For the first time in his career, Nolan Arenado got the chance to play against the Rockies.
The team that drafted him out of high school in 2009. The team with whom he spent his first eight seasons and he helped lead to National League Wild Card berths in 2017-18. But also the team with whom his relationship soured after the 2019 season, and traded him to the Cardinals before this season.
Arenado downplayed the significance of the two teams’ series at Busch Stadium prior to Friday’s 5-0 win -- he said he didn’t look forward to Colorado’s visit to St. Louis as much as his first trip back to Coors Field -- but admitted there were some emotions behind it. He saw some of his old teammates, such as Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, as well as his cousin and third baseman Josh Fuentes, which isn’t something many players get to do often with Major League Baseball’s COVID protocols in place. But that’s about as emotional as the reunion got for Arenado, at least from what he revealed before the series.
“It's a little different, but at the end of the day, it's another series, a series that we want to win,” Arenado said. “It's the Cardinals versus the Rockies, and I think that's the big picture. Just kind of trying to focus on that.”
Arenado asked to be traded after the 2019 season, frustrated with the direction of the team and sensing disrespect within the organization. No trade materialized and Arenado played out last season with the Rockies, but the tensions still remained leading up to his trade to the Cardinals on Feb. 1. St. Louis and Arenado had mutual interest before the trade, with Arenado saying Friday that long-time Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright immediately made the club an attractive destination for him.
Since the trade, Arenado said everything about the way the Cardinals’ organization is run has confirmed that heading to St. Louis was the right move. Arenado had his share of dips in production through the first month of the season, but he went into Friday hitting .351 with 10 RBIs in his last 10 games, while sporting an OPS of .824 on the season with 22 RBIs -- the third-best mark in the NL.
Arenado doesn’t harbor any ill feelings toward the Rockies -- he said he would “never sit here and dog the Rockies, ever” -- but going to a new city, experiencing a new culture and playing in front of a new fanbase has been the refreshing and positive experience he’d hoped it would be.
“I think it's just being here and being in this uniform solidified it,” Arenado said. “I'd say it was solidified in Spring Training. Now, that doesn't mean I was comfortable, [but] that's where I felt like, 'OK, this is where I'm at, and this is what it's going to be.' ... I just feel like I fit in with this group. I think this group has accepted me, and I think we're really enjoying playing with each other and we're playing good baseball, and that's what it's about.
“Everything about the fans and just the whole tradition here is unbelievable.”
Molina closing in on return
It won’t be much longer until Yadier Molina is back behind the plate for the Cardinals.
St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said Friday that Molina has resumed baseball activities, and his return to the lineup should happen “sooner rather than later.” Molina was put on the 10-day injured list on April 27 with a right foot tendon strain, with Andrew Knizner assuming catching duties. Shildt wouldn’t commit to a firm return date, but he did say a rehab stint with Triple-A Memphis isn’t the expectation.
When asked if Molina would travel with the team on its trip to Milwaukee and San Diego next week, Shildt said it was possible.
But is it probable?
• Arenado’s reunion with the Rockies wasn’t the only meeting between a player and his former team on Friday.
Former Cardinals pitcher Austin Gomber started on the bump for the Rockies opposite Jack Flaherty. Both were 2014 Draft picks by St. Louis and rose through the Minors together. Gomber was the only big leaguer involved in the package St. Louis sent to Colorado in exchange for Arenado in February.