JUPITER, Fla. • He was born the year they went to the World Series together for the final time. Come to think of it, many of Paul Goldschmidt’s life benchmarks coincide with great years in Cardinals history — high school graduation in 2006, big-league debut in 2011, first All-Star Game in 2013 — and he was born in the fall of 1987, when Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee won the pennant.
And there was Goldschmidt on Monday, walking with Ozzie and Willie, just the three of them, from the practice diamonds toward the spring training clubhouse, following Goldschmidt’s first full-squad workout with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” said Goldschmidt, whose goal is to make 2019 another one of those great years for himself and the Cardinals, this time for the same reason. “There are a lot of (retired stars) in St. Louis and with this organization, so it’ll be fun to see the guys around and get to know them. But it’s definitely a business-like attitude. And if there’s something those guys see that I can improve on or get better at, I’m all ears. And that’ll be the fun thing. There are a lot of new eyes.”
The eyes are watching him — those of teammates, legends, coaches, fans, media, team executives — and he’s watching back, as Goldschmidt takes in everything that makes up Cardinals spring training. Goldschmidt said he won’t talk publicly about a contract extension, one that hasn’t been formally offered yet, but each Goldschmidt benchmark in his first Florida spring, such as his first full-squad workout, leads to wondering and wonderment.
“Hey, Paul,” a young boy shouted in a high-pitched voice. “Let’s see some bombs!”
Alas, Goldschmidt’s first at-bat during live batting practice wasn’t even categorically an at-bat. The big righty stepped in against Brett Cecil, who promptly pitched three balls. Goldschmidt then watched a strike whiz by, before drawing a walk on the next pitch (incidentally, it was later discovered that Cecil was ill). And in Goldy’s second at-bat, he grounded a ball back to pitcher and sudden slugger-slayer Mike Mayers.
Numerous fans watched Goldschmidt’s every move, from practicing lead-offs to fielding first base to — wait, is he coming this way!? — signing autographs. The 6-foot-3 perennial All-Star came toward the field’s fence and gently alerted a young girl that the gate door would slowly swing at her, and not at the field. And then, Goldschmidt reached out his big paws and signed his famous name, over and over, as eyes widened.
“There are high expectations from the fans,” Goldschmidt said in his first scheduled interview session of spring training. “Rightfully so. And hopefully we’ll go out there and play well and give them a good show and find a way to win a lot of games.”
Goldschmidt is very polite, however purposely guarded during interviews, revealing little, often reverting to the ol’ “just trying to help the team win.” But he is rather outgoing with some of his teammates, coaches and manager — and has been, for months now.
“Me and (coaches) Oliver Marmol and Jeff Albert have had independent conversations with him through text or voice, and he’s actually initiated a lot of those,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “And they’re not short conversations. And they’re not forced. He’s a baseball guy, that’s my point. The detail. He’s reaching out to Stubby (Clapp) about baserunning things and getting leads and turns and very specific things — nuances. This is a generational fanbase. There are people who understand the game clearly, are respectful and expect to see a good brand of baseball. Fundamentally sound. That’s what they’ll see in Goldy. So it’s a great marriage.”
Sometimes, after Shildt communicated with his new first baseman, the manager would follow up with some of the other coaches. There was this shared giddiness about Goldschmidt’s inquires.
“They’re like — wow!” Shildt said. “We all appreciate passion, right? We appreciate people who love what they do. And we love it when somebody’s passion and ability sync up. A lot of respect for it, and we’re enjoying being a part of it.”
Shildt said Goldschmidt is out of “central casting in a sense,” this great, humble slugger.
“A lot of times, the hyperbole doesn’t meet what’s real — in this case, it’s exceeded it,” the skipper said Monday, prior to the day’s workout. “He’s come in and been unbelievably engaging, thoughtful, proactive. He’s really smart and he’s really dedicated to what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. He’s exceeded expectations before we’ve even gotten on the field.”
And he got on the field, all the eyes at camp saw the same thing — this presence.
Now, last year at this time, much was made about the arrival of slugger Marcell Ozuna. He was the missing presence. Ozuna underachieved in an uneven season in 2018. But Ozuna was coming off one great year; Goldschmidt is coming off one great career, so to speak. Oh, and Ozuna is back with St. Louis. Neither slugger is under contract after 2019. The Cards have made it publicly clear they want to sign Goldschmidt. No. 46 won’t talk about it, but one official day in, he seems to be happily taking in this new world that is the St. Louis Cardinals, both the current World Series contenders and the past World Series stars.