Monday, January 18, 2016

Warm Up Weekend in St. Louis

As I sit here at work with nothing to do this morning, it is 8 degrees outside with a windchill that makes it feel like -2.  I work in the office of a concrete company, so bitter cold days like this means very little to do.  I am lucky to have 2 bosses who do not mind my internet surfing to pass the time as long as all work is done.  An 8 hour work day like this can go by very slow, but luckily I have plenty to write about for a few days.  I hope to make more frequent posts in the upcoming months. 

The Cardinals held their version of a fanfest this past weekend in St. Louis called the Winter Warm Up (WWU).  This is the 20th anniversary of the event.  It always takes place on Martin Luther King weekend so the event can run 3 days.  My son and I attended on Saturday and Sunday, but I will leave those details for another post or two.

In association with the WWU, the Cardinals also host caravans throughout their listening area.  The caravans are set up with 5 or 6 Cardinal players: 2 current players who have not been in the majors very long, 2 minor leaguers, and 1 or 2 former players.  Some have free admission, others may charge a small fee.  I believe the largest fee this year out of the 22 cities was $10.  The program will last about 1.5-2 hours depending on the crowd.  The players are introduced, followed by a question and answer session, and then an autograph session.  The autograph session is advertised for the first 400 kids 15 and under.  In the past it was open to anyone as time permitted, but things changed after 2012.  David Freese was on the caravan in 2012, just a few months after his heroics in the 2011 World Series.  Several cities reported unruly fans trying to get his auto for free.  Fans were lining up the night before just to get him.  Those not lucky to get in resorted to pushing, shoving, etc. 

This is the 8th consecutive year my family has attended a caravan, all in Illinois.  We have been to Mt. Vernon and Carbondale, but Champaign is our favorite spot.  It is usually held on a Friday at noon, and admission is free. This stop is usually not overcrowded because of school being in session. The school district my children attend always has a half day on the Friday before MLK day, so the wife and I will take them out of school to go (does this make me a good or bad parent?)  The caravan was held at the I hotel, just across from the State Farm Center at the University of Illinois.  I would guess there were close to 300 people in attendance, with 164 of them being kids. 

This year's players included Carlos Martinez, Mitch Harris, minor leaguers Michael Ohlman and Luke Weaver, and alumini Andy Benes and Tom Lawless.  Not a bad group considering Martinez was an All Star last year, but some caravans had a little more star power.  Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty were on the same caravan in Memphis.  We still had a good time, and even got a few autos:

Mitch Harris has a very nice story.  He made his MLB debut last year after serving 5 years in the Navy.  He pitched in 26 games out of the bullpen in 2015, but is most likely slated for Triple A to start the year.  He was asked a question about if he would change how his career went considering he was draft in 2008, but had to fulfill his military requirement.  He stated he was a better man for serving and would not change anything.

Luke Weaver was the Cardinals #1 draft pick in 2014.  I was shocked how thin of a frame he has for someone that can throw in the mid 90s.  I would guess he is 2 or 3 years away from the Majors. Also pictured on the card is  Jack Flaherty, another #1 pick in 2014.  I had him sign this card in Peoria last year.  Always fun to get a dual card signed by both guys.

Michael Ohlman was the catcher for the Cardinals Double A team last year.  You may have seen this catch he made in the AFL this year.  He should get moved to Triple A this year, with an outside chance of seeing the Majors if someone gets hurt.  He is a big man, 6'5" tall and 240 pounds.  He gave me some slack about not having a card off him ( in good humor).

Andy Benes was the #1 overall draft pick in 1988.  He won 155 games during a 14 year career.  He now works for the Cardinals in a variety of public relations ways.  He spoke some about coaching, noting that one important thing youth coaches should do is encourage kids.

Tom Lawless is most remembered for his bat flip after hitting a home run in the 1987 World Series.  He served as the Astros manager for 2 months at the end of 2014.  He also is the only man ever to be traded for Pete Rose.

The main attraction was Carlos Martinez.  I was shocked to hear he did not start playing baseball until he was 15.  He had an interpreter with him.  He appears to understand English very well, but is a little unsure about how to say certain things to express himself.  He received the bulk of the questions and was very funny. 

A big reason I like going to Champaign is the radio station that sponsors the caravan will allow people to go through the auto line if all children are finished and time is left.  There was about 30 minutes left, so my son went back through the line with me.
Not the greatest pick, but it is a 2015 All Star game ball inscribed "1st All Star Game " by Martinez.  I was somewhat shocked he did the inscription so well. 

My son had Martinez sign a mini helmet.  Carlos was ashamed this auto did not turn out so well, but we told him it great for us.  My son's room is our display room.  We try to display all our autos there in one way or another.  We will have to find a shelf for the 3 autos we got from Martinez on Friday. 

My daughter had all the players sign a bat.  We had a Louisville Slugger bat made in 2011 with her name on it that she takes to caravans and the WWU.  She is up to 47 signatures on it, none that cost her a dime. 


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