The annual traveling circus known as the Cardinals Caravan is slated to hit the road this weekend with destinations throughout Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee and even the parts of Arkansas that have paved roads.
One thing we’re always fascinated with is the lineup of players and veterans that are sent on the road to sign autographs in high school gyms throughout the nooks and crannies of Cardinal Nation. With the big dogs back in St. Louis manning the Winter Warmup, the organization strategically crafts a roster of names that can either explode onto the scene or fade away the following summer. One year Caravan attendees might see a name like Adam Wainwright might and view it as nothing more than a fill-in body from the minors, the next he is the bonafide star that was giving you a bro hug in the photo above your bar. On the flip side, your Carmen Cali autograph won’t send your boy to college like you’d hoped.
This year’s roster offers limited star power from the major league ranks, slim pickings in the “alumni” category but some serious potential coming from the loaded minor league system. Today we offer our strategic analysis of which Caravan offers the best excuse to break out the Cardinals shirsey that’s been hanging in the closet all winter:
Danny Mac is the emcee on this show, so there’s at least a chance that he’ll be giving away suits from his overweight alter ego that was cast away last spring.
Ryan Franklin might bring his goatee and some stories about showing Pujols’ undies on Twitter, but not much else. And if you need a Brad Thompson fix, just check out Episode 30 of the JoeSportsFan Show.
From a player standpoint, you’ve got a few guys who got a cup of coffee last year in Sam Freeman and The Man In Search Of A Nickname, but the big draw here might be last year’s first round pick Michael Wacha who has already crept into the Top 10 prospects after only a few months in the system. All things considered, it’s a relatively weak class.
It brings two established fourth outfielders to the table (Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers), and the guy whose job was stolen by Randy Choate (Barrett Browning). The star of the show is Marc Rzepczynski, if for no other reason than you get to watch a man sign that last name hundreds of times in a single sitting without his hand curling into a ball and dying (presumably).
Jason Simontacchi and Kerry Robinson round out the alumni section which may prove fruitful if you’re able to get Kerry sauced up enough to admit he hated Tony La Russa and occasionally used Three Nights in August as toilet paper in his house. But let’s be honest, Ricky Horton isn’t going to sit around and let that happen.
If you’re a fanboy, you can ask Pete Kozma to relive his magical NLDS that culminated with the game winning hit in Game 5 against the Nationals. If you’re a hater you can ask Pete Kozma to relive his meltdown in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Giants. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, you’re covered.
In addition to the Kozma fun, you can talk to Danny Cox about hunting, Joe Magrane about Steven Tyler creeping out his 15-year old daughter on American Idol, Andy Benes about what Fredbird is like behind closed doors, Mike Claiborne about his legendary appearance in Heck of a Year, Trevor Rosenthal about owning every Major League hitter he faced in the playoffs and Ryan Jackson about…well, you can just say hi to Ryan Jackson.
So there’s really something for everyone.
Caravan 1 is the lineup that boasts the least active Major League time between its players, but also possibly has the most upside. One day you can tell everyone that you saw the team’s top prospect, Oscar Taveras, before he became such a big star that he opened a restaurant in Westport Plaza and erected a statue of himself in front of it only to leave for the West Coast and not take it with him (sorry, I blacked out for a minute there)
But regardless of the stature of the players in the house, Hungo is emceeing this puppy, so you know there will be some entertainment. Whether it’s intentional or not remains to be seen, but frankly who cares. You can just have him say Taveras’ name over and over again and it will be worth the price of admission.
Not only does Caravan 3 bring to your town Jon Jay, recently rated amongst the Top 10 centerfielders in the Major Leagues, and two mainstays on the pitching staff in Kelly and Salas, but also an alumni section that features two heavy hitters.
Tom Lawless owns the greatest-yet-most-unnecessary bat flip in Cardinals postseason history and considering an athlete’s weight normally tends to increase after his days as a professional are done, just seeing Ray King will be enough suspense to make it worthwhile. For all you know Ray may come driving up to the event with his ride bordering on capsizing…
Either way, you’ve got the current talent, the alumni big wigs and John Rooney directing the ship. And don’t tell me you weren’t craving a weekend getaway to Moberly, MO.