With spring training officially beginning (though most of you have been there long enough to give us plenty of almost-real, interesting, baseball things to talk about), I’m happy to make you the first Love Letter of the 2013 season … technically, anyway.
There’s a point I want to make right off the bat (um, no pun intended!): You, my dear, are not the forgotten man in the rotation. Not in the least.
Sure, you may not be the center of the buzz. Chris Carpenter kind of stole that thunder. That turned into a domino effect, making guys like Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller even bigger stories. Then, of course, there’s Lance Lynn showing up to camp all sleek and smooth (faced. Smooth faced …). That made a few headlines. And, with Jaime Garcia’s status still up in the air and Adam Wainwright’s contract negotiations in the “nothing new” stage, the question marks surrounding the rotation are creating more interest than the thing that isn’t a question mark – you.
Last season was one of your best in St. Louis. After starting with your own off-season transformation, you showed up to spring training fit and focused. Then, starting 28 games while posting a 3.97 ERA, you earned more “Westbrook’s dominating start” headlines than the reverse.
None were quite as special as this one, though. I’m sure you remember it. It was June 20 against the Tigers. On five days rest, you pitched a gem through six … seven … eight … wait, was this really happening?
I wasn’t actually watching the game that night. I am one of the unfortunate few who, as a “displaced” Cardinals fan who has cable and not dish, doesn’t get Fox Sports Midwest. So it’s a rare treat to actually watch a game. Instead, I’m annoyingly keenly attached to my iPhone during the season, and to my MLB AtBat app, in particular.
As I drove home, I flipped the audio on. I was white-knuckling the steering wheel, holding my breath for every pitch, and cheering loud enough for the driver in the car next to me to hear as you made your way, pitch by pitch, through the remaining outs.
Yes, I’ll admit it. There were a few tears of happiness when the final out was recorded. Your first complete game as a Cardinal! I was so proud.
See, you’re that guy that is impossible to not root for. You’re too nice. Too genuine. Too hilarious! You’re one of the nice guys. And there’s little I love more than seeing the nice guys win.
I’ll never forget the way Tony La Russa pointed you out after the 2011 World Series as the kind of guy that allowed that team to win – selfless, passionate, talented, committed. That is the “Cardinal Way,” to me.
Apparently, a whole group of people agree with me. I mean, they gave you THIS, didn’t they?
“A good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man.”
That’s an honor that goes beyond baseball.
You know, Jake, there are plenty of us pondering who will take up the leadership slack with key “clubhouse guys” like Chris Carpenter, Skip Schumaker and Lance Berkman no longer around.
Maybe I should mention that all three of those guys (as well as Adam Wainwright and Mike Matheny) were also honored with the Darryl Kile award.
And, maybe, we should stop worrying.
No, you’re not the “forgotten man.” In fact, you might just be one of the most important pieces to the 2013 puzzle … in more ways than one.
I’m happy to have you aboard for another season in baseball heaven, Jake.
Go show ‘em how it’s done!
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.