St. Louis fans have taken a lot of grief over the last year or so about the home town team's emphasis on "The Cardinal Way."
I guess other clubs and their fans feel like Cardinals Nation is arrogant in assuming that the local club is fundamentally superior to the competition. And I can sort of see where they're coming from. But I have to give skipper Mike Matheny credit for making "The Cardinal Way" a mantra that all his players seem to buy into. Cardinals players seem to really embrace the idea that their team is greater than the sum of its parts.
Take Jon Jay for example.
The Cardinals went out and made getting a new centerfielder an off-season priority. So much so that the club traded 2011 World Series MVP David Freese to get Peter Bourjos from the Anaheim Angels. Did Jay pout about it? Did he demand to be traded? No. He showed up for spring training in the best shape of his life and served notice that his job won't be taken away without a fight. And he did it in a classy way. He didn't make waves. He didn't pout to the press. He just showed up with the intention of letting his bat and his glove do the talking.
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Joe Kelly pitched his butt off last year in the second half of the season after a mysterious exile to the bullpen during the first two or three months of 2013. He arrived at spring training knowing that he was likely going to land back in the bullpen with the emergence of Michael Wacha and the return of Jaime Garcia. But he didn't complain or make waves. He showed up ready to pitch. And, with the future of Garcia back up in the air with his latest shoulder setback, Kelly's patience and mentality could pay off.
It was a huge benefit to both the club and its fans to have a content Joe Kelly waiting in the wings to step in for Garcia. If he griped and threw a fit about pitching out of the bullpen, the Redbirds might not have been able to keep him around as much-needed depth.
Overall, this team seemed ripe for a letdown.
It's been to the National League Championship Series twice and the World Series once in the last two seasons. So, especially with all the young players on the roster, it would be easy to see the club become complacent. But all the players (well, maybe not Carlos Martinez) have been very businesslike in getting themselves ready for the 2014 campaign. They still seem hungry and eager to prove that they can go all the way.
Being able to manage his roster to get all his players pulling on the rope at the same time has become Matheny's hallmark early in his managerial career. Not many managers are able to do that as well. Hall of Fame skipper Casey Stengel once said the key to being a manager is keeping the guys who hate you away from the ones who haven't made up their minds yet.
Tom that end, I am very impressed with the club the Cardinals have created. And, despite two losses that came largely at the hands of players who aren't going to be around in two weeks, the club is very encouraging for this point of the spring.