Having spent the first few seasons of his big league career with the St. Louis Cardinals, the recent opening day festivities were not unfamiliar to Daniel Descalso–although this was the first time he took in the experience from the visitors dugout.
“It was different being on the other side of that,” said Descalso, who’s now with the Arizona Diamondbacks. “It’s a long ceremony with all the players riding on the trucks, so I was throwing gum at some of the guys telling them to hurry it up (laughs). No, but it was fun to see. I don’t think anybody else in baseball does anything like that for Opening Day, so it was pretty cool to see that again and to be able to be a part of it.”
Part of the 2011 World Series championship team, Descalso always looks forward to his return here.
“St. Louis will always have a special place for me,” he smiled. “My first call-up, winning the World Series, going to the playoffs every year I was here–there’s always going to be a lot of fond memories for me here.”
And while close friends Allen Craig, David Freese, and Jon Jay are no longer on the Cardinals there are other former teammates that Descalso enjoys catching up with–including Greg Garcia.
“He was the best,” stated Garcia. “My first big league camp, I walked in–I knew everybody’s name because you know the team, but he came right up to me and said ‘Hey, my name’s Daniel. If you need anything let me know.’ From the very beginning, I was like oh my gosh, thank you man. Ever since that day, he was always really good to me and just a nice guy.”
“Skip Schumaker had done it for me, my first camp and then into my first call-up here,” shared Descalso. “When we had younger guys come up, guys that played my position that I would be interacting with a lot, I tried to do the same thing. With Greg, I saw a guy that was similar to me, that was going to play a bunch of different positions. I just tried to let him know that I was there to help him out if he needed anything.”
“I like the way he played the game,” continued Garcia. “He never had anything handed to him, he had to earn everything. I just always looked up to him, honestly, as a player.”
In 2014, Garcia was called up for his first 14 games with the Cardinals and Descalso was there once again, lending advice on the mental approach of pinch-hitting and more.
“He was kind of the guy who showed me the ropes of how to do this thing,” said Garcia. “The way I see it now, you can’t get too low in this role. You can’t compare yourself to an everyday guy. You’ve got to really throw your ego out the window. At first, it’s hard because you want to get hits every time you’re up there. You want to do this, you want to hit home runs, but it’s just not realistic. It really isn’t. So the main thing for us is just trying to go up there and take good at-bats and when we’re out there on defense try to make the routine plays.”
“I think you have to treat it a little bit differently as opposed to a game you’re starting,” said Descalso. “You don’t have the luxury of knowing you’re going to get three or four at-bats up there, so you better have a good plan and be ready to go from the first pitch. Not saying you have to swing at the first pitch, but if it’s there you better be ready to hit it. And you can’t go up there telling yourself ‘I have to get a hit here’. You just have to go up there and have a good at-bat. Put it in play hard. Have a quality at-bat. And if you do that, you’re doing your job.”
Since 2010, Descalso leads all active NL pinch-hitters in plate appearances (244) and times on base (71). Similarly, Garcia has hit .277 (28-101) as a pinch-hitter and is tied for the fifth-most (28) pinch hits in MLB since 2014.
“Yeah, very similar–that’s a great comparison,” said Mike Matheny. “I’ve used them in the same comparison myself. Winning players, selfless guys, hard-nosed, very disciplined in how they go about their preparation. Guys who want to compete, they want to play–they’re not, neither content with being a guy that’s considered a role player, back up guy.”
“I think the game has evolved to where maybe a few years ago being labeled as a ‘utility guy’ was sort of a knock on you to where now, I think it’s become more valuable,” said Descalso. “It allows the manager to match up, if you have a guy that can play a bunch of different spots then maybe you can carry an extra bat or another arm, so it gives some flexibility. We’ve got a couple guys in here, myself and Chris Owings, that I think allow us to carry a third catcher. So it’s become more of a value, I think, in today’s game.”
And as the cliché goes, you’re always just one play away.
“I’ve used Danny actually talking to Greg about we got into the post-season and all of a sudden, you look at that lineup and there’s Daniel Descalso,” said Matheny. “Just keep playing the game, keep doing things right. We’ll try to get the at-bats to keep you sharp, but it’s a tough job what they’re asked to do and both of them have gone about their jobs very professionally.”
photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports, Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports