The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
Over the next few weeks, we'll give each of the 30 teams a day in the spotlight, showcasing the icons and traditions that make each big-league hamlet special. Up next is our pal Matt Sebek of Joe Sports Fan
1. Lots of old dudes in uniform: Two weeks of spring training in the Mike Matheny era has shown that the new Cardinals manager welcomes legacy talent around his camp nearly as much as Tony La Russa. But while his predecessor preferred the likes of Bruce Hornsby, Steve Perry and Sammy Hagar in camp, Matheny has extended spring training invites to Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds. With John Mabry, Mark McGwire, Jose Oquendo and Red Schoendienst already aboard the Cardinals coaching staff, it's like an alumni board meeting in Jupiter, Fla.
The advantage of Matheny's guest lists is that they can be put to work. Matheny has the old gang on the field, leading workouts and specialized practice sessions. While watching Bruce Hornsby run bunt-defense sessions would lend itself to tremendous fodder, it's nice to see a former cast of Cardinals return to participating in the action.
2. No Albert: First things first: It's tough to replace a guy that has a career OPS of 1.037. We can agree on that. On the flip side, the Cardinals clubhouse mentality and external accessibility paid a price when it was dominated by Albert Pujols' persona — which was very rough around the edges.
Outside of Pujols (and La Russa), the majority of the Cardinals roster was populated with affable and charismatic characters that embrace the public spotlight. And for the first time in a long time, these personalities have a chance to be the face of the organization. David Freese, Jon Jay, Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso are four young talents who have made their way through the Cardinals system. They will all play a lot this season and will continue to embrace the new media, in addition to the fan base.
3. Two mascots: Ever since a squirrel made its way onto the field during the 2011 NLDS against Philadelphia, the Cardinals marketing department went a little nuts (hey-o!). So much, in fact, they've decided to make "Rally Squirrel" a mascot in 2012. That's awesome. Two mascots are way better than one. Or zero.
Eh, who are we kidding? It's horrible. Don't root for the Cardinals because of the Rally Squirrel.
Generally speaking, mascots are terrible. They're perpetually distracting, typically pantless and way too animated. Basically, they're glorified hobos. But we understand that Fredbird is a part of the fabric of this franchise and children love him. So, fine. Fredbird can stay. And during the magical month of October 2011, we stomached the Rally Squirrel.
But it's four months later now. The Rally Squirrel is going to be an actual mascot this year? As in, a peer to Fredbird? Such much, in fact, that he's masqueraded around to signature events at the stadium? Ridiculous. It's insulting; to the organization, the fan base and most of all, to Fredbird himself. This has to kill Fredbird's leverage during contract negotiations.
4. A pun-friendly lineup: A premier baseball franchise in a baseball town should dominate the local headlines. As popular as the Cardinals are in St. Louis, this task seems easily attainable. But it's not. Thanks a lot, murder. But the one thing the Cardinals have going for them is a roster full of puntastic last names — which local journalists absolutely adore.
Some samples surely to dominate this season:
Saved by the Beltran
Freese Ices Chicago
Carpenter Crafts Another Masterpiece
Another Holliday Weekend
Cardinals Get Bogged Down
Waino is Bueno*
Puntastic Cardinals names; the only way to keep murder out of the headlines in St. Louis.
* Our apologies on this one. It's not our idea and admittedly it makes little/no sense. But to demonstrate that these awful headlines actually exist in St. Louis, we had to include one as proof.
5. Carlos Beltran: Instead of moping over the loss of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals went out and signed outfielder Carlos Beltran, one of the best hitters on the free-agent market. He has terrible knees that only survived through 145 games the past two seasons, but he has a career adjusted OPS of 121. Better yet, he's only signed through a risk-limited two years, an arrangement similar to Lance Berkman's contract in 2010. Like Berkman, Beltran has tremendous upside and is coming off a which has been extremely beneficial for the Redbirds.
In addition to his on-field prowess, newcomer Carlos Beltran has the finest neg-burns in Major League Baseball. And on this topic there will be no debate.
What are "neg-burns," you ask? Although various identification mechanisms exist, negburns are best described by imagining someone putting on a pair of glasses, then lopping off all hair beneath the ear piece.
Negburns, or "negs" for short.
6. One handsome manager: It's not that Ray-Bans at night and a case of the shingles aren't endearing, but Mike Matheny has the most St. Louis women interested in baseball since Dennis Eckersley was on the mound in the late '90s. It's quite a feat, considering he was a catcher. Every catcher in the world reeks of burnt popcorn wrapped in a soiled baby's diaper. Matheny smells like rich mahogany. Pure man.
In addition to his ravishing good looks, Matheny is an affable dude behind the microphone — which will be a new aura in St. Louis. For the past 16 years, we've been conditioned to anxious press conferences that are more awkward than a fart in church.
7. Adam Wainwright: OK, maybe Waino is really bueno.
It's hard to compare a starting pitcher to an All-Star first baseman, but that's what geeks are for. In 2010, Adam Wainwright's WAR was 5.9, a half-point higher than Albert Pujols' 5.4 last season. The season before, Waino compiled a 6.0 WAR. It's unreasonable to assume that Wainwright will match his career best after coming off a major surgery, but the Cardinals effectively added a Cy Young quality pitcher to their rotation a year after winning the World Series.
Snapping an arm ligament is never a positive, but as long as we're looking at the sunny side of things, his injury came at a perfect time. He was ready to go full bore at the start of spring training and barring any unexpected setbacks, he'll be on the mound in April. Plus, it means we probably lead the league in active pitchers that have successfully underwent Tommy John surgery (Carpenter, Wainwright, Garcia, Lohse, Westbrook).
That's a goal for any team.
8. Great diversity of coverage: On the television side, Cardinals coverage comes from Fox Sports Midwest, which has the creativity of a soup can. It recently hired a team of "girls" to bounce around on local broadcasts — which is the last resort of any media outlet hoping to pick up a few more advocates from the lowest common denominator.
Fortunately, the written-side of Cardinals coverage makes up for the television side's mediocrity. Coverage is dominated by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is anchored by Bernie Miklasz, Derrick Goold and Joe Strauss. All three have unique approaches that serve the fan base well. Fans lost mainstay beat writer Matthew Leach this off-season, who accepted a position with MLB.com. Nevertheless, his replacement (Jenifer Langosch) has filled in admirably since taking over the beat.
On the purely digital side, St. Louis has a number of sites that provide tremendous complementary coverage. We'll inevitably omit a few, but Viva El Birdos, C70, Fungoes, Pitchers Hit Eighth and Future Redbirds all do a fantastic job at taking different angles of frequent Cardinals coverage. These sites are backed by an aggregating body known as the "United Cardinals Bloggers."
9. "American Idol" dominance: This week, the St. Louis Cardinals established yet another MLB record. In case you hadn't heard, they became the first franchise in Major League Baseball to have two players that 1.) have children in the finals of "American Idol" and 2.) have been featured on a Donruss "Diamond King."
That's Shannon Magrane, daughter of Joe Magrane and Nikko Smith, son of Ozzie Smith.
10. We're World Champions: There's just not much more to say here.
(Truthfully, we're pleased that we made it through this entire column without mentioning that whole "best fans in baseball" rhetoric.)
Big League Stew encourages you to join in the fun! Please share these lists with your fellow fans on Facebook, tweet us your suggestions with the #BLS10best hashtag or just use the comment section below to tell us your favorite things about being a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals
Previous "10 Best Things": Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants,Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies