“I think I can. I think I can.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the kid from A-Ball was right back at it again the next night. A hit, a walk, two runs scored (including the go-ahead run, completing another Cardinals comeback).

And with that, Mags wrote himself into the history books.

Not bad for a little engine that’d never been outside the train yard… so to speak.

The Cardinals have won 16 of 21. Sure, Sierra has only been part of the last four. However, they’ve been a pretty significant four games. Following a frustrating series with the Brewers at home, and losing three of four outfielders to injury, the string of success could have easily come off the tracks. Instead, the Cardinals did what the Cardinals do so often — they called on the next man up… and then, the next one after that.

Neither Tommy Pham nor Magneuris Sierra have a guaranteed roster spot moving forward. And honestly, that’s fair. But even if he finds himself on a plane back to Palm Beach before the next homestand concludes, Mags will have quite the tale to tell after this week – a tale about how he came across a Cardinals team on the brink of sputtering back to those 3-9 days, and how his speed, his exuberance, and his will power pulled them to the other side of the mountain.

“I thought I could! I thought I could!” he’ll say.

And he’ll be right.

Want to hear more great stories, straight from the writers and reporters who cover the Cardinals every day? Leave a comment below, telling me your all-time favorite baseball tale, and you’ll be entered to win a pair of tickets to Pitch Talks in St. Louis, on March 18th!

  • famousmortimer May 11, 2017, 9:47 am

    It’s a classic, but Dock Ellis pitching a no hitter while on LSD is tough to beat. Plus, he allowed photos of himself in the clubhouse wearing curlers.

    That, or pretty much anything related to Buck O’Neil. I paused his autobiography about a dozen times to tell my wife one of the stories in there.

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