There’s something about home plate at Busch Stadium. It might just look like another batter’s box to you. But it’s different, man. It really is. When I was up to bat, I could feel the rhythm of the park — the heartbeat of a baseball city. On a fall night, 45,000 in the stands, I could feel all of St. Louis right there under my cleats. In my chest. There’s nothing like it and I can promise you I never ever took that feeling for granted.
Every time I stepped into that box, with the birds on the bat stitched across my chest, I was reminded of what it meant to be a Cardinal. I could close my eyes and see all the greats who put on this jersey before me. I cherished that feeling. I cherished it all the way until the end.
But the end is here.
My time wearing that iconic uniform is over. Goodbyes can be really hard. And I really felt like I owed each and every member of Cardinal Nation something. Because these last few months, once people started to understand that I might not be back next year, that this might be the end, I’ve been getting a lot of “thank you” messages. And I appreciate that. I really do. But I’m hearing them, and I’m reading them, and I’m thinking about it like….
No, man. I’m the one that should be saying thank you. Y’all are who need to be thanked. I’m the one who is filled with nothing but overwhelming gratitude.
Because this should have never happened. If it weren’t for the Cardinals organization — if it weren’t for St. Louis — my baseball career probably would have ended 12 years ago on a field in Austin, Texas.
I’m the one that should be saying thank you.- Matt Carpenter
I was a fifth-year senior at TCU. That’s right — 23 years old in his fifth college baseball season. Not exactly a can’t-miss prospect. We had just lost to Texas in the NCAA super regionals. And as I walked off the field, and looked my dad in the eye…. I knew what he was thinking. I could see it. He didn’t have to say it. Mom didn’t have to say it. But I think we all thought the same thing: There was a pretty good chance that I had played my last ever baseball game.
I’d been in love with the sport since I can remember. Heck, holding a bat on my shoulder is probably the very first memory I have. I spent countless hours with my dad working on my game, playing catch with my brother. I thought about the game all the time. I dreamt about the game. It was just … it was all we did. I really mean that. So on that field, wearing my Frogs jersey, it was hard not to be emotional.
I hadn’t heard from a scout my entire college career. Not one phone call. I didn’t have an agent. I split playing time as a freshman. I was nothing spectacular as a sophomore. And then my junior year, when most college players start their pro careers, mine was derailed by Tommy John. (I know what you're thinking: “You're not a pitcher….” Trust me, I know.) I was challenged in ways I never thought I would be as a college player. Both on and off the field, I took many lumps.
My coach, Jim Schlossnagle, made it very clear to me the day before my surgery that I had two options. One: keep going down this road of mediocrity and let my career play out with no chance of going anywhere. Or two: rededicate myself to the game. Find that passion I had when I was a kid. Get better every day and finish my career here strong.
I did just that. I came back leaner, stronger and with a reignited passion for being the best version of myself that I could be. I had a great senior year, and a really strong super regionals against Texas. And it gave me a glimmer of hope that, just maybe, somebody was watching somewhere.
I didn’t know that anyone actually was watching until my aunt texted on June 10, 2009.
I thought on that for a split second.
And then it hit me.
I was packing up my place at college that day to go back home and move in with my parents and figure out what was next for me. But I had the MLB draft open over on my computer, so I ran over to refresh. And I’d never been more upset at my crappy WiFi than I was at that moment when the page wouldn’t load. I’m staring at the bar like, not now, not today.
Then, like a dream, there it was.
PICK #399 — MATT CARPENTER — ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
But the thing is … a couple days passed, and I hadn’t heard anything from anyone with the Cardinals. I kept checking the draft results. Making sure I was reading it properly. Did they mean … me? Maybe there’s another Matt Carpenter? It’s gotta be me, right?
But then, right on time, Aaron Krawiec, the scout who had drafted me, called and welcomed me to the organization. I was a professional baseball player. I still don’t know how it happened — but the Cards saw me, and they saw something in me. They gave me a chance. And for that, I’m forever grateful.
I also knew I had to prove them right.
