Highland's Odorizzi looks forward to facing Wainwright, Cardinals

News-DemocratJune 9, 2014 

No one was happier than Highland native Jake Odorizzi when Adam Wainwright struck out then-New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran on a curveball to send the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2006 World Series.

On Tuesday, Odorizzi will be Wainwright's pitching opponent when the Cardinals take on the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

"Being a Cardinals fan growing up and being at Busch Stadium countless times, it will be a very special thing and more motivating for me," said Odorizzi, a 24-year-old right-hander who was the 2008 USA Today National Player of the Year as a senior when he helped lead Highland to the Class 3A state championship.

Odorizzi was also in the stands at Busch Stadium in 2011 when the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 to win the World Series.

"I went to quite a few games each year and made it a point to go over and watch games as much as possible," Odorizzi said. "They were always on TV at the house. I remember watching Wainwright in the (NLCS clincher) game against the Mets, Game 7 way back when."

Now Odorizzi is looking for a way to beat Wainwright (8-3, 2.31 ERA) and the Cardinals, who own shutout victories in their previous two games. Wainwright has won five of his previous six starts.

Odorizzi's father, Mike Odorizzi, encouraged his son to play all the sports growing up. Baseball wound up being the one that captured his son's heart.

"Every kid wants to be a major league baseball player and every kid at one time or another has told their dad 'I want to be a big league ballplayer,''' Mike Odorizzi said. "He's been lucky enough to live it, so I hope he continues and has a long career.

"It's a distinction not many people get and he happens to be one of the lucky ones."

Mike Odorizzi said the family plans to watch the game on television, the same way they view most of the Rays games with Tampa being so far away from the metro-east.

"It's pretty exciting," Mike Odorizzi said. "Julie and I are really excited that Jake gets to throw against St. Louis. We took him to a lot of Cardinals games when he was growing up and he enjoyed it a lot.

"He liked the Cardinals, Blues ... anything St. Louis, really."

After making the Rays starting rotation with a strong spring training, Jake Odorizzi is 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA this season. He has 71 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings, but has found it difficult getting himself deep into games.

Pitching in the rugged American League East, with regular trips to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, helps keep this start against the Cardinals a bit more in perspective.

"It would have been big last year or the year before, but playing against a lot of the teams we play here in the A.L. East, you get those feelings out of the way quickly," Odorizzi said. "I've played in Fenway and Yankee Stadium, played against those teams. It's another game, but it holds a special meaning to me since it's the team I grew up watching.

"The first time anybody is in this situation you feel a little extra motivation."

In his last start, Odorizzi allowed four runs and seven hits despite striking out right in five innings of a loss to Miami. Before a loss to the Red Sox on May 31, Odorizzi held the same Boston club to one run on four hits over six innings.

His last win came on May 14 against Seattle, when he allowed one hit over six innings and struck out seven in a dominant performance.

Earlier this season, Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey felt Odorizzi need to mix up his pitches a bit more.

"It's been a mixed bag this year," Odorizzi said. "I started off rough and am learning to make adjustments. That's what it's about, learning and growing as a pitcher.

"You have to be able to navigate through a lineup more than one or two times to be effective. The big thing is trying to be efficient with your pitches and work through adversity."

Sunday is Father's Day and Mike Odorizzi belongs to the select club of dads whose son just happens to be a a Major League Baseball player.

He recalled playing and coaching sports with his son when Jake was younger.

"I remember those days and it seems like they were quite a long time ago," Mike Odorizzi said. "He and I always seemed to play a lot of sports together, whether it was baseball, football or basketball he enjoyed them a lot -- and I was happy to be there with him."

Odorizzi knows he'll have many former Highland teammates and friends among those watching the game against the Cardinals on Fox Sports Midwest.

One of his biggest fans is Highland baseball coach Joel Hawkins, who watched Odorizzi turn in a 14-0 record and 0.08 ERA as a senior during the Bulldogs' state championship season.

"It will be cool for all those people," Odorizzi said. "They don't normally see me throw and it's on Fox Sports Midwest, so they'll be able to see me for the first time."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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