La Russa 'overwhelmed' by youth field dedication
Park named for former Cards manager and current D-backs chief baseball officer
ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa is a veteran of baseball's biggest stage and has the accolades to prove it. The former St. Louis manager and Arizona's current chief baseball officer wore his three World Series rings on Wednesday at Ray Leisure Park on South Tucker Boulevard as the Cardinals honored him with the dedication of Tony La Russa Field.
But while community leaders and members of the Cardinals' front office took turns praising La Russa and listing his accomplishments, the legendary skipper's mind didn't drift to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series or to Wednesday evening's series finale between the D-backs and Cards.
Instead, when La Russa took the microphone, he shared memories from his childhood, snippets from his time on the game's smallest stages.
"When I grew up, I had the chance to play a lot, and I did not have anything as nice as this," La Russa said of the 22nd field that Cardinals Care, the franchise's philanthropic initiative that he helped launch, has established in the St. Louis area.
"This is beautiful, and I'm overwhelmed," La Russa continued before recalling a favorite game he played against the backstop of his childhood field. "I was just having this memory flash sitting here, thinking about playing against the fence. And I really think that's what this park is [about]. Hopefully the kids will get out here and play a lot."
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. announced the team's intention to name a field after La Russa at a banquet in Cooperstown, N.Y., last year, when La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
To see the field come to fruition is "great," DeWitt said.
"It's a beautiful field. It's right near the ballpark and it's in area that hopefully a lot of kids will take advantage of it," DeWitt said. "I think the fact that we have it right in the city epitomizes what Tony is all about, because he's such a part of the community and the Cardinals are such a part of this area."
La Russa ranks third all-time with 2,728 managerial wins -- 1,408 of them coming during his 16 seasons with St. Louis. He was named Manager of the Year four times, and his No. 10 has been retired by the Cards.
"Fluff and distractions," La Russa said.
"The reality of kids playing and having the opportunities that Cardinals Care provides, I'm pleased to be a part of it," La Russa said. "You've got to get down to the basics, and this is basic because it gives the kids a chance to play."
As a covering was removed from the scoreboard at Tony La Russa Field, applause filled the air. La Russa chuckled about the score it displayed. It was 6-4, the score of the Cards' win Tuesday night over the D-backs, his new team.
"That's why you're the Cardinals," La Russa said. "You're relentless."