'We’re back!': Mozeliak sets scene for Cards' pursuit of 12th title

March 11th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Having not communicated with his team’s players in nearly 100 days -- and even having shut off the franchise’s intra-team messaging app put in place to do just that -- Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak welcomed them back with a simple, two-sentence text message on Thursday.

“My text messages read simply, ‘Welcome back. Can’t wait to see you,’” Mozeliak said on Thursday night, just hours after Major League Baseball’s owners and the MLB Players Association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement and the lockout was lifted.

With that welcoming message, Cardinals players are expected to start streaming into the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex as early as Friday morning. A shortened Spring Training will officially begin on Sunday, and exhibition games will be played by Thursday. The regular season for the Cardinals begins on April 7 at Busch Stadium against the Pirates. That series was reinstated just a day after it was announced it wouldn't be played when the two sides did not agree on a labor deal. Now, the Cardinals will open at home for just the third time in the past 12 years and the second time before fans since 2011, a season that ended in stirring fashion with the franchise’s 11th World Series title.

This version of the Cardinals, one that will feature longtime veterans Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright for possibly the last time, stars Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt at the infield corners and plenty of promising young talent in between, will hold similar expectations, Mozeliak said.

“Obviously, we felt like our club finally showed what it was capable of doing,” Mozeliak said of the Cardinals’ stirring 17-game winning streak that propelled the franchise into the playoffs. “Obviously, some things have changed, and we have a new manager. The excitement that will come in this camp over what we feel we’re capable of doing will touch on that feeling we felt in September.”

Mozeliak said he believes that Cardinals fans frustrated by the negative effects of the second-longest lockout in league history -- the franchise’s famed Winter Warmup was canceled, as were many of its scheduled Spring Training games -- will now shift to the return of the sport they love so much. Instead of asking questions about lockouts, labor issues and competitive balance tax, fans instead can return their focus to the fate of the franchise as it pursues its 12th championship.

“It happened, and the best news is it's over,” Mozeliak said, referring to the lockout. “Hopefully, everybody can move forward, and as far as the term 'labor,' we're not talking about it as much anymore. We're talking about how our club looks, how the season is going, who's performing well and who we’re excited about.

“Yes, we can look back and say what we wished would have happened, ‘Why didn’t we start this earlier?’ and ‘Why couldn’t we have gotten it done earlier?’ Those are details that some of us may never know the answers to. But what we do know is, `We’re back!’”

Molina is back for what the veteran catcher expects will be his final season in baseball and the final one wearing the Cardinals’ birds-on-the-bat logo. Molina, who will turn 40 years old in July, is about to begin his 19th season behind the plate for St. Louis. He and Wainwright need 20 starts together to break the MLB record for most among any pitcher/catcher battery in AL/NL history, potentially breaking the current record of 324 starts by Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan of the Tigers.

Of all the players Mozeliak said he’s excited about speaking to once again and greeting once they walk through the doors of the Cardinals’ headquarters at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, Molina heads that list. It’s almost certain to be the first of many emotional moments for the veteran catcher and two-time champion.

“Having a player that has contributed to the game like he has -- and I think all of us would agree that he is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer -- to know this is likely his last run around the track, it’s going to be something that all of us will take a lot of joy from being able to watch it,” Mozeliak said. “There’s always that special moment when you come into camp and see players, but all of us as we reflect on what he’s meant to the city of St. Louis, the St. Louis Cardinals and the game of baseball is something special.”

Just as Molina is about to leave, Oliver Marmol comes in as the franchise’s fresh-faced new manager. Marmol, 35 years old and the youngest manager in MLB, was named the replacement for Mike Shildt just 11 days after the franchise lost the Wild Card Game to the Dodgers last fall. Now, Marmol will be tasked with not only getting the Cardinals back to the playoffs, but also making them title contenders again.

“Things have changed, but there is a feeling as we were playing last year that we’re finally clicking,” Mozeliak said, feeling Marmol’s familiarity with the franchise can allow it to pick up where it left off last season. “So, we go into this camp with high expectations.”