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VOL. 133 | NO. 171 | Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Win-Win: Memphis Redbirds Having Success Here and in St. Louis

By Don Wade

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Patrick Wisdom made his debut with the Cardinals on Aug. 12 at Kansas City. He had about a dozen family and friends in the Kauffman Stadium stands. File/Houston Cofield

Stubby Clapp has watched his Memphis Redbirds do a lot of incredible things on the field this season. It’s why they clinched a playoff spot with more than a week left in the regular season. And why Clapp just picked up his second Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year Award in as many years.

But Clapp also has come to appreciate the way his players carry themselves off the field and in the clubhouse. Shuffling between Memphis and St. Louis or between Memphis and Double-A Springfield, having a sense of the big picture and not just their personal batting average or ERA.

“You’d be amazed if you were in here when the Cardinals games are on at how locked in the guys are and cheering for those guys up there,” Clapp said. “Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing. I can’t say I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve been; there can be a lot of selfish feelings going on.

“I’ve got video of guys cheering when (Patrick) Wisdom got his first RBI. That’s just the way they are. They’re raised together, they try to get better so next time the phone rings maybe it’s their name getting called.”

Wisdom is the perfect example of a guy forced to wait for his time. This was his third season in Triple-A. He watched as other players were summoned to the manager’s office, told they were going to the majors, and he stayed behind.

Finally, in Oklahoma City this August, Clapp brought him to his office and had him close the door.

“He’d fouled a ball off the foot that day, and I asked if he was OK, if he needed a day,” Clapp said. “And he was like, `No, why?’ And I said, `Well, I just wanted to make sure, you fouled a ball off your foot. But that’s good because you’re gonna be playing in the big leagues tomorrow.’

“You could just see from his facial expression, he had to absorb what I was saying. He was like a ghost. It was priceless.”

At one point this season, all five starting pitchers in the Memphis rotation on opening day had been called up to St. Louis. Recently, pitcher Dakota Hudson and outfielder Tyler O’Neill were named to the All-PCL team. They heard about it in St. Louis.

Former Redbird Harrison Bader has given the Cardinals the best defense they’ve had in center field since Jim Edmonds was in his Gold Glove prime. In fact, according to Statcast’s star rating system, Bader has made six “five-star” defensive plays – defined as plays with a 0-25 percent chance of becoming outs. Meanwhile, rookie Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, the rookie outfielder with the Washington Nationals have not made any five-star plays.

But they do have better offensive numbers and are the leading contenders for National League Rookie of the Year. But Bader and pitcher Jack Flaherty, who went 4-1 in five starts for Memphis before getting the call, should get votes, too.

“It’s been exciting to see guys like Dakota, Ponce (pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon), Wizzy, perform really well up there,” said Redbirds second baseman Max Schrock.

The Cardinals, of course, have made a major turnaround since firing manager Mike Matheny in mid-July. Rallying to hold the first wild-card spot in the National League, the Cardinals removed the interim tag from former Redbirds skipped Mike Shildt on Tuesday, Aug. 28, signing him to a three-year contract as manager.

The big-league roster, however, has remained a collection of many moving parts. Poncedeleon had a 2.08 ERA over 21.2 innings with the Cardinals, but was recently sent back to Memphis; no doubt, he will return to the Cardinals when rosters expand on Sept. 1. Wisdom showed well in limited opportunity, getting four hits (one home run) in 12 at-bats for a .333 average before coming back to the Redbirds.

Poncedeleon, who nearly had his career ended last season when he was hit in the head by a batted ball while pitching for the Redbirds, debuted with Cardinals on July 23 by holding Cincinnati hitless through seven innings.

“It’s not every day you go up and throw seven innings of no-hit baseball,” Clapp said. “So it’s been fun.”

Wisdom’s debut came Aug. 12 at Kansas City. He had about a dozen family and friends in the Kauffman Stadium stands. It did not start well. In the bottom of the first inning, Wisdom booted a groundball at first base and a run scored for a 1-0 Royals lead.

“First ball that’s hit to me, I clank it,” Wisdom said. “I just met Tyson (Ross, the Cardinals’ starter that day) right before the game so that’s a cool first impression. But those things are gonna happen, and I just had to take it in stride and know the game was gonna come back to me in one way or another.”

The game came back to him in the seventh inning when he was up with the bases loaded and delivered a run-scoring single to center (his second hit of the game) to pull St. Louis even at 2-2. The inning opened up as the Cardinals score two more times on the way to an 8-2 victory and three-game sweep.

Time was, Wisdom would have struggled to overcome the error and do his job at the plate later.

“Especially on that stage where everything is under a microscope,” he said. “Everyone’s critiquing you and you’re on camera. Soon as you make a mistake, the camera’s gonna zoom in on you and see how you’re gonna react. So you gotta be more mature.”

So yes, as much as Stubby Clapp has enjoyed watching the Redbirds play and win, it has been even more fun to see the many successes with the Cardinals. That, after all, is the ultimate objective. Be ready when your name is called and contribute to winning in the majors with a contender.

Clapp’s job is to make it all work whether players are on their way up or have just come back down. To keep the wins coming and, more importantly, the development on course.

“Guys go to the big leagues, come back, but the team chemistry stays the same no matter who’s in here,” Schrock said. “And we have to give props to Stubby on that. He keeps the house together.”

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