Red, how many major league springs does this make for you now?
What makes each one unique and interesting?
Doing the same thing. Trying to get in shape. That is the purpose of Spring Training. The big thing is trying to win a championship. Each year is the same. Different players, of course.
Where do you focus your time?
I watch everything that is going on. Hit some fungoes. I am here and there. Baseball is about the same as it always was. Better equipment. Ball may be a bit more live.
Weight training is another big change, isn't it?
You've got your strength coach and many other things you didn't have years ago. But, as far as the game goes, you gotta' produce and go out there and do it. Used to be on one field; now there are five to six fields. Accommodations are so much better than they used to be. Spring training hasn't changed all that much.
Any standout players that have caught your eye?
It's too early for that. Don't like to talk about it. Look over there. They're all prospects - minor leaguers getting extra work in. I like to watch the young kids and see what they do from this spring until I see them again next spring.
Are kids as coachable today as before?
Oh, terrific, yeah. We've got some good kids here. I've never seen any bad ones.
Does today's big money change the players?
No, I don't think so. They're all out here trying. They want to play or they wouldn't be here. These kids are very good and capable of doing a good job out there. And it is fun for me to watch them, that's all.
You still come out for all home games?
And sometimes on the road?
Occasionally, I still do.
Today's schedule has changed the season quite a bit, hasn't it?
You've got a lot of ball clubs in the big leagues now. In my days, when I was playing, we had only eight teams per league.
You got to know then too well?
Or they got to know you too well…
What do you think of the designated hitter after 30 years?
I don't like the designated hitter. It takes too much strategy away from the manager and the ballclub. You'll always see it in the American League. They'll never change it.
Think it will ever come to the National League, too?
I don't know about that. You never know. You get someone who wants to prolong a ball player with a designated hitter...
It changes the managerial approach, doesn't it?
You bet. Designated hitter, you get the opportunity to split the game wide open, you probably don't have to take the pitcher out in the seventh. It is still a good game, designated hitter or not.
Now, switching to George Kissell.
Red's counterpart on the minor league side, George Kissell, carries the official title of Senior Field Coordinator for Player Development, and joined the Cardinals organization way back in 1940. Kissell has served in roles including manager, coach, scout and minor league instructor. He serves as a spring training instructor and his forte is instruction, as well as straight talk.
How many springs is this for you with the Cardinals, George?
Oh, a long, long time. With St. Louis, I guess 66 years. But, with the big club, it was 1946.
They were already training in St. Pete then, weren't they?
Yeah, oh yeah. Of course, then the moved to Jupiter in '95 or '96.
What role are you playing this year?
Once the major league camp is over, I go to the minor leagues and I rove from club to club. I always come to spring training.
What area do you focus on with the kids?
Defense, infield defense.
Well, the team has drafted and signed a lot of middle infielders over the past few years, haven't they?
Yes, but they haven't gotten any whackers. (He motions a home run swing.)
Mostly, punch and judy guys, huh?
Which of the infielders with whom you've worked stand out?
Not really anybody. Not since Pujols came along, anyway.
What first brought Albert Pujols to your attention?
Great work ethic, that guy. He spends more time fielding and hitting than anybody.
Even though he is on top of his game, he is still working hard?
Yes, but not many of them work that hard as him. But, he does it.
Does that rub off on some of the younger guys?
I think seeing is believing, you know? Hal (McRae) has him, I think, every day out there. Every day.
Once camp breaks here, where is your next stop?
When the season starts at Jupiter in the Florida State League, I stay there for a week or so. Then, when they are home, I go to Springfield or wherever to see them. I've been doing this for the last 20 years.
Hopefully, we'll see you here for 20 more. Thank you for your time, George.
Brian Walton can be reached at brwalton @ earthlink.net.