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Fans bear the cold for Cardinals Caravan

Jan. 15—St. Louis Cardinals fans from Joplin and the surrounding areas got out in the cold temperatures to listen to current and former players speak about the team's upcoming season.

Brendan Donovan, Ivan Herrera, Max Rajcic and Nick Robertson were the active players in attendance, and Ryan Ludwick was the lone former player to make the trip to Missouri Southern State University on Saturday. Rick Ankiel was initially on the list but did not end up coming.

Current radio broadcaster and former pitcher Rick Horton and his partner in the booth, Mike Claiborne, were also part of the crew that fans fought single-digit temperatures to see.

The players fielded questions from young aspiring athletes and from fans who have been watching the organization since they were young aspiring athletes.

One young fan asked the Cardinals players: "How are you guys so good at hitting?"

Horton, who organized the Q&A, turned to the podium of players, looked at pitchers Rajcic and Robertson and said, "Well, you guys aren't."

The entire auditorium had a laugh. Donovan, Ludwick and Herrera gave some insight into what it takes to be good hitters. The advice given was that hitting is a mental part of the game.

Donovan explained it requires a great deal of focus and being able to stay mentally strong to be a good hitter.

Ludwick described the importance of having good bat speed because of how hard pitchers are throwing now. As the art of pitching has changed with the triple-digit fastball becoming popular, he was telling kids to get their bat speed up to par at a young age to prepare for harder throwing pitchers as they get older.

There were also questions from fans who asked about bouncing back after a tough 2023 season in St. Louis. Horton and Claiborne promised the team is better today than it was at the end of last year and that the organization would not be losing 91 games again in 2024.

The two broadcasters talked about the improvement of the pitching staff by adding the No. 2 finisher in American League Cy Young voting from 2023 in Sonny Gray. They also mentioned the additions of Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson to the rotation.

Herrera was highlighted by Horton as an upcoming star as he told the crowd to be looking for the catcher's name to show up plenty in 2024. Herrera has a spot on the MLB roster and will be Willson Contreras' backup and should get opportunities to be the designated hitter as well.

Donovan was asked about his ability to play all over the field. As a utility player, he brings multiple gloves to the field because he can play multiple positions. He explained how that began in college.

"I couldn't catch a ball and couldn't throw to first, so I had to start playing in the outfield," Donovan said.

He said he learned how to catch fly balls and then started working harder to get better at other areas because he wanted to be able to help in any way he could.

"Defense is a blue-collar thing. I think anyone has the ability to be good at defense," he added.

Now that he's in the big leagues and is playing multiple infield positions as well as outfield, he gave one insight about the comfort — or lack thereof — in having to play many spots.

"You learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable," Donovan said.

Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training Feb. 13, and games begin Saturday, Feb. 24. The regular season begins March 28 for the Cardinals in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.

The home opener in Busch Stadium is Thursday, April 4, against the Marlins. St. Louis will have that Friday off before finishing the series on Saturday and Sunday.

FUN AND GAMES

Each player was given a funny phrase that they were told to fit into their answers in some way throughout the event. The phrase was written on the back of their nameplate that was sitting on the table in front of them.

One comical moment was when Herrera answered a question by telling the crowd he had a baby blanket that he still liked to keep with him that his mother had given to him.