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Cardinals say Shildt 'was born' to manage

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- In the fall of 2011, as then-general manager John Mozeliak turned his attention to finalizing staffing assignments for the organization's affiliates, he wondered if he was making a mistake.

It wasn't a matter of whether he believed Mike Shildt could be effective in making the managerial leap from Rookie-level Johnson City (Tenn.) to Double-A Springfield (Mo.). Quite the opposite, in fact. Mozeliak's hesitation was driven by the void Shildt would be leaving at the Rookie level.

ST. LOUIS -- In the fall of 2011, as then-general manager John Mozeliak turned his attention to finalizing staffing assignments for the organization's affiliates, he wondered if he was making a mistake.

It wasn't a matter of whether he believed Mike Shildt could be effective in making the managerial leap from Rookie-level Johnson City (Tenn.) to Double-A Springfield (Mo.). Quite the opposite, in fact. Mozeliak's hesitation was driven by the void Shildt would be leaving at the Rookie level.

"He was so good at the lower levels," Mozeliak, the Cardinals president of baseball operations, recently recalled. "I think he would be defined as a true teacher. To me, I always think that's so important at those kind of teams. He's always been able to change his message, to adapt his message to the students or, in this case, players. The one thing I've always admired about him is his ability to adapt."

Adaptability might now be the most important trait for Shildt as he embarks on an unexpected trial run as Cardinals manager. Shildt was still in uniform as the club's bench coach late Saturday when he learned that principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak had selected him to take over for Mike Matheny.

Video: Mike Shildt takes over as Cardinals' interim manager

The magnitude of the opportunity struck him as he showered in the clubhouse that evening. The news was still settling in a day later as a sopping-wet Shildt celebrated a victorious managerial debut by being spun in a laundry cart and doused with water.

"Talk about a surreal moment," he said as a puddle formed around him. "I just got through managing a game for the St. Louis Cardinals."

He'll have at least 68 more, as the Cardinals are committed to sticking with Shildt as their skipper through the remainder of this season. His tenure could be longer, too, if the Cardinals enjoy a second-half turnaround that leaves them wanting to see more.

So far, that's been the case each time Shildt has taken on a fresh challenge.

His playing career stalled at the collegiate level, so Shildt worked his way into the professional realm by going to scout school. That landed him a job with the Cardinals, who, after identifying qualities they thought would allow Shildt to shine in an on-field role, invited him to put on a uniform.

Shildt transitioned from hitting coach to bench coach to position coach to manager in the farm system within a four-year span. Along the way, he absorbed every morsel of instruction, advice and technique that he could from longtime instructor George Kissell. He still reviews those lessons on an almost daily basis. Shildt has become a student of the organization's history.

"This is what he was born to do," said infielder Greg Garcia, who played under Shildt in the Minors. "I'm telling you, this guy bleeds Cardinal red. This is his organization. He loves it more than anything."

Though he becomes the first Major League manager since Dave Trembley (2007-10) to ascend to the position without having played professionally, Shildt built an impressive coaching resume on his climb. He won three championships in three years, and he is now in his fourth coaching position with the Cardinals since the start of the '17 season.

Brought onto Matheny's staff as the quality control coach, Shildt transitioned to third-base coach last June and became bench coach this year. His journey through the system coincided with several players he'll now guide.

And their endorsements are strong.

"One thing with Shildt, no matter how good or bad you were going, he always made it his purpose to let you know that he was on your side and to make you believe in yourself," said Kolten Wong, who played for Shildt in Double-A and Triple-A. "It makes you want to play hard for him. When it came out that he was going to be the manager, it put a smile on my face knowing this dude, he's going to have our back no matter what. He's going to fight for us no matter what. He really deserves this chance."

After a whirlwind weekend, Shildt returned to his home in Charlotte, N.C., this week to spend time with his mother, Lib. It was a fitting follow-up to the unexpected promotion given that Lib provided her son with his early connection to the game. She worked for the Orioles' Double-A team in Charlotte, and Shildt tagged along to her workplace.

He took odd jobs around the park and spent time as a batboy, clubbie and scoreboard attendant. Shildt watched the likes of Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray pass through on their way to Hall of Fame careers. Those were the undergraduate years of Shildt's baseball education. He was absorbing back then, too.

"He's someone that pays attention to the little things. It's always what he's done," Mozeliak said. "Anybody that has ever been around Mike Shildt knows that he's very detailed."

During his time in North Carolina, Shildt planned to reach out to every member of the team's big league roster to open a line of direct communication. He planned to talk about what's been and what's to come, with Shildt challenging and empathizing in the same way he has for years.

His goal? To get everyone moving forward, together.

"Look, my job is to put guys in a position to where they can succeed," Shildt said. "I'm sitting here as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals -- one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. I see it as an opportunity, not a threat. And so, I'm going to appreciate in that dugout what I have. I'm blessed beyond belief."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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