The St. Louis coaching staff has a reputation for being well-prepared. Manager Mike Matheny and his coaches spend plenty of time doing their homework before each series — and it’s paid off, as their team finds itself two wins away from a pennant.
But when it came to the most important series of their year so far, they took preparedness to a whole new level.
It all started, according to the skipper, when assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina revealed that he had an extensive collection of nineteenth-century British novels.
“Well, I’m looking for any edge I can get with LA coming up,” says Matheny with a twinkle in his eye. “So Bengie lets this slip about his library, and I say to him right then and there, ‘you know, those Victorians knew a thing or two, didn’t they?’ And he starts getting into class conflict this, industrialization that, you know how Bengie gets. And I’m like ‘yeah, yeah. But listen, how much do you want to bet there’s something in there about the Dodgers?'”
The idle suggestion led to an afternoon spent poring through dusty volumes in Molina’s personal library, with the host adding a touch of class to the proceedings by serving scones and tea. According to first base coach Chris Maloney, the search party “wasn’t finding a doggone thing” and was on the verge of throwing in the towel — when suddenly Maloney spotted a passage that “dang near made my hair stand on end.”
The excerpt came from “Oliver Twist,” by Charles Dickens, and reads as follows:
‘No more of it for me, thank ‘ee, Fagin,’ replied Mr. Chitling; ‘I’ve had enough. That ‘ere Dodger has such a run of luck that there’s no standing again’ him.’
‘Ha! ha! my dear,’ replied the Jew, ‘you must get up very early in the morning, to win against the Dodger.’
‘Morning!’ said Charley Bates; ‘you must put your boots on over-night, and have a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glass between your shoulders, if you want to come over him.’
The next morning — the day before Game One — the staff set out into the streets of St. Louis on an unlikely scavenger hunt. Third base coach Jose Oquendo ducked into an antiques shop on Cherokee Street and came out with the find of the day, turning up a pair of French opera glasses in genuine brass and mother-of-pearl. “They set me back about a month’s salary,” chuckles Oquendo. “But it turns out that for stealing signs, there’s nothing better. Thank God that book tipped us off, otherwise I never would have tried it.”
Several hours and a few chunks of change later, the tired crew finally returned home, strapped on their boots, and fell asleep with visions of a pennant waving in their heads.
So far, the Cardinals are on track to turn that vision into reality. And if they do, they’ll have Charles Dickens to thank.
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