the cardinal caravan doesn't come to denver -- minor obstacle in the rockies, who have several mlb players on their roster and are widely regarded as a major-league team. so i can't provide any spot reporting on those proceedings. but head to Play a Hard 9 today to get the flavor of the caravan's davenport stop -- bigbie, j-rod, baby benes, and even a tom lawless sighting. alas, The 26th Man spaced the caravan's springfield stop; he did however provide a link to a nice article about anthony reyes.
for an article about the other party to the cards' 5th-starter suit, here's a nice article about sid ponson, who made his 1st appearance before cardinal fans at the winter warm-up on saturday. derrick goold attended the bash and dropped some tasty morsels therefrom into his birdland post yesterday. jeff weaver: fuggedaboudit. russell branyan: ditto. john gall: working out w eric byrnes. scottie rolen: right on track, should be ready to go.
i also highly recommend this bittersweet article about the kansas city royals' winter tour of their region. i have a soft spot for our cross-state rivals, who are a but-for-the-grace-of-good-management counterpart to the cardinals: small midwestern market, broad regional following, rabidly devoted fan base. when i was a kid in the '70s and the cardinals were mired in the mushy middle, the royals were my surrogate team and came painfully close to knocking the detested yankees out of the playoffs two years in a row. when they finally broke through for a title -- even though they inflicted pain on me and mine in the process -- a small part of me was happy for them. it has saddened me to watch that franchise -- once the gold standard of player-development, akin to today's braves or athletics -- fall into such disrepair. at the same time, their plight is a cautionary tale for all cardinal fans, a reminder how fickle the fates. at one point in the mid-1990s, the cardinals seemed at risk of falling into the type of ineradicable malaise that now grips the royals. then the brewery sold the club, and the new owners brought in la russa and jocketty. ever since, our half of the state has feasted at the table of glory, and their half has been pecking for scratch in the dirt.
but it just as easily could have been the other way around. indeed, if the royals hadn't seen fit to dump hal mcrae (now the cards' hitting coach) after his second successive third-place finish in 1994, who knows? they might today be kings of their division. all mcrae did in 1991 was take over a floundering 16-22 team -- a team coming off a 75-win, 6th-place finish in 1990 -- and get them to 82 wins by season's end. they regressed in 1992 (perhaps not surprising in light of bret saberhagen's departure through free agency) but rebounded in '93; in '94 mcrae led them to their best winning percentage in 5 years. they stood only three games out in the wild-care race when the strike terminated the season; they might well have returned to the playoffs for the first time since their championship season of 1985.
why the royals chose that moment to fire mcrae, i don't know. but they have had only one winning season since. which is why joe posnaski, in the kc star article i linked to above, has to write things like this: "There's a strange but unmistakable optimism about the Kansas City Royals this year, at least on warm winter days, at least in Kansas. The hope goes something likes this: Well, the Royals can't get any worse."
good luck to them in 2006. maybe reggie and gruddie can help 'em get a little mojo back.