By Rob Rains
For Mike Mayers, the hardest part of being a frequent traveler on the Cardinals 1-55 shuttle is finding time to do his laundry.
One look at the schedule he and fellow reliever John Brebbia – the other most-frequent passenger on the shuttle – have kept in the first month of the season makes it easy to understand that problem.
Starting when Brebbia was sent down to Memphis on the eve of the Cardinals’ season-opener, both he and Mayers have been shuttled back and forth between the Triple A and major-league team five times each.
Each actually has made only one trip on the interstate that connects St. Louis and Memphis, with all of the other trips requiring a plane flight because at least one of the teams was on the road.
“I’ve gotten pretty efficient at packing,” Mayers said. “I have an apartment in both spots, so the travel hasn’t really been that bad. It’s finding time to do your laundry that’s hard. I feel like I’m constantly living out of a suitcase.”
The Cardinals have recalled or optioned a pitcher between St. Louis and Memphis 17 times since the start of the regular season, covering the first 30 games of the year. That total is just for the pitching staff, not counting the position players who have come up and gone down.
The latest moves came before Friday night’s game against the Cubs, when Austin Gomber and Luke Voit went to Memphis to make room for Sam Tuivailala and Ryan Sherriff to come off the disabled list.
Brebbia, thinking he was going to be in Memphis for a while after he was first sent down, got an apartment – but spent only one night there before he found himself on the move again. He actually slept on the floor that night because his furniture had not been delivered. He has since spent a few more nights there. “It’s got a nice view of a park,” he said.
Mayers, Brebbia and John Gant, who has gone up to St. Louis for one day, have been able to handle the frequent travel while also pitching well – for both teams.
Mayers has made four appearances for the Cardinals, allowing one earned run in 6 2/3 innings. Brebbia has pitched in three games, allowing no runs in five innings. In Gant’s one game, he worked three perfect innings. Combined, that’s one run allowed in 14 2/3 innings for the three shuttle riders.
The three have been just as good at Memphis. Brebbia has allowed one earned run in 5 2/3 innings, recording 11 strikeouts, in three games, earning two saves. Mayes has pitched five scoreless innings in three games and also has two saves. Gant has been in the Memphis rotation, where he is 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA.
“I just think it all goes back to the way you go about your business,” Mayers said. “There’s going to be more guys that end up on the shuttle, but the three guys (four including starter Jack Flaherty), I would say we all go about our business the way it needs to be done to be able to handle that. That goes a long way and that’s why it’s going to be successful.”
Added Brebbia, “The bottom line is you are still playing baseball. Does everyone want to play in the major leagues? Of course. And if you aren’t, that stinks. But it’s still baseball. There’s definitely a different pace to the game, but as a pitcher you have to do the same things to get people out – mix your speeds, throw in, throw out, throw off a hitter’s timing. It’s all the same concepts whether you are pitching to eight year olds from 45 feet or pitching in the major leagues.”
One of the stresses about shuttling back and forth between Memphis and the Cardinals is the short notice, with a decision often made after a night game that the major-league team needs to add a pitcher. Mayers said he has been notified at midnight and also at 6 a.m. that he was headed back to the majors.
When that call comes, the Cardinals want the player to get to wherever they are playing as soon as possible. Since there are no direct flights between St. Louis and Memphis, if both teams are home, a car service is usually used to drive the player on the four and a half hour trip.
When that service is not available, as was the case when Gant was called up and Brebbia sent down on April 26, Memphis clubhouse manager Trevor Stuart made the drive.
“I got a call at midnight and was told he (Gant) had to get to St. Louis,” Stuart said. “We left at 5 a.m. and it was pouring rain until we got to Missouri. I dropped him at the ballpark, drove to the hotel and picked up John and drove right back. We got back about 2:30, 3 p.m., and had a doubleheader that night. It was a long day.
“It was a last-minute pinch, but we made it work. We did what we had to do.”
Memphis general manager Craig Unger still recalls how he was trying to squeegee water off the warning track because of heavy rain one night when he got a phone call from then-Cardinals GM John Mozeliak about getting a player from Memphis to St. Louis in time for a game the next afternoon. He found one of the team’s employees and told him to head north with the player in tow.
There will no doubt be similar calls coming in the next few months. Because of that, the players know they have to stay ready and keep pitching well for when that call does come.
“When you come back here, you have to stay motivated,” Mayers said. “It’s an internal battle. ‘What do I need to do today to get better if I do get the call to go back north tomorrow.’ If you lose that adrenaline and lose that atmosphere (of playing in the majors) you have to find it within yourself to stay where you need to be so you are ready all the time.”
Flaherty’s rides on the shuttle have been a little different. As a starting pitcher, he has a routine that he follows in preparing for each start and knows several days ahead of time when his turn in the rotation will be coming up. He has made two starts in the majors, both on the road, and has spent the rest of the season with Memphis.
He has not been to Busch Stadium this season.
“For starters it’s all about staying on your routine, making sure you’re not wasting any days with the travel,” Flaherty said. “You have to stay true to your routine and get all your work in.
“You just have got to accept it for what it is and make sure you are staying true to your role, make sure you are doing your job. All you can focus on is where you are; you can’t worry about anything else. All you can worry about is doing your job here so when the time comes you are ready to go and that there is no slip in your game.
“Everybody wants to be in the big leagues. If you are here you want to be there, and if you are there you don’t want to be here (Memphis). That goes for everybody, there’s no secret to that.”
Mayers believes one of the reasons it is easier to accept the role of being on the shuttle is the success he expects both the major-league and Triple A club to have this season.
“We won pretty close to 100 games (97) last year in Memphis and I think this team might be better,” Mayers said. “I think it just goes to show the state of the organization as a whole. It’s one thing to shuttle guys back and forth but our bullpen guys have gone up there and given up one run. There are other guys down here who are capable of doing that.
“The overall state of the organization I think is special.”
Mayers also knows something else, too, as a result of all of his frequent trips, noting, “I’m going to get enough frequent flyer miles to at least get one free trip.”
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