Remind you of anyone?
Taguchi could be this year's IchiroPosted: Friday March 01, 2002 4:26 PM
Updated: Monday March 04, 2002 3:28 PM
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Josh Elliott, Sports Illustrated
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Site: Jupiter, Fla.
Weather: High 70s, partly cloudy.
Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked: So Taguchi. The rookie Japanese import will challenge Placido Polanco for the Cardinals' starting left field job. Taguchi looked comfortable with his new teammates -- smiling often, laughing at their bawdy, blue humor, and no doubt reveling in the fact that his country's famously voracious media are too busy hounding Dodgers pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii, training in nearby Vero Beach, to bother with him. (Only a handful of Japanese reporters follow Taguchi, compared with the dozens trailing Ishii.) When told he had two pitches left during a session in the batting cage, Taguchi pointed down the left-field line and promptly stung a ground ball that kicked off the third base bag and into left for a double. Before the oohs had quieted, the right-handed hitting Taguchi took his final swing, sitting back and waiting until the last moment before punching a grounder off the first base bag and into right for another double. Didn't we see the same bat control from a certain Japanese rookie in the Pacific Northwest last year?
Around The Horn: Mark McGwire has left the building -- and so have the hundreds of fans who used to railbird along the fences at the Cardinals' Florida Atlantic practice fields to watch Big Mac take BP. Though the Cards (with Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, J.D. Drew and McGwire's on-field replacement, Tino Martinez) certainly don't lack for middle-of-the-lineup pop, early-March batting practice will never be the same. ... Several players, including Edmonds, Drew and catcher Mike Matheny, should collectively fill the void left by McGwire, whose Ruthian presence allowed his teammates to exist in relative anonymity. Manager Tony LaRussa has a great fit in Martinez, just the sort of affable, laid-back persona McGwire's replacement needs to be. The former Yankee will be asked to hit sixth and drive in 85-90 runs -- certainly attainable for a guy who drove in 100 or more runs in six of the last seven seasons. ... Frustrated by the injuries that have marked his first four years, Drew cut back on offseason weightlifting sessions in favor of more flexibility and agility workouts. "I have a tendency to get too big too quickly," said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Drew. "So I eased up, and to be honest, I feel a lot better than I have in past years." A broken hand, a strained right quad and a back injury limited him to just 109 games last year; still, he hit 27 home runs, had 73 RBIs and hit .323. Imagine the numbers if he plays 150 games this season. ... New closer Jason Isringhausen gives the Cardinals the ninth-inning stud they lacked a year ago. The right-hander, who saved 67 games for Oakland the last two seasons, is still disappointed with the circumstances of his departure from the A's. "They made me an offer a little after we lost to the Yankees [in last year's ALCS], I said yes, and they said they needed to figure out how the numbers would break down per year and that they'd call back," he says. "I never heard from them again. I knew I needed to go." That said, the 29-year-old seems plenty excited to support a staff that, with ace Matt Morris and standouts Darryl Kile and Woody Williams (and perhaps a resurrected Rick Ankiel, whose well-documented wildness of a year ago was nowhere to be seen in early workouts), is among the top five in baseball. "I think I'll have some fun here," Isringhausen says, with an impish grin. On a team favored by many to reach the World Series, that's hardly surprising.
Sports Illustrated writer-reporter Josh Elliott will check in periodically with reports from his tour of spring camps.