The Redbirds' veteran rookie

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Chris Duncan

The son of a coach and former player, Chris Duncan has been around Major League Baseball his entire life.

ST. LOUIS -- For most minor league callups, the initial big league experience is an eye-opener.

Chris Duncan had a big head start. He's been around stadiums all of his life.

The St. Louis Cardinals' former top draft pick, also the son of pitching coach Dave Duncan, probably got a reprieve from a return trip to Class AAA Memphis a week ago when Larry Bigbie underwent surgery for a hernia that landed him on the 15-day disabled list. He's making the most of his extended opportunity, his third with the team counting last September, for however long it lasts, much as he has his advantageous upbringing.

"I definitely think growing up around this environment helps me feel a lot more comfortable than somebody who's never been to a major league stadium," Duncan said. "I never realized the advantage of that until last year when I got called up."

Soon, Duncan, who took a lot of batting practice at old Busch Stadium when he was a teenager, hopes to parlay that experience and his improvement as a prospect into a permanent spot. He has started two of the last three games, one at right field and the other at first base.

"The ultimate goal is to stay up here, so hopefully one day I can get that opportunity," Duncan said. "If it's for a few days I'm going to try to help them win for those few days, and then if I go back down I'll just try to stay ready in case they need me again."

Manager Tony La Russa concedes Duncan's advantage in heredity, but quickly adds it's still up to the player.

"That gives you a little idea," La Russa said. "But if you don't have talent and you don't have toughness, just being around isn't enough."

Duncan's claim to fame last year was the answer to a trivia question: Who hit the final regular-season home run at old Busch Stadium? Not so trivial, he hit two more in his first seven at-bats this season.

Power in the family

Although his father was a right-handed hitter and he's left-handed, the 6-5 Chris Duncan, 25, has the same power profile. Dave Duncan hit 46 homers in 1966 for Class A Modesto, when he was a teammate of La Russa's, and totaled 109 from 1964-78 with a best of 19 in 1972 with the Oakland Athletics.

Chris Duncan is still developing in that area. He had six this year in 147 at-bats at Memphis before being called up after Albert Pujols' side muscle strain on June 3, although he hit 21 last year at Memphis.

"I'd rather try to become a good hitter first, and hopefully in the long run have some power start coming along," he said. "I think power just takes care of itself if you get consistent barrel contact and your pitch selection is good."

If there are any similarities in the swing, it's pure coincidence.

"He played so long ago, I don't think he has any tapes," Chris Duncan said. "There aren't any laying around. But he could hit them far, and he always talked about it."

They're getting more chances to do that lately. Duncan remembers when he was growing up that his dad seemed to be gone all summer, so the two are taking advantage of any bonding opportunities now.

"The older I get, the more I realize I should take advantage of the time I get with him, and it's special to be around him every day, " he said.

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