I am often asked what I think about spring training? My answer is usually bland and boring, but honest. I love spring training, as it signifies the beginning of another chance to do something great. I also really enjoy the warm weather (especially this winter) and the excitement that springtime baseball brings to the many fans who have endured a long, cold, tough off season. There were a few days I liked more than others, during our 6 week stint in Florida this year. The first day of training, the last day, and one special day in the middle.
The first day brings a high level of excitement, especially for a team who played well the year before and also made some exciting moves to try and help them get better. We also get reunited with our friends and teammates, after spending the prior 3 months with family and friends from our home towns. Guys keep in touch through the winter, but sometimes need a break from the group they just spent almost 250 consecutive days with. Most of all, the first day of spring means that we get to start a brand new challenge of trying to be the best of the best.
The last day of spring is an exciting day as we have most of our questions about ourselves, and our teammates, answered. We know "who" is going to be with us, and a little more about some of the new additions. We have a better idea of "how" we should come together as a team, although you never know for sure until you begin the daily grind. We have covered "what" the organization stands for, and the style of play that is expected of us. Now that we have finished all of our exhibition games, we know that the "when" is now and the "where" is wherever the schedule sends us next. These are all things we had hoped to find out through the spring, but we didn't know for sure until the last day of camp.
My favorite of all the days of spring training, came this year in the middle. The Cardinals decided to offer a multiyear deal to our third baseman, Matt Carpenter. A big part of my job as the manager is to try to put each of these guys in positions where they can excel. The common goal is winning, and we are all very clear with that. But, the process is more of the focus than the result, and the "team" is more of the focus than the individual accomplishments. No one embodies this more than Matt Carpenter. He was drafted as a fifth year senior out of Texas Christian University, which means that no professional team thought enough of Matt during his junior or senior years, to even give him a chance. Finally, the Cardinals took a chance on him, and offered a $1,000 signing bonus and told him to jump into the large pool of highly talented young prospects, to see if he could swim. No golden road was paved for him, no extra chances, just an opportunity. What he continued to do, was perform. From one level to the next, with a very clear goal of "Getting Better Every Day," Matt worked and willed himself into consideration for the MVP award of the National League in 2013. For his accomplishments, and for the anticipation of even better things to come, the organization decided to reward Matt with a contract that will make him a Cardinal for 6 years. I can't tell you how happy that makes me, and how proud I am to see a dream like that come true for one of our guys.
I look forward to watching the next story unfold, as these guys let their talents shine, and witnessing how people can defy the odds, through hard work and a relentless determination.
"Never, ever, ever, ever give up." -Winston Churchill