Just a couple of days ago, as the St. Louis Cardinals were eating lunch and preparing for their afternoon game, Jose Oquendo pulled up a chair at one of the tables and began a conversation with the newly acquired Ruben Tejada. A couple of other players soon moved closer to listen as Oquendo imparted his message.
It’s just one small example of the influence Oquendo has had over more than the last decade with the Cardinals. When the team acquired Ruben Tejada, who is considered not great but an above-average defender, there was talk in various baseball circles that he would likely improve under the guidance of Oquendo.
Just as Jhonny Peralta has done. Or Matt Holliday and Stephen Piscotty learning first base. The list goes on and on.
David Bell, Chris Maloney, Bill Mueller, and Derrick May all have extensive coaching and big league resumes, each is more than capable of handling their new roles or expanded duties with the Cardinals. In fact, some may have new strengths that will provide an even greater benefit to the club.
But it will be different.
Oquendo has been part of the St. Louis coaching staff since 1999 and handled the third base and infield duties the last sixteen years. During that time, he has earned the reputation as one of the best in the business. Not just his teaching, but his positioning of fielders and all those other intangibles that don’t show up in a box score.
Besides his duties as the head coach at St. Louis University, Darin Hendrickson has thrown batting practice for the Cardinals the last 20 years. During that time he’s been witness to many of Oquendo’s teaching moments.
“I think it’s the equivalent of losing a player, that’s how big it is,” answered Hendrickson, who was a guest on The Brian Stull Show to preview SLU’s matchup against Mizzou.
“That’s how important he is,” continued Hendrickson. “He’s a grinder–Jose is a true, he pushes those guys as hard as anyone. The balance they have on their staff is amazing. But he is, to me, the glue that holds a lot of that together.
“He’s just got a phenomenal way of teaching, I wish I had it. His knack for explaining how to get on the right side of a groundball to beat a guy by a step is just–it’s insane, because that game is everything by a step at that level. He’s got a knack. It’s a God-given ability. I’ve heard it for 20 years, I always learn something every summer. I watch him, listen, and I follow him like a sponge because what a great resource–I’d be stupid if I didn’t.
Hendrickson recently had to do some of his own best coaching as his Billikens started the season 0-8.
“I had to put a different mask on I’ve never had to do in my life,” shared Hendrickson. “It was a great lesson for me as a coach, to be selfish for a minute, it was a way different deal. I knew after 0-4, BYU was a super-solid club and very mature, so I knew we weren’t as bad as we thought but after 0-8 you kind of start to question some things. You have your moments. You’re a human being and a you’re a competitor and you’re used to winning and you have your moments. But you have to treat pretty much each guy the way that gets themselves going. And the bottom line, some of the guys just have to get themselves out of it.
“A lot of it has to do with reps, you just play some more games. We got home, we got to play nine or ten games at home–we’re really good at home. We’re 9-1, we’ve been good at home the last couple of years so I think there was a comfort level.”
Now back to the .500 mark (12-12) and coming off a weekend sweep of Dayton to open conference play 3-0, the Billikens will face Missouri tonight at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. It’s the first time the two teams have played since 2009.
Listen to the full conversation with Coach Darin Hendrickson…