Monday, October 31, 2011


The roller coaster has finally come to a complete stop and it is now safe to unbuckle your seatbelts.

The twenty-eleven Cardinals’ season will go down in history. Not necessarily as a knee-jerk reactionary thing, though, but because they won the final game of the baseball season and teams that do that get to forever go down in history (the NCAA isn’t around to revoke anyone’s titles in this sport). However, in a knee-jerk reaction kind of way, the Cardinals very well may be talked about for some time to come. There is no shortage of hyperbole to describe what that team of former somebodies, future somebodies, and Albert Pujols was able to accomplish- namely from mid August until late October.

Around February, this team had high hopes but was picked to finish no better than third in the NL Central by most. Then they failed to reach a contract extension with The Great Pujols. Then Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery. Then those hopes that had been high began to lose altitude and the faint predictions from experts dimmed to almost total darkness. Somehow, as the All-Star Break came and went, the team that almost never got out of an inning without grounding into a double play found themselves well within striking distance of first place in the Central and not far from the Wild Card lead. Then came the trade that sent shockwaves around the continent- at least the two biggest countries on it- sending Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays for an inconsistent starting pitcher, an outfielder who could barely remember his prime anymore, and a left handed reliever whose last name haunted substitute teachers all through high school. That’s the best MO could do? Yup.

As we all watched anxiously as they came plowing into the playoffs in a real life “tortoise and the hare” reenactment, you just couldn’t help but feel like something was different about this team. Those ragtag players that led to the “future of the franchise” being shipped out were logging key innings on the mound and in the outfield and the town had caught Scrabble mania and soon the whole nation would (almost) be able to pronounce his name- at least the fans in Philly, Milwaukee, and Dallas. This team did so many things that had never been done before and that no one who knew anything expected them to do. First and foremost, they survived two rounds of TBS coverage. This feat cannot be overstated in itself. No team should ever be put through such torture. And, in those two rounds, they knocked off the best two teams in the National League. Two teams that, if we’re honest, were a lot more complete than the Cardinals. They had better pitching and just as many quality hitters. These Cardinals didn’t care though. Even at that, there was no way they stood a chance against the vaunted Rangers, though. No chance. This team just refused to listen to anyone, apparently. They made us sweat it out but eventually pulled it out in a fashion that was an impeccable cross-section of the entire 162 game schedule that had led to that point.

But this wasn’t the first team to surge into the playoffs and win the World Series. This was far from the worst team to ever win a title. They were not the first to go back home facing a 3-2 deficit and pull the series out. They definitely weren’t the first St. Louis team to win a world championship. And Freese wasn’t even the first over-looked David to win the MVP this decade. So what made them different? What made them so special that you just felt like something magical was going to happen every night? Lots of things.

Maybe it was the fact that almost every player who donned the Birds on the Bat each game played above his normal potential. The baseball world was introduced to many new names that seem to be here to stay and was reintroduced to some old faces that seemed lost at sea. Whether it was Freese or Craig or Dotel or Berkman or Lynn or Rhodes, they all found some extra life and pop in the playoffs. It was the mix of young and old that changed the dynamic of the clubhouse and made it such a cohesive group. The young guys were just cocky enough to not be scared of the moment and the grizzlied veterans showed them to appreciate every ounce of the experience. It all added up to a team ready to take on the next competitor into the ring. But that couldn’t have been all it was.

This playoff run just felt different for too many reasons to list. The most significant one, to this particular fan, was the fact that Tony LaRussa genuinely appeared to enjoy this run through the playoffs (foreshadowing perhaps?). He smiled and joked and celebrated more than any other time in his sixteen years as the manager of the Cardinals that I ever remember. And that is adding all of the smiles I have ever seen from him. It was far from a perfect exhibition on his part, though. He had his fair share of mistakes or decisions that didn’t work out just as he calculated them but that is not the debate here. He just looked happy. Truly happy to see this particular team succeed. Maybe that’s because it was one of his more difficult managerial assignments, although the 2006 team presents a good argument. But TLR has always loved his players and defended them til he was blue in the face but you just got the feeling that he thought of these 28-29 guys (we’re counting a few guys who floated on and off the roster) as his sons who he’d take a bullet for. There were always personalities that butted heads with him in the past but there was no feeling of that on this squad. They loved him and he loved them. He clearly had the support of management and the owners, too, as was exposed when they sent Rasmus packing. Everyone was on board with him and his philosophy and they were ready to ride that wave as far as he could take them.

