Compared to some of his other more recent web gems, the catch from Harrison Bader charging over to his right was almost routine last night. But after he hauled it in, Bader pointed to the St. Louis Cardinals dugout–giving some acknowledgement to Willie McGee, who is in charge of positioning the outfielders.
It’s been well-documented how much respect the two share for each other. McGee spoke at length earlier this season about the work ethic of Bader and his willingness to learn. And McGee isn’t the only former Cardinals player to take note, Bader was recently voted the Heart and Hustle Award winner by the team’s alumni and received the award pregame this past homestand.
“It does mean a lot,” said Bader. “The history of the award comes from players who played in the past and they collectively voted on it. To have their respect and everything involved with that–from ex-players who have kind of gone through what I’m going through right now, they understand. It means the world to me. I’m very happy to accept that.”
“The Mad Hungarian” Al Hrabosky was among the Cardinals alumni who voted for Bader and he also had the distinction of presenting him the award last week.
“I told him a couple of months ago, I voted for you–if you don’t get it, it’s only because you haven’t been here long enough,” shared Hrabosky. “Now that we’ve had a chance to see him on an everyday basis, I think everybody is very pleased with that selection.
“There’s other guys on the team that hustle, but I think he kind of energizes everyone. You kind of see he has that extra energy going and has that great smile when he does something great. I think it’s a great choice by the alumni.”
Since moving into a daily role with the Cardinals after Tommy Pham was traded and Dexter Fowler was injured, Bader has started 20 of 22 games in August. His slash line is .319/.390/.556. Overall this year, Statcast has him ranked in a tie for first place with the most 5-star catches (6) and leads in in outs above average (19).
“He goes out there and he plays all out,” continued Hrabosky. “You appreciate somebody like that, who plays all out and understands a little bit and has a little appreciation for the game. It’s kind of special.”
The interaction with McGee is on a daily basis for Bader and besides talking with Hrabosky, he has also spent time getting advice from Chris Carpenter, Tim McCarver, and Mike Shannon among others.
“I don’t want to leave anybody out,” said Bader. “This organization is really good at keeping their old-timers and their guys who played in the past around.”
“To have that level of experience, again, guys who have been through what you’ve been going through. They’ve seen everything, felt everything, and experienced everything on and off the field. They’re just wealths of knowledge. I love being around them and just talking the game or even if it’s not about baseball, just having that presence that the Cardinals allow their players to hang around, it means a lot.”
Bader leads all NL rookies with 12 stolen bases and ranks in the Top 5 in batting, HRs, OBP, runs, and slugging. And he’s done so with confidence–not cockiness, but a confidence in his ability to get the job done at the plate or in the field when called upon. And has Hungo noted above, there’s usually a smile on Bader’s face as he does so.
Interestingly enough, that confidence–in particular, how he twirled the bat last year during at at-bat, led to some unique dialogue between the former pitcher and current outfielder.
“I said if you came up against me, I’d drill ya,” shared Hrabosky. “And he goes ‘why, why do you say that?’ And I said, well, I just don’t like that. I’d drill ya. He thought about it for a second and he goes, ‘Yeah, it wouldn’t have bothered me. I would’ve kept on doing it.’ And I said exactly, that’s why I like you so much because you don’t let things bother you. You go out there and you play your game. And you play your style and if it does have some consequences, so be it.”
Bader makes his 15th consecutive start for the Cardinals tonight as they take on the Rockies in Colorado.
photo credit: Joe Camporeale, Jeff Curry, Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports