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The Schadenfreude Polka

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Ah, what a lovely Saturday morning we have been graced with. Let us all give thanks, children. The weather is clear, the air crisp, and both the Cubs and Brewers look as if they will soon be eliminated.

Remember all the pain that we Cardinal fans were forced to endure this season, watching as the Chicago Nine had good fortune heaped upon them? Remember the shirt untucking, and the homer watching, and the simple presence of Ryan Braun? Let us all give thanks, children, a second time. It looks as if the Cardinals will remain, for another season at least, the only NL Central team with a championship in their current stadium.

It feels good, doesn't it?

All right, now let us all chastise ourselves for taking so much pleasure in the downfall of our enemies. It really isn't healthy, you know. It is, however, ever so much fun.

Our very own adopted playoff team, the Tampa Bay Rays, are also doing as well as one could possibly hope, adding to the sweetness of this young October. And after watching the Rays the first two games of the postseason, I must admit to being even more impressed with them than I was coming into the playoffs. It's one thing to have a young, talented team; it's quite another to have a young, talented team that manages to avoid the pitfalls that often cost such teams in the crunch. And, dare I say, the success of such a young team should certainly force many of us here in Cardinal country to take a long, hard look at the philosophy of our own management team.

As Cardinal fans, we hear, more often than anyone, about the necessity of having veteran players, veteran leadership, veteran this, veteran that. We constantly hear about the distrust of young players, whether it's an unwillingness to commit to a young fireballer as your closer, preferring instead to run a glorified middle reliever out in the ninth inning over and over, or the sight of a speedy young rocket scientist sitting on the bench, while veteran utility players run around the outfield, diving and missing for everything in sight. We are treated to the return of Miguel Cairo, and why? Not because he offers any particular skill set that the team truly needs, not because he represents some sort of upgrade over the current personnel, not even because he fills a position of need. No, we see him because the manager trusts him.

In our poll the other day, regarding who the VEB faithful should adopt as our October rooting interest, we received 1366 votes total. The Rays were a runaway train, garnering 825 votes, for a 60% slice of the pie. The Dodgers were runners up, with eleven percent of the vote, at 151 tallies. The Angels and White Sox were numbers three and four, respectively, with 101 and 99 votes, respectively.

Now, I'm sure there are lots of reasons people voted for the Rays. They're young, exciting, mostly homegrown, and they're flat out fun to watch. Of course, there are also some other possible reasons; i.e. they're completely removed from us ever having to root against them, barring a WS matchup, they haven't beaten our team in a meaningful way for us to hold a grudge, and they play in the same division as the teams that tend to evoke the most jealousy of any in baseball, the Scrooges and the Marleys.

Overall, though, I think the reason that most people voted for them is that many of us here value the way that their team is put together. We like teams that are mostly grown through the farm system. We like seeing young, talented players who are still excited just to be playing the game. My only question, then, is whether or not everybody here thinks we'll be able to see a team of our own with those qualities that we seemingly enjoy here any time soon?

We heard so much last offseason, and even into spring training, about the new direction that the club was taking. Tony La Russa talked at great length about how much he actually preferred a young, hungry club, much to our collective surprise. It seemed like everyone was on the same page. Truly, a welcome antidote to the turmoil and infighting that so characterized the last days of the Walt Jocketty regime.

Now, at the end of the very same season, where do we find ourselves? We had demands for trades for veteran, impact players. We have talk of the team's supposed closer of the future spending next season back in Memphis in favour of another season from the closer of the past. Worse, we hear talk that said young pitcher is being told to change the way he pitches, to work down in the zone more, to get on top of the ball, to stay more vertical, et cetera. We even hear talk of a disconnect between the on field management and the front office, a fundamental philosophical difference. To me, that's all more than a little bit worrisome.

Obviously, I don't necessarily want the Cardinals to be the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are a team that had to endure season after season of agonisingly bad play before finally reaching a point where it looks like they may have some real success for a while. The Cardinals shouldn't ever have to go through such an extended period of poor play, not with the fan base and resources they have. But still, with the Cards' long time pitching coach and managerial confidante signing a new contract yesterday, I think it's probably a fair question to ask. Do we, as fans, really see this team moving toward being the kind of team that we love to root for? Or do we see more of the same, with the same pitfalls looming up ahead that put the Cards into such a hole leading into the 2007 season? Does the team's philosophy truly match our own?

Or, heck, maybe I'm just reading way too much into all of this and grasping at straws to find something to write about on a Saturday morning in October. You could always just go with that, too, if you really dislike what I write. Either way.

I'll be back a bit later on with a game thread for the day's playoff action. Have a nice day, everyone.

Oh, and one other thing. This will most likely be my final Saturday post. Thanks to all of you who have made the assignment rewarding enough to justify having to actually drag my carcass out of the sweet, stuporous embrace of a Saturday morning to try and string together some coherent thoughts. Sadly, I find my energy simply unequal to the task of a full time gig over at the RFT, two days here, and the every once in a while that I have a chance to toss off something over at Future Redbirds. Something had to give. Thanks again, everybody.