Maybe all of his smiles were because he already knew he was hanging it up after this season. Who knows? Better yet, who cares? The man was passionate about this team. You could see it each time Allen Craig drove in the go-ahead run or every time David Freese showed off his immense talent or every punch-out one of his misfit pitchers recorded and he got to go shake their hand and wave the next one out of the pen. And it was never more apparent than when the last fly ball was hit in game seven. As soon as it left the bat, he reverted back to his 12 year old self for a brief moment that seemed like an eternity to all engrossed. In a moment of pure joy he ripped his glasses off and hugged the closest man to him in a confused, panic-stricken state. It was great to watch. It will be the image that forever defines his career for this young fan.

I stop short of calling this the greatest World Series ever or the greatest game 6 ever. I’ve only been around for 23 of them. I can say without a doubt that it was the most intense Series I’ve ever witnessed though and game 6 was the craziest game I’ve ever gotten the pleasure to watch. And I’m not even trying to say that it was the best World Series of my lifetime, it was just the most tense I’ve ever felt watching one. Things like that just don’t happen every year. I’m not sure if it was the baseball gods or fate or Bud Selig, but someone clearly wanted these Cardinals to win the World Series this year and this group was able to make it happen. A group that will never look the same again, and that rarely looked the same from one night to the next, but it was a group that came together at the right time under the right manager and made just the right plays to accomplish their goal: 11 in ’11.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Change of plans

So, the economy is effecting all of us these days. Due to rising gas prices, "No Greener Grass" has now moved to Please go check it out. I am now carpooling with my best friend (who happens to be a far better writer than I am, too), Matt.

And, as always, enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by.

It's been real.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hope Rises

This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite times of the year. I am, after all, intrigued by the anticipation in life. There are bubbles being blown and others being burst. You’ve got bats cracking in Florida and Arizona and pinging all across the country. Pucks are being dropped on the ice and balls are being tipped on the hardwood. And don’t forget about the 40-yard intervals being dashed.

This is, indeed, a great time to be a sportaholic. This is one of the only times of the year that ESPN can run every one of its specialty shows (NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, NBA Live, & College Basketball Live) on a nightly basis and not get repetitive. Barry Melrose, Jalen Rose, Tim Kurkjian, and Todd McShay are all fighting for position on the ten o’clock Sportscenter. The madness truly has begun already.

The outstanding theme, though, is hope. March brings hope in so many ways. From the promise of longer days to the greener pastures that lie just beyond the horizon, it is impossible to ignore the hope this time of year.
In the sports world, I do not know that there is a more hope-instilling time, across the board, than this. If basketball or hockey is your preference, there is either hope for the postseason or next season. Baseball fans, even on the North side of Chicago, are hopeful that this will be their year. College football fans are hoping that spring practices will translate into January games and NFL enthusiasts are eager to see whom their team will draft and if he will be the answer to the team’s problems.

From a personal standpoint: I sure know I’m hoping the Cardinals can find someone to replace Adam Wainwright; the basketball Hogs find the right man to replace Pel and get them back to NCAA relevance; the football Hogs can replace Mallett and DJ Williams and repeat last season’s success; and that the Cowboys can figure out how to not find themselves in the top 10 of the 2012 draft….assuming there is a season at all.

I am no fool. I know there are plenty of reasons to think there is no hope these days. Honestly, there may be more reasons to fear the future than to embrace it. But, for now, I say bring on the future and all of the uncertainty. Let’s just hope the NFL gets things figured out so we can avoid a painfully boring Fall.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Check out that elephant over there...

Pitchers and catchers finally reporting this past weekend can only signal one (or two) things. Baseball is almost almost back, no matter what that groundhog saw. And that the Cardinals are running out of time to re-sign a man who may go down as the best player of our generation. In fact, they are down to 13 hours and 30 minutes according to my clock (I’m guessing it will be less than that by the time anyone sees this). Granted, players have set “deadlines” in the past only as smoke and mirrors to give themselves leverage but Pujols is hardly just “another player.” Heck, he is hardly a human at all most of the time. He has shown his true colors too many times to count throughout his ten year career. That is usually not a compliment you would pay to someone but, again…hardly human. Everything from actually running his charity rather than just having his name on the letterhead to stopping a game to assist a father who fell on his face while chasing a foul ball for his downs syndrome son, Pujols has continued to show his larger than life character. I, for one, don’t see this contract negotiation showing anything different.

It’s hard to find fault from either side of these particular negotiations, too. From Pujols’ camp, of course they want 10 years and the biggest dollar amount in the history of the world. From the Cards’ side, he is (listed as) 31 already. Ten years down the road is a lot to commit to. There are a lot of variables that go into playing that long. There is a reason that we know all of the names of players who kept their production levels high when they hit the big four-oh. Because they are the exception. Not the rule. But…for the third time…Albert Pujols is hardly human. There seems to be a theme developing here.

