Prior to the 1998 season, the St. Louis Cardinals relocated its Triple-A affiliation from its 16-year home in Louisville to Memphis.
Exactly 16 years later, the relationship may move to a new level if the rumored acquisition of the financially-strapped club by the parent Cardinals comes to fruition.
With the 2013 club heading into its second pass through the rotation, opening day starter John Gast makes his return to the mound Wednesday night. I thought it would be interesting to look back at the men who preceded the left-handed pickoff master in receiving the honor of throwing the Redbirds’ first official pitch each season during the club’s Cardinals affiliation.
Gast is back with Memphis after 20 starts last season following his initial promotion from Double-A Springfield after eight outings there. The good news for Gast’s future is that every one of the 15 prior Redbirds opening day starters pitched in the majors – either before or after.
On the other hand, only three of the 15 went on to have major league careers of a decent length. They are former White Sox reliever Sean Lowe (1998), Nationals starter Dan Haren (2004) and current Cardinals closer Mitchell Boggs (2009). The latter two are the only ones of the 16 to be major leaguers today.
At the other end of the spectrum, six others pitched in 13 or fewer MLB games. They are headlined by colossal bust Chad Hutchinson (2000), who went on to play quarterback for two NFL teams. His pro football career began with the Dallas Cowboys four years after the former Stanford two-way star pocketed a $2.3 million signing bonus from the Cardinals.
Of the 16, only two are in a position to reach the majors soon. They are Gast and right-hander P.J. Walters (2011), currently with Rochester, the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A club.
In the table below, the 16 Memphis opening day starting pitchers are identified. For all, it is noted whether they had MLB experience prior to and/or after their Redbirds milestone appearance. Next is the number of career major league games pitched, how they left the Cardinals, their current club if active and notes.
Memphis Redbirds opening day starting pitchers, 1998-2013
|Year||Opening starter||prior||since||Games||Left StL||Current||Notes|
|2013||John Gast||no||TBD||Memphis||Future as a lefty reliever out of StL bullpen?|
|2012||Brandon Dickson||yes||yes||8||Release||Orix – Japan||3rd of 3 years in Memphis rotation, averaged 25 starts|
|2011||P.J. Walters||yes||yes||32||Trade||AAA – Twins||4 years as Memphis starter – 2008-2011|
|2010||Evan MacLane||no||yes||2||Free agent||Orix – Jpn 2012||Not clear if he is pitching in 2013 after two years in Japan|
|2009||Mitchell Boggs||no||yes||219+||St. Louis||Current Cardinals closer|
|2008||Mike Parisi||no||yes||12||Rule 5||AAA – LAD 2012||Not clear if he is pitching in 2013|
|2007||Randy Keisler||yes||yes||55||Free agent||Ind – LI 2012||Pitched in indy ball in 2012 for Long Island Ducks|
|2006||Anthony Reyes||yes||yes||67||Trade||AAA – SD 2012||May be unsigned for 2013|
|2005||Chris Gissell||yes||no||5||Free agent||Retired||Last played in AAA in 2009|
|2004||Dan Haren||yes||yes||297+||Trade||Washington||Departed in Mark Mulder trade in December 2004|
|2003||Nerio Rodriguez||yes||no||32||Release||Retired||Played in Mexico until age 40 in 2011|
|2002||Josh Pearce||no||yes||13||Free agent||Retired||Pitched for Memphis from 2001-2005|
|2001||Bud Smith||no||yes||27||Trade||Retired||2001 no-hitter was his only MLB complete game|
|2000||Chad Hutchinson||no||yes||3||Free agent||Retired||$3.5 MM from StL and $3.1 MM from Dallas Cowboys|
|1999||Larry Luebbers||yes||yes||36||Free agent||Retired||Last played in AAA in 2002|
|1998||Sean Lowe||yes||yes||248||Trade||Retired||Pitched as MLB reliever until 2003|
Hat tip to Memphis Redbirds media relations for supplying the list of names.