Redbirds connect with baseball fans

Gabby Moor, left, age 9, Joplin, waits for an autrograph from Tyler Johnson, pitcher, during the Cardinals Caravan Jan. 16 in Webster Hall auditorium

Kristin Wilfing

Gabby Moor, left, age 9, Joplin, waits for an autrograph from Tyler Johnson, pitcher, during the Cardinals Caravan Jan. 16 in Webster Hall auditorium

Jessica MacIntosh

Flying into Webster Hall auditorium was a sea of red.

The Cardinals Caravan made its way to Missouri Southern Jan. 16 as current and former players from the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as players from the AA Springfield Cardinals, spent time with baseball fans.

“We have some of the future, we have some of the present and we have some of the past as far as Cardinals baseball goes here,” said Bob Carpenter, Cardinals Caravan master of ceremonies and Cardinals broadcaster. “It’s really neat to have a nice group of guys with us.”

Current players pitcher Adam Wainwright, outfielder Skip Schumaker and pitcher Tyler Johnson made an appearance. Also in attendance were first baseman Juan Diaz and shortstop Brendan Ryan from the Springfield Cardinals and former Cardinal third baseman Ken Reitz and pitcher Ken Dayley.

St. Louis Cardinals mascot, Fredbird, was also present.

Carpenter said the caravan is great during this time of the year and has fans excited about the season.

“It really kind of charges us up and warms our heart to be thinking about baseball,” he said.

He said the event gives the players a chance to meet with the fans.

“I think it’s a thrill for the fans to be able to see major league ball players close up,” Carpenter said.

During the event, the players had a chance to comment, and fans were given the opportunity to ask questions. The players also signed autographs, and door prizes were given away at the event.

Reitz, a gold glove winner in 1975, said he did not play with Ozzie Smith because he left the year before Smith made the team.

However, he said he was lucky because when he first made the Cardinals, he did play with Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Joe Torre.

“I can remember the first game in the big leagues when Bob Gibson was pitching,” Reitz said, “and all he told [me] was that ‘Hey Reitz, you just catch the ball; I’ll drive the run in.’ ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Gibson.'”

Reitz, who played for the Cardinals for eight years, currently helps with Cardinals programs and participates in celebrity golf tournaments.

“He is such a great personality in Cardinal lore,” Carpenter said.

Reitz said winning a gold glove was a nice feeling.

“I am very proud of it,” he said.

Dayley, who played for the Cardinals for seven years, said playing for manager Whitey Herzog was a great time to be a Cardinal.

“We played fundamental games,” he said. “We had tremendous talent.”

Dayley currently helps with Cardinals programs.

“This guy had just some unbelievable seasons coming out of the bullpen,” Carpenter said.

Johnson said playing with the Cardinals was “breathtaking.”

“The experience was everything I ever possibly dreamed of,” he said.

Schumaker said it was a dream and was exciting to make it to the majors.

“It was just an amazing thing,” he said.

Johnson said his face went white when he found out he made the Cardinals team.

Wainwright said it was exciting to move to the Cardinals.

He said he has been fortunate to play for the Atlanta Braves and the Cardinals.

“Atlanta and St. Louis are not the same,” he said. “St. Louis fans, the game, the atmosphere and all – it’s so fun to be out there.”

He said he also is fortunate enough to work with pitching coach Dave Duncan.

“I learned a lot from him,” Wainwright said.

Diaz said the sport is different in Cuba than in the United States.

Diaz hit a 480-foot homerun on June 11.

“It was pretty amazing,” Ryan said.

Carpenter said there is competition for the fifth starting pitcher spot.

“I think the competition going to Florida is going to be good and competition is a good thing,” he said.

For the Cardinals, he thinks they could win the division again.

“If our pitching holds up and if Scott Rolen stays healthy all year, I think we are going back to the World Series,” Carpenter said. “I clearly see the Cardinals getting better than the Cubs or the Astros.”

Johnson said the caravan was an awesome experience.

“I’ve been on the caravan for probably 10 years or more,” Carpenter said. “The great thing about Cardinals baseball is everywhere we go people just love this team.”

Judy Stiles, general manager of KGCS-LP, said the event went well.

Approximately 400 people attended the Cardinals Caravan.

“We had a good crowd,” Stiles said. “It was great to see all the kids there. Joplin really greeted them well. We had a good reception.”