Now it is time to put my emotions back into this debate. If the team does give him the, reported, 10 year $300 million contract that he wants, who in the world will blame them if he gets hurt halfway through the 9th year of the contract? Or if he hits .299 with 29 HRs and 99 RBIs in year 8 of the deal? Not me. Some will but those people will complain no matter what happens. They will continue to call for new management because “MO is just a greedy, good-for-nothing moron.”….On the other hand, who is going to blame the front office if they fail to get a deal done and Pujols goes to, oh I don’t know…the North side of Chicago this November? EVERYONE! A hundred years from now when the “lovable loser” title belongs to the once powerful St Louis Cardinals, our great grand children will look back and point to these negotiations as the reason for the demise of the organization and city. This could hurl St Louis down with the likes of Cleveland before you have time to turn around three times and give a good “CHARGE” cheer.

Maybe that is being a little too emotional. However, I do not see the platoon of Lance Berkman and Jason LaRue providing quite the production that Albert Pujols offers. I have been wrong before, though. They could always bring back Chris Duncan, too, I guess.

Unfortunately, as it stands at the current moment, it appears that we as Cardinal fans will be left with these fears for 8 or 9 long months to come. Unless, of course, this was all just a big publicity stunt and there is a deal ready to be signed already.

Hey, it could happen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Change of Pace

This "No Greener Grass" idea was started solely with the Cardinals in mind. It has now occurred to me that the offseason is far too long and dead air is rough on the ratings. Luckily, we, the NGG contributors, are fluid and flexible. Rather than restricting the posts to St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball, let’s expand to other things, as well. This next thought is a little out there, I know, but…expanding horizons may actually lead to more people being interested in the page and produce a new follower or two. Doubling my followership may be a little overzealous, but I like to shoot for the stars.

With no further adieu…

‘Tis a great year to be a Razorback, indeed. As is the case for just about every school (except “Little Sisters of the Poor” apparently), the Hogs came into the season with high hopes. They were high even by Arkansas standards. This was to be the year in which all the stars aligned and that wild pack of Razorbacks got that ever-elusive second national title. After all, the conference appeared to be more balanced, top to bottom, than it was in the previous 4 national championship years. That’s not to say the league was down, but there definitely was no clear-cut number 1 coming into the season. Plus, Bama had to come to Fayetteville this time around and that defense couldn’t possibly reload fast enough to hold Petrino down. Don’t forget about Mallett’s canon and the surplus of targets with which he had to aim it.

All that optimism went out the window after the first two weeks. The offense looked sluggish both weeks and the defense failed to record a shutout either game. Keep in mind, the final scores did end up being 44-3 and 31-7. Did I mention how high the expectations were? I will admit that neither game felt that lopsided, but I’d much rather win games in that fashion as opposed to embarrassing people by 60 points a game like USC or Miami teams of old. And, let’s be honest, they could have done like the majority of us do when playing Madden and just run the same 3 or 4 plays the whole game and walked away with the W. They caught a big break when heading to Athens by not having to deal with AJ Green. The secondary showed time and time again that they are still not quite as talented as they, often times, think they are, especially when matching up against big receivers like Green. But this is SEC football we are talking about here. No one is at full strength after the first snap. Arkansas played basically the entire season without Dennis Johnson (refer to kickoff return averages to fully gage his impact) and the last four games without Greg Childs. That game still proved to be the first real test for the team. Athens was still a hostile environment at that stage of the season and this group of Hogs had yet to prove themselves on the road against an SEC opponent.

Then came Alabama. Oh, Nick Saban, you sly dog, you. Total lack of a running game cost them in the end. After looking past and escaping A&M in Dallas, it was time to head to Auburn. A number of factors worked against them in that game; including, but not limited to, the Great Cam Newton and the infamous SEC officials. Fast forward to Little Rock post Thanksgiving dinner and they overcame the sloppiest of starts to put together an extraordinarily complete effort against the number 5 team in the land AND the Mad Hatter himself, Lucky Les (a feat in and of itself).

