Choate still going strong with Cardinals
At 37, veteran reliever has carved a role as lefty specialist and mentor
ST. LOUIS -- Shelby Miller was 9 when Randy Choate made his Major League debut. When Seth Maness was drafted in 2011, Choate had already played in 365 big league games with four different teams. Joe Kelly jokingly lists Choate among his favorite players growing up.
At age 37, Choate is the oldest player on the Cardinals active roster, one that includes a dozen players age 26 or younger.
"We joke about it, trust me, all the time," Choate said. "[Michael] Wacha, when he was here, is 21. I could drive a car when he was born."
Yet, much like the six rookies on the team, Choate has carved out a role for himself as a lefty specialist for a team that boasts the best record in the Majors, a mark it now shares with the Pirates.
"I like to take it as kind of a compliment that I'm still around and that much older," Choate said. "You're as old as you feel, and I feel I'm pretty young at heart. I feel the same today as I did at 27, just with more experience."
This season, Choate has a 2.16 ERA with five walks, four earned runs, 13 hits and 10 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. He is holding opposing lefties to a .209 batting average through 50 plate appearances. Called upon to secure the final out in an inning, Choate has surrendered just one run on two hits and a walk against 20 batters.
Choate has taken on more than just securing one or two outs against lefty hitters. Since May 24, he has pitched at least one inning in eight of his 14 appearances, allowing seven hits and three earned runs while striking out nine.
"I believe I can handle right-handers too," Choate said. "It's not like I can't get any of them out. I'm just more realistic that say Randy Choate vs. Albert Pujols with the bases loaded and two outs is probably not your best matchup. But, you know, maybe Randy Choate vs. Ryan Howard with two outs and the bases loaded is."
"I think it is a little bit of a surprise," general manager John Mozeliak said of Choate's extended role. "But I would say how our bullpen looks today versus how we thought about it back in February, that's been a surprise as well."
After years of bouncing between teams and leagues, Choate has arrived in St. Louis, his seventh Major League team since he was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1997 Draft.
He signed with the Cardinals in the offseason as one of two players, along with Ty Wigginton, who weren't with the team last year. Choate, Edward Mujica, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday are the only four who weren't raised through the Cardinals' farm system.
Choate began his career with another storied franchise, the Yankees, and jumped at the opportunity to join a similar winning culture in St. Louis. He didn't grow up the 'Cardinal Way,' like most of the club's roster, but he learned a similar attitude and respect for the game with the Yankees that made his transition into the Cardinals' clubhouse nearly seamless.
"Awesome guy, good teammate, just a good role model," Maness said. "You've got the guidance and leadership there. He keeps us in line, explains the ins and outs of the game -- stuff that's hard for us to learn all at once -- and he's able to throw the insight in there."
Fresh out of the Minors in 2000, as a 24-year-old rookie in New York, Choate won a World Series, a feat that many players chase for their entire careers to no avail. The Cardinals presented an opportunity for Choate to chase a second championship, one in which he plays a more active role.
"I knew these guys were going to be good," Choate said. "You don't know how much longer you're going to play, so you definitely want to get your chances to get back to the World Series, and this spot seemed just as good as any."
Since his first two big league seasons, Choate has pitched in the playoffs just once, in 2010 with Tampa Bay. He's eager for the opportunity to return to the postseason and share his experience with his younger teammates.
"It's just nice when you're feeling like every day you really have a good chance to win," Choate said. "You know, we had great teams in Miami guy-wise, we had a great group of guys and chemistry, but when you look up at the scoreboard every night and you're losing more than you're winning, it's still not as fun as it can be."
At the end of his three-year contract, Choate will be 40. He jokes with his wife that he'd like to play until he's 50, an idea she isn't particularly fond of. Realistically, Choate can see himself playing until age 45. With a specialized role, Choate doesn't endure the wear-and-tear a starter or regular member of the bullpen does throughout the season.
"I think I'm still around because of it, especially when they just basically put you in to get out left-handers," Choate said. "This is the greatest job in the world. I'd really like to play until they tell me to quit."