ATLANTA — Before the 2008 season, Philadelphia’s Kyle Kendrick became the focus of a prank that millions across the world witnessed through video.
The Phillies — along with managers, agents, media crew and other players — told the pitcher he had been traded to a Japanese team. Kendrick was shocked. The prank lasted for several minutes before he was told it was just another rookie prank.
Former Russell County standout Colby Rasmus hasn’t had many rookie responsibilities this season with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he knows one of them is coming soon.
“He’ll have to sing a song a capella on a plane ride over the sound system,” roommate and shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “We don’t do a lot of rookie stuff because Coach (Tony LaRussa) isn’t into that kind of stuff, but the singing will probably come up soon.”
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And Rasmus says he’ll be ready.
“I’ll probably sing them some Hank Williams Jr.,” the 22-year-old outfielder said Monday after the Cardinals beat the Braves 3-2.
He’s already carried St. Louis star Albert Pujols’ checkerboard to the plane in his first ride with the team from Florida to Memphis, Tenn., for St. Louis’ last spring training game.
All jokes aside, Rasmus is in the first inning of his first major league season, but his calm demeanor wouldn’t give you any inclination of his rare position.
He’s cautious with his behavior, not wanting to do anything to bring much attention off the field. He shows up extra early. And he occasionally “helps out with the luggage” on road trips. All things a rookie that knows his place usually does.
Rasmus has been in the Cardinals’ system since he was their first pick in the 2005 draft. Along with most first-round picks, the pressure was almost immediate.
Blogs popped up tracking the top prospect’s every move. Criticism came along with it.
In 2007, the center fielder played with the Springfield Cardinals, St. Louis’ AA affiliate.
He was a star, and his numbers backed it up. Rasmus finished batting .275 with 29 home runs and 72 RBIs.
“In Springfield, he was their Albert Pujols,” Colby’s father, Tony Rasmus said of St. Louis’ slugging star. “The pressure isn’t as big a deal (in the majors).”
Then came Rasmus’ first invite to the big-league camp in 2008. He was later optioned to AAA Memphis. Rasmus’ season was plagued with injuries and adjustments to a higher level.
Over this last offseason, he bulked up at the gym before he reported to his second spring training camp with the Cardinals. He officially made the roster the first week of April and has been rotating in the outfield with Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick.
Good start to 2009
Rasmus’ first month of big-league ball has gone as well as he had liked.
Coming into today’s game against the Washington Nationals, he is hitting .263 with three RBIs and 13 runs scored. Rasmus has been trying to change his power game into a singles-type player for the Cards, who are second in the majors with a .288 batting average.
His batting average peaked at .310 after he went 3-for-5 against the Mets on April 23 but has gradually been sliding down. He’s in the middle of a 2-for-15 slump.
“I feel comfortable out there. I watch video and try to prepare for every day the same,” he said.
Back in St. Louis, his days are almost down to a routine. He and his roommate head to Busch Stadium around 1:30 p.m.
The first hour or so is spent just hanging out and “getting into a mode” before the team watches video of that night’s pitcher. He then usually takes swings inside the batting cages off the tee.
Next up is batting practice on the field. Before the game, he eats, listens to music and gets ready.
Nothing unusual for a major league baseball player. But the youngest player on the team is taking it all in stride.
“I’ve been wanting to get here for a while now,” he said. “So I just want to stay and have a good healthy season.”
Teammates and coach La Russa echo Rasmus’ drive.
“He totally earned it,” La Russa said. “No one gave him this spot. He worked very hard. He struggled his first 15 at-bats, but he’s learning each pitcher.”
La Russa said all outfielders will probably keep rotating until deep into the season. With players rotating, the coach stressed that Rasmus will need to keep learning even when it isn’t his day to play.
“He needs to experience every park, watch pitchers, scouting reports, learn from experience but not just from playing,” he said after Monday’s game. “He needs to learn from others’ experiences while they are batting.”
Pujols, the National League’s MVP in 2008, said Rasmus has gone about his business like a job.
“He has work to do,” Pujols said. “And that job is to get on base in front of me. He takes every opportunity he can to get better and get here. He got the rewards for working hard.”
Although Rasmus didn’t start the first game of the three-game series in Atlanta, he did get into Game 1 in the bottom of the ninth. Rasmus started the other two games.
However, on Monday, left-center field at Turner Field turned into a Cardinal-heavy crowd base complete with signs that read “G-O C-O-L-B-Y” and “Go Hard, Hit Hard.”
Robin Rasmus, Colby’s mother, was watching him play for the first time since opening week in St. Louis. She said she gave out close to 150 tickets for Monday’s game. But Colby Rasmus wasn’t sure how many familiar faces would show.
“When I talked to him (early Monday) he asked how many tickets I needed. I told him I needed four,” Robin Rasmus said. “He said, ‘Only four?’ He sounded upset, but we surprised him with everyone.”
The Rasmus entourage was complete with family, peers from high school, old friends, previous family doctors and old teammates. Cyle Rasmus, one of his three brothers, made the trip to Atlanta on Tuesday. He is playing for Gulf Coast Community College. Case Rasmus is playing junior college baseball at Okaloosa-Walton in Florida. Cory Rasmus, a Braves’ draftee, is in extended spring training in Florida. Cory Rasmus is expected to start with Atlanta’s rookie league team in June.
Colby Rasmus was overwhelmed and flooded with memories Monday night.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But everyone was yelling and it felt like high school again for a minute. I tried to thank as many as I could for coming out. It was a special night. It gave me chill bumps.”
For a young guy that doesn’t say much, that was saying much.
“I usually don’t get overwhelmed like that.”
With Rasmus’ first month of pro ball almost behind him, his goals for this season haven’t changed since he heard the news in April.
“Numbers don’t matter that much,” he said. “I just want to keep working and stay healthy and help the team.”
And about the possibility of a rookie prank coming sooner than later, “I can’t really sing, but I’ll try to do Hank well.”