If you take Newton and his six-figure payout away from Auburn, the Hogs sit at 10-1. If you take the state of Alabama off of the map (would anyone miss it anyway?), the Hogs would be undefeated and ready to take on Oregon or TCU or the team of Gordon Gee’s choice. Somehow, a running game was discovered from nowhere midseason. It may have taken that long for the new philosophy to sink in or, possibly, it took that long for the players to buy into it or, perhaps, it just took the right combination of both mixed with a healthy dose of Knile Davis to right the ship. Mallett may have lost his chance at several pieces of hardware to put on his mantel but he did nothing to take away from his pro stock and ensured himself of a hefty 8-figure payday in the not-so-distant future. Also, along the same lines, Tyler Wilson did little other than provide optimism for the coming years, as well.

So, here they sit, at 10-2 and number 7 in the next to last BCS poll of the season, as the biggest Auburn fans in the country for one time and one time only. A Tiger victory in the SEC title game all but secures Arkansas’ first BCS bowl invitation. The system obviously makes no sense to anyone, but the Sugar Bowl committee surely sits poised to invite some crazy Arkansans down to the beautiful New Orleans for a day or two. Independent of bowl destinations (they’re all essentially consolation games anyway), this has been a truly magical season for that team up in the Ozarks.

Allow me to reiterate: ‘tis a great year to be a Razorback.

Here’s to you Auburn.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Towel: In Hand

I am still not quite ready to throw it in just yet, but the towel is, indeed, in hand at this point. Contrary to what Cardinal fans everywhere were hoping/praying for, the perplexing trend of the second half has continued and will, ultimately, cost the team a shot at another ring. It is true that they are not mathematically eliminated yet; and, as the Rockies have shown us over the past 3 seasons, it ain't over til it's over. However, the Reds' magic number has lowered to 5 with the latest loss to another bottom feeding juggernaut.

As further proof that the Cardinals are obviously distracted by the prowess of the bottom 1/6 of the league, here is the list of pitchers who have recorded wins against the Cardinals since the Cincinnati series that was supposed to be the springboard for the club: Zambrano, Dempster, Bush, Wolf, Bumgarner, Hanrahan, McCutchen, Slaten, Hernandez, Lannan, Happ, Rodriguez, Figueroa, Wood, Narveson, Capuano, Moylan, Kimbrel, Samardzija, Wells, Zambrano, Adams, Volstad, and Maholm. All but a couple of those are starters so it is not as if they are all no-name relievers who just happened to be the pitcher of record when their team took the lead. They actually had to shut the team down for the majority of the game. That, apparently, is not that daunting of a task. Taking a deeper look into that list is just a bad idea, but let's just take a few demographics from it. That list includes ten pitchers with .500 winning percentages or lower, a guy who got suspended from his team because he could not get along with teammates, and some guy who used to catch passes from Brady Quinn.

Only adding to the disappointment will be the lack of major hardware that the team manages to bring in this offseason. Barring the epic comeback that it would take to propel the team into the postseason, it does not appear that there will be a need for any pre-game ceremonies next season to recognize the Cy Young, MVP, or Rookie of the Year winners from this year. The flirtatious affair that Pujols and Wainwright had with their respective Triple Crowns has long since ended, as well.

Ok. That is enough dwelling on the negative. There has got to be a bright spot somewhere.

The bright spots are really more moral victories than true bright spots, but we will run with this for a bit, I suppose.

Matt Holliday has "quietly" had another fantastic year. After yet another "Teixeira-like" slow start to the season, Holliday has built his numbers back to a level that everyone is more accustomed to. We all had a feeling he would get to this point, but it sure was not a fun wait for him to heat up. He has actually played well enough down the stretch to potentially be the first player other that Albert Pujols to lead the team in batting average in a decade- or, since Pujols first buttoned his jersey. A feat that many great hitters attempted but never achieved. He is a single RBI away from his fourth 100 RBI season and is a single big game away from reaching the 30 home run plateau for the third time in his career. So, if nothing else, at least Holliday cannot be blamed for the early off-season again this season. That line drive to the gut is all too fresh on our memories as it is, anyway.

Adam Wainwright will, more than likely, miss out on the Cy Young again this season. The difference being that it is his own fault this season. He took it out of the voters' hands this time around. Here comes the positive spin: he will, in all likelihood, win 20 games for the first time (of many) in his career. His ERA will also be the lowest of his career, to date. The more impressive part about those figures is that he did them as the staff's ace. In previous years, he was overlooked to some degree. But he pretty well put his name on the map last season so everyone knew what to expect this time around. And he was unfazed by the pressure- like he has been his entire career. I mean, this is the same rookie who recorded the final outs of both the NLDS and World Series back in 2006. He set the bar high for himself. Even as good as Carpenter continues to be, it is still pretty clear that Waino has supplanted him as the ace of the staff and should hold that title for many years to come. Or until Jaime Garcia gets a couple more years under his belt.

