Players share optimism for 2005

Monday, January 17, 2005

A season that ended four wins short of the Cardinals' first world championship in 22 years has left the team and its fans hungry to take that next step in 2005.

During the Cardinal Caravan stop at the Osage Community Centre in Cape Girardeau on Sunday, current Cardinals players Carmen Cali, Bo Hart and Mike Lincoln and former St. Louis third baseman Ken Reitz looked to pushing forward from last season's World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox.

"Well, the World Series was unfortunate, but to get there, that was a pretty big deal," Reitz, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, said. "I think to win the sixth and seventh game [of the National League Championship Series] was just unbelievable -- to come back and win those games."

Hart, who Reitz said he believes will replace Tony Womack as St. Louis' second baseman, said the Cardinals could be proud of their season, but the team is excited about even more success.

"I think everybody has a little unfinished business they want to do," Hart said. "The goal at the beginning of each season is to win the World Series, no matter if you won it the year before or ended up in last place."

Lincoln, who missed most of last season with an injured right elbow, said he also expects great success.

"Obviously, we have the talent, it's just a matter of not putting too much pressure on ourselves and trying to do too much to make up for last year," Lincoln said. "I think if we go out and take it one game at a time, we will be great."

The approximately 500 Cardinals fans in attendance also seemed eager for the season to begin. In 2005, a core of returning stars like Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds will be joined by a cast of newcomers, which include Mark Mulder, a lefthanded starting pitcher acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics, and David Eckstein, a shortstop signed as a free agent. Eckstein, who will replace popular shortstop Edgar Renteria, was expected to be with the Cardinal Caravan but was unable to make the trip. The former Anaheim Angel remained at his home in California with his ill father.

The unexpected absence of Eckstein did not lower the enthusiasm of the crowd, as many said he will be a key contributor next season.

Tony White of Cape Girardeau, who brought his 2-year old son Will to meet the players, said he is excited about the newcomers the Cardinals picked up this offseason, especially Mulder and Eckstein.

"Mulder will really help them out, and Eckstein has had some good years in Anaheim," White said.

Reitz called Mulder the best lefty starter available, even better than Randy Johnson, the five-time Cy Young Award winner, who was traded by Arizona to the New York Yankees.

Myles Urhahn, 8, of Dexter said he was really excited to meet some of the Cardinals, and his father, Derek, also was impressed with the trade for Mulder.

"Mulder was a good deal," Derek Urhahn said. "They lost quite a bit, but they got good replacements, too."

While the fans were excited to meet them, the players were excited to show their gratitude for the fans' support.

"It is such a huge fan base and it reaches so far, not just in the state of Missouri but across the nation," Hart said. "And being able to stop and answer questions and sign some autographs and take some pictures, we're showing our appreciation for the way the Cardinals fans show theirs at the games."

Added Cali: "It's pretty wild to go to these small towns and see all these people come out, and you don't even know where they're coming from and they're filling up a whole building. It's pretty impressive."

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