By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – For a kid born and raised in St. Louis, who grew up going to games at Busch Stadium and had posters of Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Jim Edmonds on his bedroom wall, it was a phone call that Wade Stauss will never forget.
Stauss was sleeping in that morning in January at his home in Chesterfield when the call came, informing him that he was being invited to the Cardinals’ major-league spring training camp.
“I woke up really quick,” Stauss said.
Stauss had to be certain that he wasn’t dreaming, and he still kind of feels that way every day he walks into the Cardinals’ locker room and sees his name on the back of a jersey with uniform number 99.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Stauss said. “I’m really here. We are really doing this. It’s hard to put into words. It’s just been a dream.”
Stauss is one of 10 catchers in the Cardinals’ camp, a necessity in spring training to handle all of the extra pitchers who need somebody to throw to.
A graduate of the same high school, Lafayette, that produced Ryan Howard, David Freese and Luke Voit, Stauss was not drafted out of Southeast Missouri before another unexpected phone call changed his plans to go back to school and pursue a master’s degree in business administration.
He was invited to a tryout camp, then signed by the Cardinals a week later in 2021. He has spent the last two seasons splitting his time between Palm Beach and Peoria.
It’s the time that he has spent around the players on the major-league roster the last few weeks that Stauss has enjoyed the most, believing that what he is learning now will stick with him long after he goes back to the minor leagues.
“I came to Jupiter one time when I was real young, when I was seven,” he said. “It was 2006, and I remember seeing Adam Wainwright and Yadi walking in. Today I got to catch Waino for the first time and got to talk to him for a little bit. He’s just such a great baseball mind and leader. You can learn so much from him.”
Because players in the minor-league camp often have an opportunity to see the major-leaguers, Stauss was able to meet and talk with Molina and Pujols last spring during his first spring training in the organization.
He had almost met Pujols years ago, when he was in first grade.
“I went to school with his kids and one day at recess his daughter Bella kicked me down the slide,” said the now 23-year-old Stauss. “I exaggerated and acted like I was hurt because I thought maybe they would call me into the office and I could meet him.
“Last spring he came up to me and said, ‘I’m Albert Pujols’ and held out his hand. I was like, ‘Man I know.’ I didn’t have a chance to tell him that story.”
Stauss has not played in a game so far this spring, and he knows those opportunities will be limited. That does not diminish his experience, however.
“It’s priceless,” he said. “Playing time and at-bats are great, but just what you learn behind the scenes will stick with me.”
Stauss already has had one spring training moment to remember, even it it was over almost as soon as it happened.
It was the final day of spring training last year. He was on a back field at the Cardinals’ complex when one of the organization’s hitting coordinators told him to get his stuff and head over to the main stadium for the Cardinals’ game against the Marlins.
In the ninth inning, he got a chance to bat – and lined the first triple he had hit since 2019, matching the total number of triples he hit in four years of college baseball.
“That was a fun phone call home,” Stauss said. “I told them I hit a triple and they said, ‘No you didn’t. You’re slow.’ It all happened really quick. I was driving away saying, ‘Did that really happen?’
“Now being out here, being around the guys, putting the work in, I’m definitely taking more in this time.”
And it’s those lessons that he will take with him this season, when he moves out of the major-league clubhouse and goes down the hall to the minor-league locker room, and the lessons he will take with him when the minor-league season begins.
“Just the way they carry themselves, the way they take care of the small things,” Stauss said. “How open they are to communication. They are masters of routine. They know what their body needs, what nutrition they need.
“It’s just little things you pick up and take it in and then immediately try to apply it. You see the results right away. It’s like, ‘Wow, that’s why these guys have had such successful careers.”
There was even a lesson Stauss learned from Wainwright that had nothing to do with baseball.
“Wainwright was talking yesterday about cleaning up the bathroom,” Stauss said. “That’s the way the Cardinals work. Wainwright said, ‘This is how you be a big leaguer.’”
Stauss still tries to follow a piece of advice he and others new to the organization received after signing from John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations.
“He told us, “Just choose one thing every day to get better at,’” Stauss said. “It doesn’t have to be on the field. It can be in the locker room. It can be training wise or nutrition wise. Just choose one thing to try to focus on each day to get better at. You just build small things on top of each other.
“That’s something I really look to do. I want to see where it takes me.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos by Taka Yanagimoto, courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals