Ever since the magic 2011 World Series ended with my team, the St. Louis Cardinals, World Champions, I have dreamed of spring training. The off-season was turbulent. Albert Pujols shocked me and so many others in Cardinals Nation by defecting. The super hero became a villain. He could have been another Stan Musial, but he wasn't the man for it.
Today, at spring training, someone from St. Louis told me she was saddest for the older people who held Pujols in such high esteem. The ladies cried, she told me.
One of my favorite places at spring training is the Palm Beach Gardens Embassy Suites. That's where many of the baseball folks congregate. We got on an elevator one night last week. The man who got on two floors later looked like a player to me. I asked. He said, "no." Then he added a few moments later, "I'm a coach."
"Which coach?" I asked.
"Lilliquist," he replied.
Lilliquist took the place of renowned pitching coach, Dave Duncan. I was in awe. Today, our new pitching coach paused to sign a baseball for me.
Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith, both baseball legends, were also staying at Palm Beach Gardens Embassy Suites. I didn't see them, but I kept hearing about their appearances.
The baseball fields at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter are alive with practice now. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, and Yadi Molina were all batters against our two aces today. Chris Carpenter has the most amazing presence on the field. I love watching him pitch. I also was thrilled to see Adam Wainwright throwing again. He lost all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. He made a fantastic recovery and looks to be our co-ace again along with Carpenter.
Everything has a bit of a different look without long-time manager Tony La Russa who always entered every situation like a Rock Star. I think Tony's battle last season with shingles gave notice to him of his own vulnerability. His retirement gave rise to Mike Matheny, a much respected catcher who may eventually become as great a manager as Tony.
I love being at spring training. Even lining up to get autographs of favorite players is a fun experience. If only there weren't some folks who are pushy and rude. Some of them appear to be professional autograph grabbers. They make life miserable for the real fans.
Now the Cardinals will go forward without Albert Pujols. The team will do just fine. Perhaps we will have another magical year when the last out fails to come.
Too bad Pujols was not the man we thought he was. Not a single 5 shirt is in sight now. They once filled Cardinal Nation.
Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial are the heroes who have passed through the test of time to continue as the faces of Cardinals past. Red is still a special and amazing presence on the spring training fields. Who wouldn't love spring training in Jupiter?