JUPITER, Fla. -- Before the spring's first afternoon shower fogged up the Cardinals' first full-squad workout, more than 75 members from all rungs of the organization crammed into the clubhouse to hunker, as if for a storm.Star veterans and non-roster invites alike put down their phones. Coaches searched for empty
JUPITER, Fla. -- Before the spring's first afternoon shower fogged up the Cardinals' first full-squad workout, more than 75 members from all rungs of the organization crammed into the clubhouse to hunker, as if for a storm.
Star veterans and non-roster invites alike put down their phones. Coaches searched for empty stools. The room twitched with anxious energy and buzzed with collective idle chatter, before falling silent and turning its attention to its center.
It's a scene, recreated on the first official day of every spring, meant to motivate and to galvanize. Ownership, the front office, then manager Mike Matheny will address the entirety of the club, with Matheny delivering the keynote address. The skipper rarely discloses details of his message, and few leaked out of the 45-minute closed-door session hosted Monday. But historically, Matheny tends to use his early-season edict to outline expectations and reinforce tradition. The speeches often garner glowing reviews. This year's version was no different, earning praise from all corners of the clubhouse for its vigor and execution.
"Skip has this, I don't know how to describe it, this dedication in his voice," said rookie Jack Flaherty, whom Matheny tabbed to start the club's Grapefruit League opener on Friday. "He wants this club to do well. He wants us to win. He wants us to represent St. Louis. You can see it in his eyes. You can hear it from his voice. It starts from the top. If he feels that way, it trickles down to everybody else."
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The size of Matheny's audience, and their familiarity with him, varies from year to year. Sixty-four players and 10 coaches heard him Monday before embarking on a long march to the backfields. There they spread out across two fields, pitchers and position players working together for an inaugural time. Marcell Ozuna, William Fowler and Tommy Pham shagged their first flies as an outfield unit. Greg Garcia sent a batting practice pitch sailing. Ozzie Smith and Chris Carpenter, back as guest instructors, watched as pitchers threw to bases.
"I can't take my mind off this team," Matheny said, before diving into the instruction himself. "All winter long. Whatever I'm reading or watching, whoever I'm listening to, it comes back to these guys. You put together your ideas of what we've seen and what we should focus on as we go forward and making sure we're always honoring our rich tradition and history here."
It's a tradition and history Matheny is well versed in. And this season could go a long way toward determining where he ultimately fits into it. He has made several references this spring to watching the postseason -- not playing in it, which the National League's all-time winningest team hasn't done since 2015. If the Cardinals miss the playoffs again, it'll be the first time they've been left out in three consecutive seasons this century. October rests on Matheny's mind, and in his message, already in February.
"He's the leader of our team," Garcia said. "He's the general. When he talks, we all listen. He's a very commanding speaker. He has a talent for getting in front of a room and demanding your attention, and he speaks really well, so he had a great message for us today. Perfect way to kick off Spring Training and definitely got us all ready to go."