ST. LOUIS -- During batting practice on Saturday at Busch Stadium, Tyler O'Neill met Preston Dobbs, a young Cardinals fan from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. O’Neill signed Dobbs’ notebook full of other Cardinals players’ autographs as the two talked baseball on the field.
Dobbs asked O’Neill if he would hit a home run that night against the D-backs. O’Neill was careful not to promise anything but assured Dobbs he would try his best.
O’Neill fulfilled that request with a two-run shot to right field to give the Cardinals a 4-2 victory that evened the series at a game apiece and the Cardinals' record at 45-45.
FOX Sports Midwest reporter Jim Hayes found the family that caught O’Neill’s home run ball and told them about Dobbs, who also spent an inning in the broadcast booth and an inning announcing Cardinals hitters. The family was more than happy to give the ball to Hayes, who brought it to O’Neill to sign and give to Dobbs himself after the game.
“Just to be able to do that for a kid that’s so down-to-earth, that’s been through so much, it was a very enlightening feeling for me,” O’Neill said. “To be able to put on a good show for him, get the win for us and for him, just a great day.”
O’Neill did almost everything for the Cardinals, knocking in all of their runs with a two-run double in the first inning and his home run in the third, a needed power surge for the left fielder, who is fighting for playing time in a crowded outfield.
“It was a good feeling for me to barrel the ball up in the air like that for the home crowd,” O’Neill said. “I feel like I’ve been having a lot of good at-bats, just barreling the ball down in the ground. Tried to get the ball up in the air there, and the results are evident tonight.”
Since his callup, O’Neill had hit seven singles but just one extra-base hit before Saturday. In 29 games this season, he was slugging just .348, compared to his .500 slugging percentage in 61 games last year. Saturday’s home run was only his second home run in the Majors this season -- and first on American soil, as his last one was when the Cardinals played the Reds in Mexico.
Manager Mike Shildt has been adamant that when the Cardinals find ways to do damage offensively, they’ll win games. O’Neill’s night was an example of that, as well as what happens when a player has a good approach to his at-bats.
“Tyler took some good at-bats on the road trip… little softer contact, little pull happy, so you reset a little bit and give some other guys some opportunity,” Shildt said. “To his credit, he worked on getting back to what his strengths are, and that’s getting the ball in the air and doing damage.”
The Cardinals hope to have injured outfielder Marcell Ozuna back by the end of the month, but they need players to step up during these crucial few weeks before the July 31 Trade Deadline. O’Neill finding his power helped on Saturday, and it could lead to more chances this month as the Cardinals fight to stay in the National League Central race without one of their most accomplished hitters.
“It’s modern baseball,” Shildt said. “There has to be some damage done. We’ve got to score runs, put numbers on the board.
“I think in some cases, we have to be more relaxed. When you’re trying so hard, it creates that tension and you don’t have that bat speed that you’re capable of or go through the ball as much. Big, strong guys get a pitch to hit and be aggressive and smooth through the ball and drive it. That’s the modern game.”