By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
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By Timothy Lane
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By Dennis Brown
So it was only natural that when La Russa began pondering the Shadow Cardinals, he'd confide in Richmond. Manhattan rose to the top of the list of potential locations after Richmond told La Russa he happened to be building a world-class athletic training facility near his alma mater, complete with a veritable "Field of Dreams."
"When Tony said he was ready to see what he could do with a team of guys past their supposed prime, I figured what the hell," Richmond relates. "I had this training facility all ready to go anyhow. It's like that yoga guy says: 'Sometimes you can be the bat and the world is your ball. Hit it.'"
To see the complete Shadow Cardinals roster, click here.
For his camp, La Russa sought a quiet setting far removed from the distractions of urban life, where his players could train together, eat together, bunk together and become a cohesive unit. The holistic program designed by Mysore yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois and implemented stateside by Jois disciple Lokesh Patel, required that all amenities -- bookstores, parks, houses of worship, etc. -- be located within walking distance of the players' quarters, as the Shadow Cards are only permitted to use their automobiles on Sundays.
Although Thomas, Horner and Higuera balked at the sometimes bizarre exercises Patel demands of them in addition to the required four hours a day of yoga and meditation, they and their teammates have come to see the value of the regimen.
"When I was playing for the Braves, ground balls to my backhand side were always slipping out of the webbing of my glove," first baseman Horner elaborates. "Now that I've started crocheting regularly, I have the finger strength -- and the concentration -- to field cleanly and still have time to relay the ball to the pitcher in time to nab the runner at first."
Patel puts Williams' pitching staff through somewhat more rigorous paces. Lee Smith and Steve Howe, for example, underwent multiple body piercings, and each had the identical tattoo of a falcon etched on his right shoulder blade.
"Lokesh sees the role of the relief pitcher as a tribal one," explains Horner. Yoga and meditation have their place, he says, but more elemental exercises are equally crucial to rejuvenation. "Smitty says the little guy's got him stepping on red-hot charcoal briquettes, and I even heard something about them skinning and eating a goat."
Whatever the method, it appears to be working for Smith, whose fastball was recently clocked in the high 90s, according to Horner. Manhattan residents say Smith has been spotted at KSU basketball games and several watering holes in the college town's party-central Aggieville district. "He's the only member of the squad who's permitted to consume alcohol," Horner relates. "And he drinks a lot."
While few would argue that the Cardinals' famed skipper has earned the right to experiment, some say there's a fine line between calculated risk and sheer lunacy.
"What Tony's proposing to do is like a Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe situation," says Ozzie Smith, whose relationship with La Russa was acrimonious, at best, during the Hall of Fame shortstop's final years in red, and whose ongoing community presence, coupled with that of beloved ex-Redbird manager Whitey Herzog, has cast a shadow La Russa has been unable to escape.
"It's one thing to wear your balls on your sleeve," continues Smith, who says he learned of the Shadow Cardinals from Landrum, a family friend. "Tony can go ahead and do that during the course of a nine-inning game -- fine by me, fine by Cardinal fans. But if he thinks Garry Templeton and Alfredo Griffin can march right in and pick up where Edgar Renteria leaves off -- that's flat-out psychotic. Like my father would say, the guy's gone crazy as an outhouse rat. Hopefully the Cardinals will be in first and render all of this moot."
As Smith suggests, if the Cardinals are in the Central Division hunt come mid-July, the exploits of Lee Smith and his 24 would-be teammates will likely become the stuff of legend. But with the division-rival Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros stockpiling free-agent arms during the off-season to form two of the finest pitching staffs in baseball, the odds are better than even that La Russa's brainchild will see the light of day.
"Put it this way," says ESPN's Neyer, "if the Cardinals are up on both the Cubs and Astros at the All Star break, I'll pay Hank Williams Jr. a cool mil from my latest book advance to bungee-jump naked off the top of the Gateway Arch. I'm that confident they don't have the juice to lead their division for any extended period of time.
"As for the Shadow Cardinals," Neyer adds, "I can't wait to find out whether or not they do."
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