The competitive side of Jose Leger could have crumbled in 2021 during his first season as manager of the Springfield Cardinals as the team struggled to a 45-75 record.
But as a minor-league manager at the professional level, it’s about more than wins and losses. Developing players, teaching them the right way to play and leading with a positive attitude are priorities.
Winning is a bonus — though an important one in Leger’s outlook.
“Part of our job is to teach these guys the game and teach them how to be winners,” Leger said. “But it’s not our main goal. Our main goal is to get them better and get them to the next level. And we did that last year.”
Leger mentioned players like infielder Nolan Gorman, who was promoted to Triple-A Memphis after a short stay in Springfield, and pitcher Andre Pallante who made the St. Louis Cardinals’ opening-day roster and made his big-league debut on Sunday.
Pallante became the 118th former Springfield Cardinal to reach the big club in St. Louis. It’s always gratifying to inform a player he’s being promoted a level and one of the highlights of being a minor-league manager.
Leger, in his fifth season in the Cardinals’ organization and spending eight years with the New York Mets’ minor-league system, joked that he often tries to disguise the good news by taking a solemn tone before passing along the good news.
“You always try to find an original way to do it,” Leger said. “You know, kind of make it a little joke. Sometimes you make him a little nervous, you make him wonder, put in his head that something bad is going to happen and just keep them wondering.”
Then hit them with a smile and “it is always rewarding seeing those guys smile. Because you think about everything that these guys have done to be in the position that they are in … and you tell him they are one step closer to the big leagues.
“I mean, that gets their heartbeat going.”
Leger is hopeful that 2022 will represent the best of all worlds, where players are promoted and the Cardinals are contenders in the Texas League. Opening weekend was a good start as the Cardinals bounced back from an opening-night, 11-8 loss to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals to win the next two, 14-11 and 10-5.
Pitching was an issue last year and it could be again, but Springfield’s offense looked terrific in scoring a Texas League-best 32 runs in the season’s first three games.
The Cardinals got big contributions from center fielder Chase Pinder, who went 10-for-15 with two home runs and seven RBIs, and the organization’s top prospect Jordan Walker, who hit his first Double-A home run on Sunday and had six RBIs in the series.
Walker also made a dazzling defensive play in the opener, making a diving stop of a grounder ball going to his left and then threw out the runner from a sitting position.
“We just need to pitch better,” Leger said of the keys to more wins. “This year, we are more complete, let’s put it that way. I think our bullpen is going to be stronger than last year.”
Leger pointed to Pinder and several other returnees with a common goal of treating the Springfield fans to a more competitive team.
“The experience, the whole chemistry and atmosphere, you can feel it in them already,” Leger said. “They want to come and play and play to win. You hear them talk about ‘let’s play for something this year.’ Just seeing the energy out of them, it’s very cool.”
Pinder said he expects better results because of the experience he and others have at this level.
“It’s just like anything, we all grow,” Pinder said. “Guys have been working hard. They have an opportunity and I think they’ll deliver.”
The Cardinals opened a six-game series in Little Rock on Monday night with a 4-3 loss to the Arkansas Travelers, the Seattle Mariners’ Double-A affiliate. But they came back Tuesday with a 5-3 win, powered by two homers from outfielder Moises Gomez.
Springfield returns home on Tuesday, April 19, when Dodgers’ affiliate Tulsa visits Hammons Field.