The situations of the two middle infield starters are different in that Ryan is in his first winter of working with McGwire, while Schumaker is a returning student. Though Ryan was away on the annual Cardinals Cruise, I spoke with his older brother Paul about the experiences of "The Boog" this winter.
Always enthusiastic, sometimes almost to a fault, Brendan was even more so when initially presented with the opportunity to work with McGwire.
"I remember speaking with him after their first workout and it was about as excited as I'd seen him in a long time. His working out with Big Mac has really been the biggest part of his offseason," Paul said.
The big news is Brendan's adoption of the batting stance of three-time National League Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols. Paul Ryan offers insight as to how it came about. Whatever you thought it might have been, reality is something else entirely.
"Since Brendan was a toddler, he's always had a knack for very detailed impersonations," his big brother recalled. "After one of his early workouts with Mac, he told him that he hit his first home run as a professional in the Midwest League All-Star Game on a dare by his teammates to do his Mark McGwire impression."
McGwire apparently was at least mildly amused by the story, but in all seriousness wanted to know more. Given the stance had been successful in game action, why hadn't Brendan stuck with it, Mac wondered? Apparently Ryan had no good answer for his new teacher. The next step was most predictable.
"McGwire had Brendan step up to the tee and hit some balls using his (interpretation of McGwire's) stance," Paul said. "After tinkering around, Mac then had him try Pujols' stance and everything started clicking."
For those wondering if Ryan might abandon his McGwire-driven change in stance as Matt Holliday did last season, Paul believes there is a better chance of his brother committing bodily harm to himself first.
"One of Mac's goals for Brendan was to get him to use one stance and to stick with it," Paul explained. "Brendan is committed and would probably jump off a bridge if Mac told him it would help, so don't expect him to change any time soon."
Paul doesn't know the answer to what is undoubtedly the number one question across the Cardinal Nation when news of Brendan's change in stance came out.
"Whether his trademark shoulder lick returns for 2010 remains to be seen," the elder Ryan teased.
While we will all be watching Ryan's new stance starting with the first day of spring training, there will be a bit less of him to see. As fans at Winter Warm-Up learned, Ryan's trademark mustache is no more.
It came about in relation to Brendan's recent ordination as a minister, joining former teammate Randy Flores among other ballplayers in the calling. Like his change in batting stance, it didn't happen in a way you might expect.
Earlier this winter, one of Brendan's first actions as a minister was to officiate at the wedding of one of his best friends. At that point, he still sported his facial hair.
Paul explains. "Quietly the bride-to-be was hoping that Brendan would shave his mustache but didn't dare say anything. 20 minutes before the ceremony began, he surprised everyone by getting out a razor and shaving it off."
Apparently Ryan can read women's signals better than most of us guys. The shortstop received validation from the fairer sex when he showed up at Winter Warm-Up with a clean upper lip.
"Literally every male autograph seeker was disappointed that he shaved off the 'stache but literally every female was relieved/ecstatic that it was gone," Paul Ryan said.
One thing is for sure, no one should be surprised by whatever number 13 does next off the field. On the diamond, chances are it will include more Gold Glove-caliber acrobatic defense from the high-socked shortstop, and if his new hitting coach has his way, an improved season at the plate is in the offing, too.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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