Lynn amped for a home opener like no other

April 4th, 2024

This story was excerpted from John Denton's Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS -- When climbs atop the pitcher’s mound Thursday for the Cardinals’ home opener at Busch Stadium, it will be the first time he’s been up there since 2017, when he also had the birds on the bat plastered across his chest.

It’s a moment most didn't think would happen -- even Lynn, to some extent -- because many assumed his lumbering body would have broken down by now or his will to keep pitching at age 36 would have left him. There’s quite a bit more gray in his beard and the hair is shaggier, but the grip-it-and-rip-it mentality remains. Also, know this: The fire Lynn was known for throughout his first stint in St. Louis from 2011-17 not only remains, but he also still scorches the earth beneath his feet when he crow-hops off the mound after a big strikeout.

So much has changed, and yet, so much is the same for Lynn, who couldn’t be more excited about taking the ball on Opening Day at Busch Stadium.

“To go back to a place where you’ve been before and have that opportunity you didn’t think would ever come, you love it,” said Lynn, who didn’t pitch at Busch while playing for the Twins, Yankees, Rangers, White Sox and Dodgers after going 72-47 with a 3.36 ERA in 184 games (162 starts) with the Cards over six seasons. “My family will be with me there, and it’s pretty much like home for me.

“Baseball is a weird game sometimes, and it brings you full circle. It gives you a new perspective, and I’m looking forward to this experience.”

Opening Day at Busch Stadium, a day treated almost like a holiday in St. Louis because of the city’s deep connection to the Cardinals, will also serve as a homecoming for veteran slugger . He hasn’t been away quite as long as Lynn, but it still figures to be an emotional moment for him. Like with Lynn, most never thought they’d see Carpenter hit at Busch again in a Cardinals uniform.

A lock for the Cardinals Hall of Fame someday because of his dozens of big-game moments with the club, Carpenter left St. Louis in 2021 and was seemingly headed off into the sunset. But old teammate Matt Holliday helped Carpenter rediscover the pop in his swing, and he revived his career with the Yankees in 2022. His career looked to be kaput again in ‘23 when he struggled with the Padres, but the Cards came calling Jan. 19 when they thought his good-natured personality and devotion to the game would mesh in an impressionable clubhouse.

Now, Carpenter -- still a favorite of old-school Cardinals fans judging by the many ovations he got in Spring Training when he routinely stung the ball for hits -- will get to hear Busch Stadium roar for him once again.

“It’s going to be great, because [Opening Day] is something you always cherish as a big leaguer, but especially at Busch Stadium where the whole day is like a holiday and a special event,” Carpenter said.

Adjustments were made when Sonny Gray injured his right hamstring and Miles Mikolas was moved into last week’s Opening Day start in Los Angeles, but manager Oliver Marmol said he constructed the order of his team’s rotation based on Lynn being on the mound for the home opener.

First off, the veteran pitcher’s swagger and fire are wildly contagious, and the Cards wanted him to set the tone for the first game at Busch. Second, Marmol knew no amount of pre-game hype -- such as the Clydesdales circling the field or the presence of National Baseball Hall of Famers -- would ruffle Lynn’s prep for the start.

“Opening Day at Busch is not easy, and there’s a lot going on with a lot of moving parts,” Marmol said. “You have to be able to compartmentalize the celebration and your warmup and timing, and not let it bother you. Lance has got a good personality for all that.”

Marmol said during Spring Training that at least three players thanked him for adding Carpenter to the roster because of how helpful he’s been with advice and encouragement. The same, Marmol insisted, goes for Lynn, who has been intentional about being a leader even though he sometimes gives off a “What, me worry?” vibe. Don’t ask Lynn a question unless you want the blunt, unadulterated truth -- blue language and all -- but his candor has been great for the Cards, Marmol said.

“He’s been incredible, and I can’t tell [fans] enough about the value that those veteran guys have brought to our clubhouse,” Marmol said. “Lance spurs conversation, and when it comes to having the group together and team dinners, he’s been there, he’s done it, and he knows how to bring guys together. He’s been very intentional with that type of stuff, and it’s already helped us a ton.”