From the moment I set foot in Batavia, New York, with our short-season A ball club in 2009, I knew that I needed to hit the ground running. The good news was, I felt I was around the smartest people in all of baseball. But then I went to the Quad Cities, and it’s funny, as soon as I get there I’m like, No, THESE guys are the smartest people in all of baseball. And each stop along the way it was like that. I knew I needed to soak all of this up. I had a burning desire to be the best player I could be, and I was surrounded by great baseball minds that could help me achieve that. I was fully engulfed in “the Cardinal way.”
Quick story about my first MLB game. It was June 4, 2011. I had just got the call the night before that I was headed to the big leagues. We were a couple games up on the Brewers for the division lead and we had a weekend series at home against the Cubs. Tony La Russa put me in the lineup Saturday after we won the opener Friday. I’m looking around the clubhouse at guys like Albert, Yadi, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman … all these legends. It was surreal. The game goes pretty well, it’s a close one, I get my first hit — a double off Kerry Wood. Didn’t make any big mistakes. All good.
And then in the 12th, Albert walks it off with a bomb. The place goes nuts. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
I’m watching Albert Pujols run around the bases toward me after walking off the Chicago Cubs.
It took me hours to fall asleep that night. I just kept replaying every moment over in my head.
So I come back the next day, and I’m in the lineup again. Another close game. Packed house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
And guess what?
I mean, you already know.
He does it again.
In the 10th, Albert walks it off with a homer.
The roar is even louder. Albert is flyin’ around the bases, he’s high-stepping from third to home. It’s unbelievable, man. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. I left the stadium that night … and all I wanted was to experience that feeling over and over and over again. I don’t know if there’s a certain day that I fell in love with St. Louis, or something like that, but that weekend I knew there wasn’t a better ball club for me to be a part of. This place was special.
I left the stadium that night … and all I wanted was to experience that feeling over and over and over again.- Matt Carpenter
I remember watching from home that year when David Freese became a hero, and I swear I was just like y’all — jumping off my couch, screaming at the ball to get over Cruz’s head, the whole deal. It was awesome. And getting to experience that run as a player and a fan, I think it just gave me extra motivation to help this city have more of those kinds of moments.
That’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do, you know? During my 11 years wearing the birds on the bat, all I’ve wanted is to work my tail off for you guys, and represent you all in a way that made you feel proud. And I hope I did that.
I think that’s what so many of the guys in our clubhouse want. Guys like Yadi, who — man, how lucky are we to have Yadi? I wish you all could see him from behind the scenes. What he puts his body through to compete like he does ... it’s even more remarkable than what you’ve already seen. He represents the best of Cardinal Nation. Guys like Waino, who I mean, come on!! He might pitch forever, a Cardinals treasure. I’m so grateful to all the amazing teammates I’ve had while I was here. I’ve really been blessed to have some great people around me, both on and off the field. This city, this club, it’s been everything to me.
And that’s why I’m so glad I was able to start my family here, too. I got married as a Cardinal. Had two kids in this uniform. My daughter was even born during a Cubs-Cardinals series. Being able to bring my wife and kids down on the field for my last game at Busch Stadium, it was special. They’re pretty young, so they might not totally get it. But just to have them down there, to show them a place that meant so much to their dad — I’ll remember that forever. They do know one thing though, and that’s for sure.
No matter where we go next, St. Louis is and always will be home.
I’ve tried to soak up these last few months as best as I could. I knew the end might be coming, and I wanted to really feel every last moment I had as a Card. The things that had become monotonous, like the pregame stretch or batting practice, I tried to pretend it was my first ball game again. I looked around the stadium as much as I could, taking mental pictures at every step along the way. Man ... just thinking about what an honor this has been.
Just thinking about what an honor it’s been to have represented this city.
Thank you to our ownership, to our front office, to every single worker at Busch Stadium: You guys really make it the best home field in the world, and the best organization in all of sports. And to Cardinal Nation: Y’all are unmatched. The love you showed, not only in St. Louis, but wherever we went … incredible. Really incredible. Thank you. We shared it all together — the postseason, the curtain calls, the walkoffs. We even shared the salsa.
We shared a lot of incredible moments together. I’ll remember all of them.
And I’ll remember the feeling I had every time I put on the Cardinal jersey: gratitude.
I love you, St. Louis.