VOL. 133 | NO. 139 | Friday, July 13, 2018
The Press Box
Redbirds’ Third Baseman Finds New Success By Staying In The Moment
By Don Wade
He’s not a kid anymore. And that’s not being negative, that’s just an undeniable truth when you’re a 26-year-old baseball player in your third season in Triple-A.
But Patrick Wisdom also isn’t the same player he once was. Every hitter talks about taking the game one at-bat at a time. And every player struggles to do it.
Drafted in 2012 out of St. Mary’s College by the St. Louis Cardinals, taken with the 52nd overall pick, Wisdom carried a .238 career batting average as a professional into his third season with the Memphis Redbirds.
Memphis manager Stubby Clapp says Wisdom always has been a good teammate, a great clubhouse guy. But he was too hard on himself. He couldn’t let go of the strikeout with the runners in scoring position or the popout that came from getting way out in front on a changeup.
“He’s learning to handle the adversity better,” Clapp said. “He’s looking to the next situation instead of dwelling on the past and letting that snowball on him.”
Wisdom had a productive 2017 season as he belted 31 home runs and drove in 89 runs, albeit striking out 149 times and walking just 38 times. He made the All-Pacific Coast League team at season’s end and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 PCL playoffs, highlighted by a key two-run homer in Game 5 of the championship series. Still, he is not on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster.
But in 2018 Wisdom has found a new approach and is on a new level. Named to the PCL All-Star team and also selected to participate in the Triple-A All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby, Wisdom was batting .297 with a .372 on-base percentage and still displaying power with 31 extra-base hits, including 12 homers and 50 RBI.
Perhaps most telling he had 34 walks through 81 games – nearly matching what he had all of last year.
“Nothing wrong with taking a base,” Wisdom said. “The strikeouts are still there (86 through 81 games), but that comes with the swing and trying to do damage.”
As a third baseman/first baseman, doing damage is a basic requirement. With the way the game has changed, strikeouts are acceptable within that context. Even expected.
Redbirds hitting coach Mark Budaska can point to mechanical changes that have helped Wisdom, such as employing a wider base that has made it easier to keep his head still. That, in turn, has made it easier to recognize off-speed pitches sooner and to use the whole field.
“He’s taking it where they give it to him,” Budaska said. “He doesn’t need to be pull-happy to hit homers.”
Beyond that, Wisdom is more focused from at-bat to at-bat, game-to-game.
“[He’s] calmer. Good kid; grown up a lot,” Budaska said, wondering aloud if Wisdom getting married several months ago has contributed.
Wisdom confirms that it has. He even married a girl with a baseball name: Caroline, or as Wisdom put it, “Sweet Caroline.”
“She keeps me grounded,” he said. “It’s nice to have her out here. And gives me somebody to talk to about something other than baseball, so I’m not in my head all the time about my swing.”
Here’s what a 26-year-old in his seventh professional season knows so much better than even the 24-year-old he was during his first year at Triple-A: It’s all the quiet time between games and at-bats that can get to you.
The great players – and Wisdom mentions Mike Trout as an example – make a habit of finding small positives even amid a bad game or at-bat. It’s the only way to push forward.
“Each at-bat is new,” Wisdom said of the way he thinks about it now. “You can have fun each time you step in the box.”
The Cardinals’ season is teetering on the edge. Moves may be made. That could create an opportunity in St. Louis or elsewhere.
Wisdom knows this. He also understands that dwelling on it can only hurt him.
“If I start trying to play general manager, worrying about what somebody above me did, that just makes going to the ballpark stressful,” he said.
But count on this: His production is not going unnoticed. Nor the new focus.
“There’s 29 other teams,” Clapp said. “And that’s what we preach to these guys.”
Opportunity, if not yet knocking, draws ever-closer to Patrick Wisdom’s door.
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.