I drove by Busch Stadium yesterday. I was on my way home from up near Wentzville, picking up an antique light fixture. It was the middle of the day and traffic was light, so I decided to cut through the city instead of heading around to try and avoid any gridlock.
I drove around the streets for a bit, just admiring the snowy cityscape, until I came down Market Street and turned right onto Broadway toward the stadium. I passed by and craned my neck to look inside, but couldn't get much of a look. Ordinarily I would have passed on by, picking up 55 on my way back home, but I suddenly felt the urge to stop and look closer. Maybe it was just the fact there hasn't been any baseball for months, or maybe it was the glitter on the rooftops, or maybe it was some other reason hovering just out of arm's reach. Whatever the reason, I decided to stop.
I circled the block and found a parking place, cut the engine, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. It was cold walking over to the stadium proper, and I was the only person foolish enough to be sightseeing. I passed the gates, stuck my hand out and let my fingers pop over the bars of the fence, producing a series of small but satisfying metallic pings.
Up to the Clark side of the stadium, where you can stand and see almost straight in and down to the field, I stopped, leaned against the fence, and looked. I'm not going to lie and say it was dramatic in any way, shape, or form; I've been to dozens of games at the new Busch. Familiarity has bred, if not contempt, then at least mild disenchantment. It's a nice stadium, but not awe-inspiring. Certainly there were no secret revelations that came clear before my eyes.
It was nice, though, to simply stand and look my fill alone at the empty park. Covered in snow and without the thronging mass of humanity, it was charming in a way we tend to miss most of the time. I found myself thinking of mornings waking early and watching the face of a lover while they're still asleep. Sure, you know what they look like; there are probably times you wish for nothing more than to get their face as far away from yours as possible, but that's in the daytime. We see the people we love laughing and crying and eating and smiling and talking, and we know what they look like doing all those things, but when they're asleep, not there, it's a bit like rediscovering something you barely remember from the past all over again. The lines from life smooth out and there's just a face, so beloved and taken for granted, and it hardly feels like you know that face at all.
That's a little how Busch Stadium felt yesterday, slumbering away in the cold and snow. Like the face of a lover you know so well but barely even look at anymore because it's just wallpaper. And now, in the dim light of predawn, you see a hundred little things you forgot were there. Soon enough, they'll be awake, for good and bad, and you'll be together again. You'll kiss before heading out to work and bicker about which of you failed to put the cap back on the toothpaste, where to go for dinner, and why in the world anyone would double-switch their cleanup hitter out of a two-run ballgame. Seriously. The toothpaste thing is disgusting, I'm tired of Chinese food, and you don't take Matt Holliday out of a close game just to keep the pitcher from coming up in the inning after he entered the game. Why are these things so hard to understand? That moment of meditation, of just looking and seeing someone you love without the world all around, can't possibly stand up to the weight of reality.
So I looked at the stadium yesterday until my fingers went numb, trying to imprint how the place looked while it was still asleep. It wasn't dramatic, and nothing at all actually happened, but it was nice all the same. It was enough to just stare at a face and know it existed. Time started up again soon enough, of course, and I turned to walk back to the car, head down against the wind. I smiled a little at my reflection in the rearview mirror. Baseball will wake up soon enough, and we'll have plenty to argue about and laugh about and probably cry about too, but I'm in no hurry for that moment to arrive. It's still there, and surprisingly beautiful even sleeping.
In order to give you all something to actually talk about, here's my top 20 prospect list for 2011, since everybody else is doing lists at the moment:
- Shelby Miller, RHP: He just might actually be even better than we thought. The 140/33 K/BB ratio in 104.1 innings would seem to suggest so.
- Zack Cox, 3B: I'm not sure how high Cox's ceiling is exactly, but he's a polished, professional hitter who isn't far away from being major league ready with the bat. In this case I'll take surety over ceiling.
- Carlos Martinez, RHP: Yes, I'm well aware he hasn't thrown a pitch yet on US soil and it's possible I'm completely buying into the hype. On the other hand, when I see a prospect with solid control and one of the best fastballs in all of baseball (who also happens to be nineteen years old), I can't help but get a wee bit giddy.
- Eduardo Sanchez, RHP: I really do hate to put a pure reliever this high up on a list, but Sanchez actually justifies the spot for me. He has closer stuff; the only step left for him to take is to polish until it shines.
- Matt Carpenter, 3B: Sure, Cox may look every bit the part of the future at third for the Cardinals, but Carpenter has already put up monster numbers at Double A. The power isn't prototypical, but John Olerud didn't exactly knock down the scoreboards either, and he did okay. I see a bit of him in Carpenter.
- Lance Lynn, RHP: Yeah, the numbers weren't great for Lynn in 2010, but he was pushed rapidly up the ladder and held his own. His second half was much improved as well, giving me hope he can carry that momentum into the 2011 campaign.
- Daniel Descalso, 2B: He may end up being nothing more than a utility player, but even that has value. With his ability to put the bat on the ball and solid defense, though, I think Dirty Dan (and please don't ever ask me to call him that again, ugh), could be an upgrade on Skip Schumaker right now. I just hope he gets the chance.
