'We're ready to go': Marmol impressed by Cards' winning mentality

March 12th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- As if he wasn’t already excited enough to begin as the new manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oliver Marmol got all the motivation he needed to ready himself for Monday’s opening of Spring Training following conversations with three of his players.

“I’ll say this -- a lot of teams, this time of year, come into Spring Training with a decent amount of optimism. In contacting our guys [Thursday] night and [Friday] morning, it’s beyond optimism,” Marmol marveled. “In their voice, they are beyond just being committed to winning. You can hear the conviction in their voices that they are dedicated to winning a World Series. It’s impressive, and it’s exciting. The first three calls I made, in their own way, said it would be a disappointment if we didn’t win a World Series.”

Such is the excitement and anticipation that the Cardinals take into camp when Spring Training opens on Monday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex. Cardinals players Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill trickled into the team’s headquarters on Friday for light workouts, while several others working out in the South Florida area for the last few weeks are scheduled to join by Saturday. Players will take their physicals on Sunday and begin on-field drills on Monday.

Major League Baseball released the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules on Friday. The Cardinals will play 15 Spring Training games in 19 days against the other four teams based along Florida’s Treasure Coast: Houston, Washington, Miami and the New York Mets. The Cardinals will open Grapefruit League play on Friday against the Astros and close Spring Training on April 5.

Following a travel day on April 6, the Cardinals will open the regular season on April 7 against the Pirates at Busch Stadium. Longtime owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said he was extremely relieved that MLB’s owners and the players union were able to reach an agreement in time to preserve the season and the Cardinals season-opener at home.

“It’s great to have baseball back. Fortunately, we’re able to have 162 games, which wasn’t a sure thing a few days ago, but fortunately it worked out,” DeWitt Jr. said. “As you know, I care deeply about the game. I grew up in baseball in a baseball family, and I was fortunate enough to head up a group to buy the Cardinals 26 years ago. It would have been devastating to lose a season or a big part of the season. So I’m extremely happy.”

Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and Marmol spent large chunks of Thursday night reacquainting themselves with players who they were not allowed to communicate with throughout the lockout. Marmol said his first call, just minutes after the lockout was lifted, came from star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt -- a talk he referred to as “a great conversation.”

Mozeliak said it’s been neat for him to see the excitement that Marmol has expressed since the lockout ended. Marmol was named the 51st manager in Cardinals’ history, just days after the franchise parted ways with previous manager Mike Shildt. Marmol, a member of the organization for 15 years, will be baseball’s youngest manager at 35 years old, and his excitement about the job has already been apparent.

“[Marmol] gets named the new Cardinals manager back in October, and there was no hiding that there may be a labor issue that might happen,” Mozeliak said. “I actually walked by him late [Friday] night and I could see a different level of energy coming out of his office.”

“When he got named St. Louis Cardinals manager, he knew the responsibility that bore, what that meant to our community and what it means to our team. But there was still that labor issue over our head,” Mozeliak added. “As I looked at him [Thursday] night, it was on. He knows that it’s go time now. There’s no waiting for that next [thing]. Now wheels are turning, planning is going, and I’m just really excited for him to have that first staff meeting, that first workout on Monday and eventually have our first game on the 18th. These are exciting times.”

That feeling is present because the Cardinals believe that they will be championship contenders with the returns of veterans Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, star corner infielders Nolan Arenado and Goldschmidt and a bevy of young talent led by Jack Flaherty, Dylan Carlson, Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks, O’Neill, Bader and top prospects Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore.

The Cardinals signed right-handed pitcher Drew VerHagen on Friday, and Mozeliak said the franchise is still weighting its options in terms of adding talent to be the team’s new DH. Mozeliak said the team is considering three internal options for its newly created DH position -- Juan Yepez, Lars Nootbaar or Gorman -- if it gets priced out of the free-agent market while searching for a DH.

The DH position is one of the things that Marmol has thought about plenty during the lockout that delayed his debut as Cardinals’ manager. Regardless of his start being pushed back, he says he couldn’t be more excited about directing a Cardinals franchise that already has established a championship-or-bust mentality.

“When your top guys are telling you that anything but a World Series will be a disappointment, and that the group is on the same page, that’s exciting,” Marmol said. “They’ve done their work, and from the conversations I’ve had last night and this morning, they’ve told me they are ready and prepared. It’s extremely exciting to hear and we’re ready to go.”