With Major League Baseball
With Major League Baseball's All-Star Game Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the time seems right to select another dream team of sorts, one made up entirely of Memphis Redbirds alumni. Keep in mind, the selections below are based on how each player has performed in the big leagues this year. (Statistics are through July 6th.)
Catcher -- Yadier Molina (Cardinals). There are some Gold Gloves in this kid's future. I saw something I'd never seen before during a late-May game in San Diego. With two outs and the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, Molina picked off the Padres' Brian Giles at first base to end the contest. No runner is ever safe with Molina behind the dish. As for a Silver Slugger award? Forget about it. Molina's batting .224 with but three homers.
First Base -- Albert Pujols (Cardinals). Among the growing number of Pujols legends will be the tale of how once, way back in 2006, Prince Albert went on the disabled list and, two weeks later, still led the majors in home runs. The finest right-handed hitter St. Louis has seen since Rogers Hornsby, Pujols is beginning to fit into those comparisons with Stan Musial. He may have only played 14 games for Memphis, but he's the only player to have a seat painted in his honor. So there.
Second Base -- Adam Kennedy (Angels). Kennedy still holds the Redbirds record for longest hitting streak with his 20-game tear in 1999. Part of the deal that brought Jim Edmonds to St. Louis in 2000, Kennedy has been a mainstay in the Angels lineup for seven years now. He was MVP of the 2002 American League Championship Series and is hitting .260 this season.
Third Base -- Placido Polanco (Tigers). Polanco has actually held down second base for the Team of 2006 thus far, but he was a regular third-baseman for the Cardinals in 2001 and 2002, before being dealt to Philadelphia with Bud Smith for Scott Rolen. A fundamentally sound "little things" player, Polanco wins games by not losing them, both at the plate and with his versatile glove. He's hitting .284 for Detroit this year.
Shortstop -- Hector Luna (Cardinals). Pickings are slim at this position. Why, you ask? Well, the Redbirds have fielded the likes of Luis Ordaz, Wilson Delgado, and Jason Bowers at short in recent years, not the names with which All-Star teams are made. Luna played 57 games for Memphis in 2005, hitting an unimpressive .224, but he's been a valuable utility man for Tony LaRussa in St. Louis. Bouncing between five positions, Luna has hit .311 for the Cardinals and represents their biggest threat on the basepaths.
Leftfield -- John Rodriguez (Cardinals). J-Rod will never again have a stretch like he did last year in Memphis (17 home runs and 47 RBIs in just 34 games). But he's been a capable hitter in LaRussa's platoon system this season. As a lefthanded hitter, he's also an asset as a late-inning pinch-hitter.
Centerfield -- So Taguchi (Cardinals). For my money, Taguchi is the best Memphis baseball story since the Redbirds' arrival in 1998. After struggling against Triple-A pitching (.247 in 2002, .256 in 2003), Taguchi has essentially relearned his craft as a reserve outfielder in his mid-thirties. Along the lines of Polanco, Taguchi plays fundamentally sound baseball, and is a terrific outfielder (he won five Gold Gloves playing in Japan). As for his bat, it's coming around. He's hitting .292 this season.
Rightfield -- J.D. Drew (Dodgers). Those packed houses at Tim McCarver Stadium seem like a long time ago, don't they? The first headliner to wear a Redbirds uniform, Drew never quite met the expectations of Cardinal management (or their fans). One injury after another, and a propensity to strike out (even with that picture-perfect swing) led to the 2004 trade that sent Drew to Atlanta (for Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright). Now a Dodger, Drew will never make the Hall of Fame, but you can do a lot worse than his 2006 numbers (.291, 9 homers, 50 RBIs).
Pitcher -- Dan Haren (A's). Cardinal Nation has its collective fingers crossed that Haren-for-Mark Mulder doesn't enter the franchise history books right next to Steve Carlton-for-Rick Wise. While Mulder has floundered in his second season with the Cards, Haren is blossoming into one of the finest young hurlers in the American League. Overshadowed somewhat by rotation mates Barry Zito and Rich Harden, Haren is 6-6 with a 3.40 ERA this season. Remember, LaRussa thought enough of the 24-year-old Haren to include him on the Cardinals' World Series roster two years ago. It appears the kid is on his way.