On his third team in three years, Cardinals reliever Ray King has benefited from a trio of very distinct and dynamic pitching coaches: Dave Stewart in Milwaukee, Leo Mazzone with the Braves and now St. Louis' Dave Duncan.
Each had a different approach and influence -- Stewart with the mental game, Mazzone in talking through mechanics, and Duncan with a visual guidance. The most striking visual tool King now has is the "Stew Stare." The hat comes low, and King insists on making eye contact with the hitter. For the most part the staredown has succeeded, almost as well as it did for Stewart, himself a Duncan disciple. Even against Barry Bonds, and most recently Bobby Abreu. The most memorable time King had the evil eye turned on him, it came from Albert Pujols during King's days with the Brewers when Pujols eyeballed a home run to beat King. Fortunately, the two now see eye-to-eye as teammates.
For the first time in three years, Jim Thome didn't hit a home run on Mother's Day. The Phillies' first baseman did talk to his mother last Sunday morning, and she told him to hit a home run. But this year, Thome's mother, Joyce, had the present for Jim. After being diagnosed with lung cancer last October, and some anxious times this winter, Thome's mom's condition improved dramatically this spring when she hooked up with the team of doctors who worked with former Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw at Duke Medical Center. Her cancer is now in near-complete remission. She's improved so rapidly that she was able to make the opening game at Citizens Bank Park last month.
There's still time to celebrate Mother's Day if you underwhelmed your mom last Sunday. Try going to the Dominican Republic. Like many Latin American countries, Mother's Day is celebrated on a different day in the Dominician, traditionally the last Sunday in May.
In fact, Pujols will actually be early for Dia de las Madres, when he flies his mom, America, into New York for a family reunion next week. Albert's brothers from Kansas City and Houston will also be in the Big Apple, for a week-long stay during the Cardinals-Mets series. Two-year-old Albert Jr. will be along to see his grandmother. America and Albert's wife, Deidre, only offer encouragement when they talk baseball with the reigning batting champ, and it usually results in a Pujols hot streak.
Albert says he doesn't believe in slumps or hot streaks, but watch out once America hits the continental U.S.
Although J.D. Drew is quiet, and can be difficult to get close to, Mike Matheny considers his former Cardinals' teammate a good friend. Drew's wife, Shea, came to stay with Kristen Matheny for this week's series between the Braves and Cards in St. Louis, and Drew also spent time at the Matheny's house. Asked if it would be tough setting up J.D. to get him out all week, Matheny said, "No, I love it."
On Wednesday night, Drew hit a two-run homer off Matt Morris for the Braves' only runs in the Cardinals' 5-2 victory, but Matheny lives for the battles. He grew up admiring the NHL's fighting Sutter brothers and had two older brothers of his own, including the closest one, who used Mike as a football tackling dummy and to practice his karate lessons on. That's how you become a catcher who rarely takes a day off. (Matheny did take Thursday afternoon off, and Cody McKay replaced him behind the plate. Drew hit a two-run homer in that game, as well.)
This is not the time to be talking lineup philosophy with Braves manager Bobby Cox, since he has to design a new one almost every night. Between injuries and slumbering bats, Cox has only had his preferred 1-5 batters together six times all season. Cox wasn't even sure why his old manager Ralph Houk batted Mickey Mantle after Roger Maris instead of in front of him, where conventional wisdom would dictate. The theory is that the No. 3 hitter should be the best one in a lineup, and Mantle in his prime was a rare combination of power, speed and great on-base ability. Cox said his most important consideration is protection, who's hitting behind you, and tries to set things up with that in mind. Think the Braves miss Gary Sheffield?
Brett Myers was pitching for his baseball future last Sunday in Arizona. Winless in four starts heading into the game, the former unbeaten amateur boxer has been hitting back harder when he starts getting hurt on the mound, and no one has been able to stop him.
Kevin Millwood tried to take Myers, whose father, Phil, was a boxing trainer, under his wing in Myers' first full big-league season; pitching coach Joe Kerrigan has had some spirited run-ins with the pitcher; and new Phillie Billy Wagner has already tried to settle the stubborn fastballer down. Catcher Mike Lieberthal also works constantly to get Myers not to overthrow when he gets in trouble. But perhaps facing the chance of losing his spot in the starting rotation finally grounded the former first-round pick, as he gave up just one run in seven innings last Sunday to earn his first win of the season. He looks for an encore to his first victory when he takes to the mound Saturday at Coors Field.
Adam LaRoche's father, Dave, was a soft-tossing left-handed reliever during the '70s and early '80s, the architect of "LaLob," an ephus pitch. Adam said that while growing up, he never had a problem hitting the pitch when his dad tossed him batting practice. But the elder LaRoche insists the confines of the batting cage prevented him from getting the proper loft on "LaLob."
Dave is now the pitching coach for Kansas City's Triple-A team in Omaha, and about once a month he gets a break so he can go watch Adam play for the Braves. He was there for his son's first major-league hit on April 7th against the Mets. He was scheduled to hook up with Adam again this weekend in Milwaukee, but instead will spend a day with his wife to celebrate his 58th birthday.
May 12th was also the 38th and next-to-last birthday for Busch Stadium, which opened in 1966 with the Cardinals defeating the Braves. May 12th was also a happy 79th birthday for St. Louis native and former Yankee great Yogi Berra, and a spry 69th birthday to Giants manager Felipe Alou.
Many baseball fans have wondered what it would be like to be married to flame-throwing Olympic softball pitcher Jennie Finch. Her fiancé, Diamondbacks pitcher Casey Daigle, found out what it's like to be Finch. In an innovative twist on the time-honored tradition of stealing a rookies clothes and replacing them with an outrageous outfit, the D-Backs players outdid themselves with what they did with Daigle.
Daigle was forced to wear authentic Jennie Finch gear ... shoes, gloves, shorts, stirrups, jersey, socks and pads. The Phillies even helped procure Mizuno equipment for the gag. The 6-foot-5 starting pitcher was able to talk the veteran players out of making him wear the sports bra, but not the blonde wig to complete the look-a-like of his future wife. As one Arizona veteran put it, "Can you imagine explaining a long blonde hair on your shirt to your wife by saying it came from Daigle's wig?" By the way, Finch was shocked to pick "herself" up at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix recently.
In case you're wondering, the two are expected to wear traditional attire for their October 30th wedding.
Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.