What a day.
Grapefruit League play lifted off in Jupiter as the Tigers took the court in Georgia. The Blues played under a microscope following an explosive criticism of effort sparked by coach Craig Berube. Then it was time for Billikens basketball before, oh yeah, the first ever debut of St. Louis’ very own MLS team in Austin.
Some rapid-fire thoughts from our whirlwind Saturday in St. Louis sports …
• I hope this concern ages poorly, but seeing how Blues extension mates Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas shrugged off and stiff-armed critical comments made by Berube about their lackadaisical play since the sell-off started, and seeing how Berube’s understandable eruption was followed by an overtime loss to a struggling Penguins team, I hope these guys don’t spend what is left of their lost season trying to get Chief fired.
A coach questioning effort and bringing up salaries can create some serious scar tissue if it’s not worked through quickly. The Blues looked a little more invested Saturday. Maybe that’s a good sign. Too early to tell, really. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong fiercely defended Berube in early November. He didn’t sound so adamant when he addressed this dust-up. Just for the record, Armstrong and Thomas trying to suggest Alexei Toropchenko’s critical comments — the ones Berube agreed with and poured gasoline upon — had something to do with the 23-year-old’s Russian-to-English translation was bogus. His message came through loud and clear. And it hit a nerve.
• Here’s an example of not letting a disappointing season derail effort and energy: Billikens guard Gibson Jimerson. He had scored more than 20 points just once this season entering the Billikens’ bummer of a loss to VCU back on Feb. 3. Starting with that game he’s averaged 21.6 points over the past seven games, including his 21 in Saturday’s win against Loyola. The Billikens’ only hope of a March Madness appearance hinges on winning the A-10 tournament. Jimerson finding his stroke makes it feel more possible.
• Unsolicited advice for both Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras and STL media members: Let’s table the Cubs talk for a while. Contreras took another not so subtle swipe at his former club turned rival during an interview that was aired on TV during Saturday’s Grapefruit League launch. “For me, I like this better,” Contreras said about the Cardinals. “It’s a better organization. Old school way, which I love it.” Cardinals fans have to love that Contreras is all in on the Cardinals, but it’s about the Cardinals now, not about the Cubs. Let’s turn the page.
• I have described Dennis Gates’ Mizzou squad as one that can beat any team if it sees its first few 3-pointers fall, and one that can lose to any team if it sees its first few 3-pointers miss. Especially on the road. Well, the Tigers flipped that script Saturday. They missed their first six 3-pointers against Georgia, then made 14 of their next 22 in a 22-point thumping. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers roll into the SEC Tournament with 22 wins and riding a four-game winning streak. LSU and Ole Miss played Saturday. They are Mizzou’s final two regular-season opponents. Entering Saturday’s game, the two had combined for three wins since the start of January.
• The SEC hoops coach of the year conversation got kicked around as Mizzou put the screws to Georgia. Alabama’s Nate Oats should no longer be considered. Wait, didn’t I just include Oats in a coach of the year column? I did, but that was before we knew the latest details about the information he withheld regarding star player Brandon Miller’s proximity to a former Alabama player’s arrest on a charge of capital murder. Oats, it turned out, has not navigated his team through a crisis as much as he was involved in trying to keep some uncomfortable information under wraps. Texas A&M’s Buzz Williams should lead the race. Mizzou’s Gates should be in second place.
• A reminder for Cardinals fans: Paul DeJong is going to get a lot of at-bats during spring training. Hollering about his presence in the lineup will only raise your blood pressure. The games don’t count yet. If he’s in the lineup and not hitting when the games count, we can all holler together. Deal? Well, I tried.
• The pitch clock is good. Players are adjusting. The jarring feel of seeing the clock will fade. Saturday’s 3-2 Nationals exhibition win against the Cardinals was wrapped in less than two and a half hours. Crisp.
• Play of the day: That one goes to 33-year-old journeyman Cardinals infielder Taylor Motter’s Arenado-esque grab of a foul ball in Roger Dean Stadium’s deep foul territory down the third-base line. Nice early impression made by the non-roster invite.
• Play of the day, not so positive edition: I did not expect Mizzou baseball to make this list, but you know Mizzou football coach Eli Drinkwitz’s stomach dropped when Tigers pitcher and quarterback candidate Sam Horn was removed from the mound Saturday with some sort of elbow issue. Stay tuned.
• Umpire C.B. Bucknor is an absolute embarrassment to Major League Baseball and umpiring, and the fact he’s allowed to continue with his bigger-than-the-game mentality is exactly the kind of reason more and more people want to see umpires’ influence on games whittled down to next to nothing. New season. Fresh start. Cardinals manager Oli Marmol tries to bury the hatchet from last season, and Bucknor big times him for all to see. It’s going to be a rough year for umpires as they enforce the pitch clock and other new rules. Why someone who thinks he is bigger than the game is allowed to continue to make a hard job even harder for his peers is confounding.
• How cool would it be to score a team’s first-ever goal? Congratulations, Tim Parker.
@Ben_Fred on Twitter