- Tyrell Jenkins, RHP: Jenkins is even more of a projectability pick right now than Carlos Martinez, but I'm okay with that. Tremendous athleticism and a big fastball already, and there's so much more in there. I'm not being flippant nor racist when I say Tyrell Jenkins looks a little like Dwight Gooden to me. Just hide the cocaine.
- Oscar Taveras, OF: Taveras will be a teenager until the middle of the 2012 season. He also just had a league MVP calibre season for Johnson City. There are two big stumbling blocks for Taveras, as I see it: 1) his walk rate will need to improve, and 2) the organisation will need to be very, very careful not to rush him. Taveras reminds me a bit of the Mets' Fernando Martinez, and I worry the same sort of thing could happen to Oscar if he's pushed too far, too fast beyond his ability to adjust.
- Deryk Hooker, RHP: Hooker flies under the radar a bit, but he really shouldn't. The 2.84 FIP he posted at Quad Cities, or the 2.77 at Palm Beach, should be enough to get some attention. He's got a plus fastball, a big curve, and a changeup that's shown plenty of promise. Hooker has the potential to be a very good major league pitcher. Just hide the cocaine. Again.
- Adam Reifer, RHP: He has the cool name, the 99 mph fastball, and the Lidgian slider. The results finally started to match the stuff in 2010. Just hide the Reifer when Hooker's around. (I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the family of Deryk Hooker. Really.)
- Adron Chambers, OF: He absolutely is very similar to Jon Jay, but I'm okay with that. I think Chambers has the better skillset, based on his OBPs the last couple seasons alone. He may never have much in the way of power, but wheels and a walk rate north of 10% can get you a nice little career in the big leagues. What I like best about Chambers is the fact he's actually shown improvement the longer he's been in pro ball and the higher he progresses. It points to a player capable of making the adjustments players have to make if they want to stay at the highest level.
- Bryan Anderson, C: What can I say about Bryan Anderson that hasn't been already? Not much, to be honest. He can hit. He's not a great catcher, but he's good enough. He won't get a chance here. There we go. Hit all the important points, I think.
- Cody Stanley, C: I'm sure next year at this time we'll all be talking about Cody Stanley the way we're talking about Robert Stock now, as just another college product who tore up the rookie leagues before having his lunch handed to him in full-season ball. Still, I'm optimistic about Stanley's plate approach and athleticism, so for now I choose selective memory.
- Tommy Pham, OF: The tools monster showed real signs of a breakout in 2010, with an outstanding walk rate at both Palm Beach and Springfield contributing to his success. He'll also turn 23 during spring training, putting him at almost exactly the right age to be in Double/Triple A. What a long, strange trip it's been.
- John Gast, LHP: I'm very bullish on Gast, and have been ever since the Cardinals picked him last year in the 6th round of the draft. It's possible I'm just enchanted because we don't see many left-handers 'round these here parts, but I think Gast if for real. He's got a low-90s fastball, a plus changeup, and a move to first that everyone raves about. He has potential to be much better than his draft slot if he's healthy and looks like the player we saw in pro ball.
- Nick Longmire, OF: I still worry about the swing, which looks long and awkward to me, but the tools are undeniable. He was unstoppable in his first taste of pro ball; now we just have to see more of him.
- David Kopp, RHP: I've long been a believer in Kopp's mechanics and his repertoire, and he overcame a huge hurdle in 2010 by staying healthy for the full season. The results were solid as well, with a 3.05 ERA at Springfield. The low strikeout numbers for Kopp worry me and make me think his ceiling may be a back of the rotation starter, but I think he has a very good chance of reaching that if his health issues are behind him.
- Joe Kelly, RHP: The results from Kelly's first season as a starter were mixed, but very promising in certain ways. He still has the big arm, and held up reasonably well shouldering a rotation workload for the first time in his life. The strikeout numbers are low for a pitcher with his stuff, but his off-the-charts groundball rate helps to mitigate that. I'm still a big fan.
- Mark Hamilton, 1B: The story on Hamilton is simple: he can hit, but he doesn't really have a spot. He's getting old for prospect lists, but put up big enough numbers in 2010 you can't ignore him, either. Hamilton isn't quite the three true outcomes avatar Jack Cust is, but you could certainly see him having that same sort of brief renaissance somewhere in a season or two. At the very least, he's an interesting option for pinch-hitting duties or the like. There are more exciting players I could put here (and I did consider doing just that), but in the end I think Hamilton is close to being a finished product and should provide some team with a very nice bat for league minimum in the very near future. To my mind that may make him duller than some others, but it also makes him a better prospect.
So that's my list. Have at it, and have a nice Wednesday. And I would appreciate it if the Cards and Albert Pujols would put off announcing any new deal for at least one more day. I'm tired of being overridden by actual news two hours after I write something.
The Baron's Playlist for the 12th of January, 2011-- Chilly Outside, Chilly Inside
"My Attack" - Middle Class Fashion
"By Your Side" - Beachwood Sparks
"Winning" - Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
"Saturday" - Io Perry
"The Only Living Boy in New York" - Simon & Garfunkel
"Marlboro Man" - Snow Machine
"Lua" - Bright Eyes