Like many of his teammates on the St. Louis Cardinals, Harrison Bader has checked in from time to time on the playoffs. There is the natural draw of the game, familiar faces, and the reminder of how close they were to extending their own season.
“I do kind of peak at the scores here and there,” Bader said. “The Cardinals as a team, we’ve had a lot of success and we’ve played a lot of the teams that are ultimately in the playoffs right now. It just goes to show that we really were right there. With the group that we kind of assembled and put together at that midseason point, there’s a lot of promising things that are going into next year.”
In past seasons, it was common for players to have an informal exit interview and maybe a ‘homework assignment’ given to them by management or the front office for the off-season. But that was not the case for Bader when he packed up his belongings at Busch Stadium last week.
“Shildty just shook my hand, gave me a hug and said he’d contact me in a week or so,” Bader said. “I have my own homework assignments as well, that I kind of hold myself to my own standards. The work never stops, it really doesn’t ever let up. That’s just the beauty of the game. It’s something that you embrace and roll with as long as you can.”
Defensively this past season, Bader’s eight outfield assists were tied for the most among NL rookies. And he lead MLB in 5-star catches (7) and was tied for first in Outs Above Average (21) per Statcast. FanGraphs charted him second with 12 defensive runs saved.
At the plate, Bader ranked in the Top 10 of at least eight offensive categories amongst NL rookies: batting average, home runs, runs, doubles, hits, extra base hits, OBP, slugging. But of course, there is always room for improvement.
So what is he looking to accomplish this off-season?
“The biggest thing obviously is just preparing your body and preparing your mind,” Bader said. “I got a taste of what a full Major League season looks like but I still haven’t gotten a taste of being a full-time starter over the course of 162 games. That’s obviously going to be a challenge, another step that I’m looking forward to just attack head on.
“But again, outside of the preparation that you get from in-game experiences–whether that be pitch recognition or whatever it is, outside of those things it’s just a relentless effort of keeping your body in shape, eating properly, and getting your rest. It is a long season, but that’s pretty much it. You just try to keep it as simple as possible. Had a really good regiment and some of the people I surrounded myself with to get myself ready for Spring Training, so you just stick with those people. You trust yourself, you trust them and you just continue to work.”
While his off-season routine will stay the same, Bader did leave open the door for a new nickname. After his recent online exchange with Keith Olberman, it was suggested that maybe ‘The Wolf’ would be a fitting replacement for ‘Tots’.
“Yeah, that’s interesting,” Bader chuckled. “Obviously, I love ‘Tots’, it’s been with me for a while. That wolf-thing, that was just something funny and it was just in the heat of kind what was going on. It just goes to show you that there’s always going to be people that you’re surrounded by, whether you’re aware of it or not, that there’s always going to be people who will always try to downplay everything you do and try and put out your fire, I guess, like the way I put in that tweet.”
— Harrison Bader (@aybaybader) September 29, 2018
“It’s just really important as a young player, whether you’re at this player or not. Or just a young player doing anything, or really anything in life, there’s going to be people who combat that what you worked so hard for,” Bader continued. “So, it’s important to surround yourself with positive people and positive energy and never let those type of people kind of rear their ugly heads out in the public. It’s important that I sent that out there because it’s a really special thing we’ve got going on and nobody needs that type of negativity around. So I put that to bed really quickly.”
But the ‘wolves’ may have some staying power. Imagine Bader and the fans at Busch Stadium howling back and forth whenever he made a sensational play in the outfield.
“Yeah, absolutely,” agreed Bader, noting the beauty of how the hands clasping and salsa came out of nowhere. “It’s just something that happens and you roll with it and just ride it out as long as you can. Who knows? Maybe that will be one thing, but I definitely know we’re going to have our thing and beat the heck out of it. We’re going to do what we have to do as a club and we’re going to stick together and be a force to be reckoned with.”
Another force to be reckoned with was Bader’s hair, as a quick search on social media will show. He and Miles Mikolas even wound up having an informal ‘flow’ contest one day in the dugout. For those concerned, he will not pull a John Brebbia and start from scratch.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to grow my hair out,” Bader shared. “It was just kind of fun and before you know it, it just gets really long because months kind of go by and they get away from you and before you know it, your hair’s down to your shoulders. That was just something fun I rolled with, but I’m definitely going to tame the mane to a certain extent. I’m sure Mo will enforce a relatively lenient rule with regard to my hair, but yeah, I’m definitely going to tame it. I’m definitely going to keep it at a playable length because at times it does get a little tough to manage.”
As for the battle of the flow with Mikolas?
“It was really nice to have a guy who not only had the similar hairstyle as me, but in terms of like the body style and facial features–me and Miles are pretty spot on,” Bader said. “Besides the fact that he’s like almost 7-feet tall, we really could be brothers.”
photo credit: Jeff Curry, Joe Puetz, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports