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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's Right with Baseball?

World Series 2013: 
What's Right with Baseball? St. Louis' Carpenter is Exhibit 1-A

(This post was written for Digital Sports Desk - please visit the site during the 2013 World Series for coverage)

BOSTON -- As adult parents who value sports, it is with each and every at bat, practice or game when we try to teach our children well. We teach the fundamentals and the values of hard work. We teach the rewards of good fitness through training and of practice and gaining expertise through execution and repetition. We teach good sportsmanship and explain that concept with the words, "Respect your opponent."

Preparations for G1 of 2013 World Series at Fenway Park (Getty Images).
In victory and success, we teach our young athletes to act as though they've been there before and to pay tribute to a worthy opponent. In defeat, we teach the values of trusting teammates, learning from mistakes, keeping a disappointed head up, looking an opponent or inquisitive reporter dead in the eyes and living to compete another day on a higher plain.

So, I ask today? Why, on earth, do we not celebrate the fact that the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, the two remaining Major League Baseball teams, the two teams with the best records in their respective leagues, are squaring off today for the best-of-seven World Series without so much as one syllable of trash-talking, rivalry-sparking, "look at me" posturing, media blow-out-of-proportioning rhetoric?

Are we not entertained?

The two teams are damn good and damn-near mirror images. They both possess: Strong, highly respected and professional managers - let's call it "great coaching." They have good, but not great "Hall of Fame starting pitching. They both run well, take an extra base, bat well, mainly by awaiting good pitches to force high pitch-counts. Both teams play hard, possess very deep line-ups, play strong defense and have depth and quality bullpens. Only in the last category can you give any one team an edge and that is relief pitching to the Red Sox.

To properly illustrate the overall point of great players doing their everything to help their respective teams win a game, I give you "Exhibit 1-A," in St. Louis second baseman, Matt Carpenter.

Carpenter broke from spring training not sure what his role or position would be with the Cards. He played 132 games at second base, 32 at third and two as an outfielder. While doing so, he became the team's lead-off hitter and all-around "go-to" guy by leading the major leagues in hits (199) runs (126) and doubles (55). Carpenter led all MLB second basemen in batting average (.321) and on-base percentage (.395).

"I'm a guy who rarely swings at that first pitch," said Carpenter as he sat almost by his lonesome during MLB's media day at Fenway Park yesterday. "I'm a guy who tries to have long 'at-bats' and in this series (with the pressure high), I'm going to go up there and take the same type of 'at-bat' as I always do."

Is that the key to St. Louis' postseason success, just doing the little things they always do?

"There's a lot of reasons why we've made it this far, but I think, first and foremost, we've had a good ability to keep moving when adversity hits us, whether it's an injury or when somebody gets sent down, we continue to keep moving forward. We compete every day," said Carpenter barely acknowledging the fact he was a big part of the Cards' success in this, his break-out year.

"Toward the end of spring training is when I had that moment where I felt 'I can do this,'" he said humbly. "It continued to grow as the games (played) started to pile up. I didn't know what was going to happen or even what expectations I had, but I did know, I was going to work hard at it and get the opportunity to win that job (starting at 2B). I came into spring training with that mind set. With the season that I've had, I couldn't have told you I was going to do that, but I did have confidence in myself as a player and I knew, given the opportunity, that I could probably do something."

Carpenter views his role, not as the typical major league lead-off hitter -- getting on and stealing bases -- but more as a man who can get a good look at a large number of pitches, then get the St. Louis offense going. While his stolen bases only total three, he did lead the league in two-base hits.

Cards 2B Matt Carpenter (Getty Images).
"We've always been an aggressive base-running team, trying to take the extra base and make things happen," he said. "We don't steal a lot of bases but we do run them aggressively. We're going to continue to do what's gotten us here and that's doing what we can do to just get on base in the first place and then trying to find a way to score - whatever that means, that's what we'll do.

"Little things is what wins the post season game, base-running, good defense - something like that," said the young infielder with the confidence of a veteran like Derek Jeter.

On the flip-side, Carpenter and the Cards are fully aware of the fact the top of the Boston red Sox order takes advantages in base-running and, while relief pitching might've grabbed headlines in the American league Championship Series, Boston's superior defense and base-running might've been the key differences in defeating the Detroit Tigers.

"They've got some guys in (Dustin) Pedroia, (Shane) Victorino and (Jacoby) Ellsbury are guys that can definitely steal bases and run the bases well, so that's something that we're going to have to be aware of, but we've got the best catcher in baseball (Yadier Molina) behind the plate, so we're not too worried about 'getting abused' in the stolen base department as I think we'll be able to handle that, 'just fine. But, we know, we have to play defense, hit the cut-off man and do all those little things to help control that."

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