JUPITER, Fla. — Cardinals highly-regarded shortstop prospect Masyn Winn knew that Ozzie Smith wasn’t just some disembodied legend. He always knew Smith as real, live person. It just never occurred to Winn that he’d meet Smith, one of the baseball players he’d idolized since his youth.
Then last week, it happened.
Winn, 20, came face-to-face with one of the greatest shortstops of all-time, the reason he wore the jersey No. 1 growing up, an icon of the Cardinals franchise as well as a distinguished part of a legacy and lineage of Black stars in game.
While the Cardinals drafted Winn out of Kingwood High School in Texas in 2020, the disjointed nature of spring training camps in recent years due to the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s lockout kept Smith from spending time with the current Cardinals players and prospects at the club’s training facility.
Last week, the 15-time All-Star, 13-time Gold Glove award winner, former World Series champion and National Baseball Hall of Fame member Smith introduced himself to Winn on the half field dubbed “The Land of Oz” in honor of Smith.
“That was unreal for me,” Winn said. “Growing up my stepdad, being a man of color, he always preached we need more Black baseball players. We need more of us in baseball. Ozzie being one of the guys he talked about. Hank Aaron. Satchel Paige. Jackie Robinson. All these guys growing up that he just wanted me to idolize.
“Getting to meet him in person really almost took my breath away. I’m pretty sure he could tell, but when I shook his hand my hand was just shaking uncontrollably. It was unreal for me, having him come out and put that mark on me. I kind of blacked out a little bit. It was so cool for me. To see him and him being a real person and a real genuine guy.”
Winn explained that one somewhat disappointing facet when he joined the Cardinals organization was that the No. 1 had long been retired. Otherwise he’d have likely asked to wear it.
In fact, Winn said he’d recently been asked to select a jersey number and he requested zero because that’s “the closest thing to one I can get.”
Winn admitted he didn’t have any pressing questions he’d been waiting to ask Smith when given the chance. He was just really struck by Smith’s humbleness and desire to provide helpful advice.
Winn said he sparked a back and forth when he asked Smith if he thought Michael Jordan or LeBron James was a better basketball player. Not surprisingly, their allegiances split along generational lines with Smith favoring Jordan and Winn advocating for James.
Smith and Winn also did their share of talking shop.
“Right now, they have me in a session before (Nolan) Arenado and (Paul Goldschmidt),” Winn said. “So I get to field before them and then I get to sit and watch them. (Smith) was out there, called me over and for about 10-15 minutes we just sat and watched Nolan Arenado do his thing.”
Winn and Smith watched and discussed as 10-time Gold Glove award winner and six-time Platinum Glove-winning third baseman Arenado work on craft in the field. There aren’t too many places in the game where a 20-year-old gets that sort of advanced-level course in baseball.
“(Smith) thinks I could be something unbelievable on defense,” Winn said. “Watching a guy like Arenado and him giving me pointers like, ‘look at the way his feet move, look at the way he does this, look at the way he moves his glove,’ we were just kind of locked in on that and just trying to get a little bit better with the minor details of defense.
“I think it was a big help. I mean looking at Arenado and talking with Ozzie at the same time, that’s every kid’s dream right there.”
Baseball America ranked Winn the No. 48 overall prospect in the sport, while MLB.com rated him the 50th-best prospect in its latest Top 100. Winn played 86 of his 119 games at Double-A last season.
Last season, Winn batted .349 at High-A (33 games) before the Cardinals promoted him to Double-A where he batted .258 but clubbed 11 home runs in 86 games.
A 5-foot-11, 180-pound right-handed hitter and thrower, Winn’s arm strength has already begun to take on a legend of its own. He’d been clocked throwing 100 miles per hour across the diamond from his shortstop position.
A non-roster invitee to big-league spring training camp, Winn certainly appreciates being in the environment where he’s watching players such as Arenado first-hand and receiving tips from a legend like Smith.
“Two years ago, that would have been something I couldn’t even think of,” Winn said. “Now to be able to do it and I’m here, I can’t wait to be up there with those guys and be able to show Ozzie and everybody else that I can play a good shortstop and I can play it for a long time.”
Once again, Smith has provided inspiration for Winn.
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