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VOL. 132 | NO. 159 | Friday, August 11, 2017
Don Wade

Don Wade

Under First-Year Manager Stubby Clapp, Redbirds Maximize Winning Formula

By Don Wade

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Over the last quarter-century in the game, Stubby Clapp has learned many things. One is that the baseball gods do not believe in championships as entitlements.

“It doesn’t matter what level,” said Clapp, 44, and in his first year as manager of the Memphis Redbirds, “it’s a special achievement.”

So yeah, he cherishes all those achievements that have come before: winning the Junior Olympics with Team Canada, way back in 1991; winning the Pacific Coast League championship in 2000 with the Redbirds; and in 2015 winning a gold medal in the Pan American Games as a coach for Canada.

Holding a 20-game lead in their division, the Redbirds this season seem assured of at least one title. They were 77-40 through Aug. 9 and needed only seven more wins to break the franchise record of 83 victories in a season.

And who knows, another PCL title and perhaps a Triple-A championship will yet come.

Their pitching has been the best in their league and their fielding, too. They rank fourth in the league in home runs. The Redbirds can do it all and in an age where many winning teams simply mash their way around all their other flaws.

“Clean baseball, fundamentally sound baseball,” said Gary LaRocque, the St. Louis Cardinals director of player development, who was at AutoZone Park this week to see the winning first-hand.

How good are they?

They’re even a perfect 9-0 in extra-inning games after beating Omaha 3-2 in 10 innings on Aug. 9, when outfielder Harrison Bader brought home the winning run with a sharp single through the left side.

“We don’t have one player who’s hitting .380 with 30 home runs,” said Bader, who is having a nice year hitting .299 with 20 home runs, and has had a short stint in St. Louis. “It’s a lot of guys who do their jobs and contribute to a day’s victory.”

So yes, credit first must go to the players. From pitchers Mike Mayers and Luke Weaver, among the league leaders in ERA and wins, respectively, to hitters Nick Martini (team-high .319 batting average) and Patrick Wisdom (team-best 24 home runs) and too many others to name in this small space.

But given that the Redbirds have sent 15 players up to St. Louis and eight of them, as of Aug. 9, were still with the big club, Clapp and pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd and hitting coach Mark Budaska have been the constants.

Team chemistry is a mysterious formula, a delicate equation. The Redbirds have it.

“You lose a guy here, gain a guy there,” Bader said, shrugging at Triple-A reality.

“Just a lot of relaxed vibes,” said relief pitcher Ryan Sherriff, a seven-year minor league veteran. “We can go about our business in a fun way. Stubby doesn’t hassle us too much.”

As a player, Clapp was a grinder. He knows that when you get down to it, all any player wants is to belong, to be sure that he’s part of this thing and not some outsider with a uniform and a locker.

“It all comes down to including everybody from Day One,” he said. “I don’t have the same lineup every day. Everybody plays. I firmly believe everybody in that clubhouse can play in the big leagues and that’s not a cliché or whatever. If we go through the numbers, everybody’s got some type of potential to contribute at the big league level.”

The 2000 Redbirds team managed by Gaylen Pitts was handled much the same way. And that team, Clapp says, was tight. Eight to 10 guys going out to dinner together. A bunch of them going white-water rafting on an off day in Colorado Springs.

Clapp walks into his own clubhouse now and sees guys are playing cards together and even getting in the same fantasy football league, which will mean staying connected months after the season is done.

Clubhouses are not always like that.

“There have been clubhouses I’ve been in,” Clapp said, “and everybody’s checking the calendar: `Five more days, I pick my own friends.’”

For this team, there is less than a month left in the regular season and then a playoff season of undetermined length. However it goes, there’s no taking away what has happened to this point.

Also, no ignoring the guy making out the daily lineup and managing all the moving pieces.

Or as infielder Alex Mejia said, “The record speaks for itself.”

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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