For the first time in the Springfield Cardinals’ 11th year of existence, the Double-A club held an exclusive meet-and-greet event for prior year season-ticket holders. The guest of honor at Hammons Field on Thursday afternoon was new manager Dann Bilardello.
Fans were treated with a question and answer session with the team's new leader followed by a brief opportunity to meet the 55-year-old up close. This event was very enjoyable. Many came away impressed by how well it was put together and thought it was quite similar to parts of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Winter-Warm Up held in January.
Bilardello admits playing in the big-leagues was a very “humbling” experience and it is not easy by any means for anyone. His professional career spanned 17 years, eight of which were spent in the Major Leagues. The former catcher played for managers including Jim Leyland and Buck Rodgers, each of whom had an influence on his later career, while Jim Riggleman gave him his first shot at coaching.
Essential for any manager, passion for the game is something Bilardello carries a lot of, backed by a motivating voice that can resonate in a clubhouse. He emphasized that development is the most important aspect for the players but they will try to win every game despite that being challenging at times. His attitude is geared toward winning and “moving players out of the clubhouse” by helping them advance to higher levels.
Bilardello stated The Cardinal Way “Is doing things right with consistency top to bottom from scouting, drafting, organization philosophy, and coaching.” On coaching at third base and how he will approach the running game, Bilardello explained, “I’ll run on anybody. I’ll trust our players because arms aren’t like they used to be.”
One player who could benefit is Charlie Tilson, the first returning Cardinal to be brought up. Bilardello said, “Charlie Tilson is one of the fastest players I’ve ever coached and he is still learning the nuances of base-running.” Two other names mentioned were Patrick Wisdom, about whom Bilardello said “should return to Springfield to better his numbers from a confidence standpoint” and Breyvic Valera, who is “a nice valuable player to have around.”
The most challenging aspect of the managing job “is knowing your players, when to kick them in the butt, and having to deal with off-field issues that come with the job,” Bilardello said. He considers the in-game part of baseball the easiest aspect and as a coach he wants respect from his players even if he isn’t well-liked.
An experiment to improve the pace of play throughout baseball was tested in the Arizona Fall League last fall will now be used at the Triple-A and Double-A levels this season. Bilardello does not believe the 20-second pitch clock will be that much of a problem because the Cardinals have always kept their pitchers working at a good and efficient pace, but acknowledges it could cause some issues. His personal opinion is that it will never get to the big-leagues because there is so much that goes along with it and it makes the umpires’ job even more stressful.
When asked what the biggest difference will be between managing in the Texas League versus his last assignment in the Florida State League, Bilardello replied, “The DH is in play more, and there’s a lot more double-switches going on.”
Asked if he can speak Spanish, the Florida resident said, “Yes I do, a little bit. I can communicate. I’ve had to communicate with Latin players’ before, and I was fortunate to manage in Colombia so I just learned, and I know the basics and know how to get through to them.” Bilardello continued, “They can understand, they laugh. I don’t speak it perfect but I like it and they help me. I enjoy communicating with them because it’s important for them just as much as it is for their development to speak English.”
Bilardello is anxious to get started, with STEP Camp opening on February 27th and the rest of the minor leaguers arriving in Jupiter, Florida beginning on March 9th. The Springfield Cardinals will open the 2015 Texas League schedule on Thursday, April 9th at home against the Corpus Christi Hooks.
I will be back this season with my weekly notebooks from Hammons Field covering the new version of the Double-A Cardinals.
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Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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