Preparing for fatherhood, Donovan aims to be leader for Cards

February 29th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- In the months ahead, Cardinals utility ace wants to speak up more and become a leadership beacon for those younger than him. He also wants to try to instill the discipline that his Army Colonel father drilled into him and embody the same sort of toughness and grit that his mother has shown for years.

No, not just in the Cardinals clubhouse. Donovan also wants to do all that in the coming weeks as he and wife, Aly, prepare for the birth of their daughter.

The Donovans, who got engaged on a Cardinals road trip in May 2022 in Times Square and were married months later in South Florida, have already started planning for the incoming bundle of joy who should be here before the regular season. Brendan, who fired off some choice words at the crib he assembled earlier this week, has already given thought to what kind of girl dad he wants to be.

“Being a dad is one of the most important things you can ever do, and I’m a little biased because I have some of the best parents in the world,” said Donovan, 27, who was born in Germany and lived in Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama while his father, James, served in the Army. “There were things that I learned about how tough and amazing my mom is that I want to pass on. Then, the lessons I got from my dad -- like the discipline and being respectful from the military side -- I got a great wealth of knowledge to pull from with my parents.

“Of course, I’m going to be loving and fun, but I think there are times when you’ve got to teach your kid respect and discipline. Those things are important, and they helped me.”

Donovan’s discipline helped him overcome one of the greatest obstacles he’s ever encountered in his baseball career. A partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow ended his 2023 season prematurely and forced him into an arduous rehab program that butted up against the start of Spring Training. Rather than undergoing Tommy John surgery, in which a ligament is removed from the forearm or hamstring and implanted into the elbow, Donovan endured a brace procedure -- where material resembling a shoestring was used to repair the existing torn UCL.

After a month in a bulky brace, Donovan launched himself fully into a rehab process where he worked seven days a week to strengthen his elbow. One of his landmark moments came in early January when he threw a baseball for the first time post-surgery.

“Initially there’s that [mental hurdle] because you don’t know what you’ve got, but I told my physical therapist, ‘Hey, I’m going to let this one go,’ and he said, ‘Good, you’re ready,’” recalled Donovan, who went 0-for-3 in the Cardinals 3-1 loss to the Nats on Thursday. “When I threw it, it actually went where we wanted. There were a lot of little benchmarks along the way.”

The next benchmark the Cardinals want Donovan to reach is using his life experiences and disciplined demeanor to be more of a leader. After becoming the first rookie in Cardinals history to win a Gold Glove Award in 2022 and setting career highs in batting average (.284), home runs (11), slugging (.422) and OPS (.787) in 2023, Donovan is being looked to as a leadership candidate in 2024.

“It started early in the offseason with him looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can I do better?’” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “[Donovan’s maturity] has a lot to do with how he was raised with a military background. There’s a lot of accountability and discipline to how he operates. I think that’s why there’s a correlation to him being older.”

Donovan’s old soul and patience will undoubtedly be tested by changing diapers at 3 a.m., operating on little-to-no sleep and dealing with the helplessness that invariably comes when a baby is crying uncontrollably. But, like recovering from serious elbow surgery, Donovan is embracing the challenge of being a future father.

“After games, you switch [your mindset] into your faith, to being a husband and I’ll switch to being a future father,” Donovan said. “Baseball is my job and I take a lot of pride in being the same person on and off the field. When I get home, I really try to turn off baseball. I give myself the drive home and that’s my unwinding process. But when my car shuts off, I want to switch gears. That’s the goal and if I’m adamant about it, I hope I’ll be able to keep doing that [after his daughter is born].”