Let's not forget about the draft the team managed to pull of this season, too. Yeah, maybe I'm reaching a little bit here. But the Cardinals' draft was rated extremely high by every draft analyst and many of the players that they got signed project to be good major league talent. This is important after the yard sale that was last season. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved just about every move the team made last season but, whether they were good deals or not, the farm system was turned into a barren wasteland without a doubt. That made this season difficult when the need for another pitcher became apparent. Decisions were made that genuinely saddened the team. Although, now that Luddy plays for the Padres, there is still a reason to cheer against the Reds other than just not liking Brandon Phillips and Dusty Baker- not that another reason is needed or anything.

Last but not least: at the end of the day, at least this isn't a Cubs' blog. They are to the Cardinals what Mississippi is to Arkansas. Someone else always has it worse.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Quite the Conundrum

The Cardinals seem to be in the most favorable position possible for this time of the season. Kyle Lohse has returned from the DL (we'll go ahead and assume that is a good thing). The two new acquisitions have performed as well as anyone could have hoped- Jake Westbrook has allowed more than 3 runs in only one start and Pedro Feliz hit safely in his first 8 games and played above average defense (the main reason behind his acquisition). They have, arguably, the best 1-2-3 combination of starting pitchers in baseball- headlined by a former Cy Young award winner and a World Series save-ior. Albert Pujols has returned to the form that won him 3 MVP awards. And they have the second easiest remaining schedule in the NL (behind the Reds). So why does it feel like they are headed for a long offseason?

Suddenly, the team that has seemed to tread water for the majority of the season is sinking. Maybe they were expecting what everyone else has been expecting- for the Reds to eventually just falter and give it up down the stretch. Unfortunately, it seems like the wrong red and white, NL Central team is giving it up in the final third of the season. The Cardinals are playing well against the upper tier teams of the league, sweeping Cincinnati and taking two of three from the Giants, but they cannot run with the little dogs, suddenly. Since the epic showdown that was the series in Cincinnati that saw the Cards take all three games and the division lead from the Reds, the Cards have lost series to the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and Nationals. The two series against the Pirates and Nats were on the road so that is excusable. I mean, how is a team supposed to be expected to perform with 13,000 screaming fans wearing, mostly, Cardinals' apparel? It's a daunting task.

Pujols is, yet again, in the running for the Triple Crown, but with a much more legitimate shot at winning it than ever before. His numbers have been down, by his standards, for the majority of the season but he has gotten hot of late. He has started to find gaps, in the manner that he has spoiled us all with for the entirety of his career, again. The only problem is, it seems as though the rest of the team is completely unable to swing their way out of a wet paper sack. Especially in situations that might actually impact the outcome of a game. Jon Jay has continued to spray the ball everywhere and drive in runs at a consistent level but he and Pujols can never seem to be on the same page each game. As stated, Pedro Feliz has been a pleasant surprise on the offensive side of things (recording 14 hits in his first 11 games) but that does no good when he comes up with the bases empty and two outs every at-bat. Two out rallies are a critical part of every championship team but they are never the only source of run production for championship caliber teams.

The big three starting pitchers have come to rely on the most inexperience one of the bunch to carry the weight of the team. Wainwright has lost three consecutive starts to the Brewers, Pirates, and Nationals. Four starts ago, it seemed like the Cy Young was his to lose. Looks like he may be on that path, after all. Carpenter was out-pitched by Carlos Zambrano and didn't do enough to get out of the sixth inning against the offensive juggernaut Nationals. Meanwhile, Garcia has gone about his business and gotten the job done the way he has all year. The coaching staff did an outstanding job of preparing his arm for this stretch run, too. At the first sign of trouble, he would get the hook early on this season. They were very delicate with his return from Tommy John surgery and it appears to have paid off, so far. Westbrook has pitched well in all but one start since he joined the clubhouse. His record does not show it, but he has given the team a chance when he has taken the mound.

Most importantly, it is not as if this is a team comprised mainly of unproven talent. All of the leaders on the team have been to and won World Series rings. The accessory players lack experience, but that is the way it always is (unless you wear the pinstripes). Still, even those players are not college kids who have never been under the lights playing in front of more than mom and dad before. They have veterans, who know what they are doing, to look up to and ride to a World Series title. This team is built for that. But they are not playing like it.

This is in no way my way of throwing in the towel. I am the incurable optimist. However, it is time to stop toying around and start playing games. Yes, it is time for them to come together and pull off something that everyone expected them to do all along. It will not happen if this article stays true for the remainder of the season, though.