BY MATT LaWELL
SPRINGFIELD, Missouri | During his three seasons with various St. Louis Cardinals minor league affiliates, second baseman Greg Garcia has delivered consistent production, batting averages in the .280s with good power, good speed and good defense. But he has never played a game in the Majors. Or helped lead the Cardinals to the postseason. Or spark the team to a World Series championship. Or two World Series championships.
So when Springfield Cardinals president and general manager Matt Gifford told Garcia earlier this season that the organization planned to retire No. 10 — the number stretched across Garcia’s back at that exact moment — to honor manager Tony LaRussa, Garcia nodded his head in immediate understanding. “What Tony LaRussa has done for the Cardinals and for St. Louis, it was well deserved,” Garcia says. “There was no problem.”
In the minor leagues, players switch jersey numbers regularly. Whenever a player receives a call up or down, whenever a heralded prospect arrives, whenever a Major Leaguer returns for a rehab assignment, numbers can change almost as quickly as those that stream along Wall Street tickers. But not many teams retire numbers from the Major Leagues on down.
“The No. 5 was a size-52 jersey. I didn’t want to wear that. Right now, it’s more about the jersey fitting right. It would be cool to have both, but it’s more about the fit.” — Springfield Cardinals second baseman Greg Garcia
The Cardinals are different. They have retired 10 numbers over the years — not including the 42 that Jackie Robinson wore for a decade in Brooklyn, or the honorary numbers retired for radio broadcaster Jack Buck and Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, who never wore numbers — and all are retired wherever the Cardinals have jurisdiction, including Springfield. “I don’t know how many other Cardinals teams do it, but it’s something we’ve always done in Springfield,” Gifford says. “Why should we allow someone to wear No. 6 down here if they’re never going to wear 6 in St. Louis?”
Selected by the Cardinals in the seventh round of the draft two years ago, Garcia never wore 10 before this season. He actually wore 5 for years to honor his father and grandfather, both named Dave, both professional players for years, then switched to 7 last season, when he played for the Quad Cities River Bandits and the Palm Beach Cardinals. Why? “The No. 5 was a size-52 jersey,” Garcia says. “I didn’t want to wear that. Right now, it’s more about the jersey fitting right. It would be cool to have both, but it’s more about the fit.”
After Gifford passed along the news about the impending switch, Garcia opted to return to 7. Not long after that, he hit a homer at Tulsa on a night dedicated to Mickey Mantle, an Oklahoma legend and perhaps the most famous 7 of them all. A Tulsa media relations staffer asked after the game whether Garcia “felt anything different, and,” Garcia says, “being honest, I said I didn’t.”
Oklahoma magic or not, Garcia has continued to play well no matter what number is on his back and over his locker stall. “I wear whatever number they give me and hopefully find a jersey that fits,” he says. “Get to the big leagues, establish yourself, then you can pick your number.”
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Time for minor league trivia. The Cardinals moved to Springfield from what former Texas League city in time for the 2005 season? A hint for the literary: A player dressed in the team’s uniform appeared on the cover of the 1991 classic Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues, penned by onetime war correspondent David Lamb. (Keep reading for the answer.)
With no score and no outs in the bottom of the second inning, Springfield right ielder Kyle Conley slugged a three-run home run high over the wall in left and provided right-hander Seth Maness with all the run support he needed in a 4-1 win over the Arkansas Travelers. Maness turned in the first complete game of his short career — one earned run on five hits over nine strong innings, with four strikeouts, no walks and next to no junk among his 84 pitches — as did his counterpart, Arkansas righty John Hellweg. With no pitching changes, the game wrapped up in a crisp 1 hour, 54 minutes.
Two of the bigger names in the Cardinals farm system play their home games at Hammons Field, though perhaps for not much longer than the rest of this season. Centerfielder Oscar Taveras has hit 18 home runs and 25 doubles to complement his .332 Texas League-leading batting average, and is on the brink of another league batting championship after he finished last season with a .386 average in the Midwest League. Second baseman Kolten Wong is batting .298, just inside the top 10 in the league, with 15 steals and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Both played in the Futures Game in Kansas City, though for different teams — Wong for the U.S., Taveras for the World.
Want the answer? The El Paso Diablos moved north to Missouri after 31 seasons in Texas. To learn a little more about the Diablos, check out this 1977 Sports Illustrated feature on the team and general manager Jim Paul, a hilarious read about one moment in time. To read Stolen Season, your best bet is Amazon or a good used book shop.
And in random statistical news, the game started two minutes late, in large thanks to a national anthem that lasted 2 minutes, 3 seconds. The first pitch was a strike, the first batter grounded out to second and, again, the game lasted 1 hour, 54 minutes, and wrapped up a minute after 9 p.m. Quick games are often a thing of beauty. We ate press box chicken with vegetables and far too many delicious desserts. They were so little, just squares of sugar and love. They had no calories, right? Also, no hot dogs.
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