The baseball notebook …
Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals are going nuts for the Rally Squirrel.
The team plans to distribute 40,000 rally towels with a squirrel motif for Game 3 of the NL championship series Wednesday night against Milwaukee. In addition, stuffed Rally Squirrels are available for $5 at the Busch Stadium team store, along with ěGot Squirrelî T-shirts and additional rally towels.
ěI think itís good. The fans are having fun,î said La Russa, the Cardinalsí buttoned-up manager. ěAnd I really believe that. This is not old-school, and I know I am in many ways, but I think thereís so much attention and pressure on the players that sometimes they donít show their happiness.î
La Russa is as serious as they come on game day. Yet heís enjoying all the fuss over the Rally Squirrel.
ěIíve really gotten over getting upset over it. Sometimes I think itís a release. So I think itís fun,î he said.
It all started during the division series against Philadelphia when a squirrel, or squirrels, was seen scampering around the field ó in both cities.
Twice, with a twinkle in his eye, La Russa has suggested that the squirrel or squirrels was dating utility man Allen Craigís pet tortoise, Torty, and that the squirrel was looking for Torty when it scooted past home plate just as Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt made a pitch to Skip Schumaker.
ěAs far as the squirrel and the tortoise is concerned, they had this relationship, so I think it first came out there because Craig wasnít playing, and his boyfriend told him or girlfriend or whatever it was,î La Russa said. ěAnd this squirrel was looking for Craig, ran all over, finally found him.î
Thereís also a prolific Torty Twitter feed, accompanied by a photo of a turtle wearing a Cardinals cap on a rock. Craig denies any involvement.
ěI have no idea, I swear,î Craig said. ěSomebody started a Torty account and thatís that.î
There were no squirrel sightings at Busch Stadium on Tuesday as the Cardinals and Brewers prepared for Game 3.
Cardinals officials said they had nabbed four of the critters in humane cages since the team went on the road ó one of them on the walkway in center field beyond the pasture and another near the Brewersí dugout.
The last time Detroit reached the postseason back in 2006, Joel Zumaya thrilled the home crowd with his overpowering fastball.
The hard-throwing reliever was back at Comerica Park on Tuesday night, delivering the game ball to the mound before Game 3 of the AL championship series against Texas, then motioning for fans to make more noise.
Zumayaís baseball future is uncertain. The right-hander hasnít pitched in the majors since breaking his pitching elbow in June 2010, but he appeared in good spirits and was enjoying a chance to return to Detroit.
ěIt does bring a lot of memories,î he said. ěIíve been watching the team since Day One, watching all their games.î
Zumaya was at spring training, hoping to contribute to Detroitís bullpen this season, but he ended up needing surgery in May on his elbow. Zumaya said heís been cleared to throw since then by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery.
ěI want to say I feel terrible. Each time I say I feel good, I end up hurt,î Zumaya joked. ěThe ball is coming out easier than Iíve ever thrown.î
Iím throwing with less effort than I used to. I mean, more velocity. Iíve been working on some pretty good changeups and breaking balls.î
The 26-year-old Zumaya agreed in January to a one-year, $1.4 million contract with the Tigers, so even if he is healthy next year, itís not clear where heíll be.
ěMy mind right now is getting focused on maybe playing some winter ball,î he said. ěIf the Tigers want to go ahead and talk and do something, Iím ready. I donít feel like going anywhere else. I started here and I wish I could end here.î
HEAVY HEARTS: The Brewers will wear special ěGVî patches on their uniforms for the rest of the postseason to honor groundskeeper Gary VandenBerg, who died Monday night after a long illness. VandenBerg, 59, had been with the team for more than 30 years.
ěGary was one of the most loved individuals in this organization, and this is a tremendous loss for everyone connected to the Milwaukee Brewers,î chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio said in a statement. ěGary was one of the most dedicated and positive persons that we will ever know. We were fortunate to have Gary as a member of the Brewers family, and we all feel a tremendous sense of sadness today.î
Halfway through answering the first question of his media session Tuesday, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa expressed sympathy for the family. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. also released a statement expressing sympathy for the Brewers.
ěA lot of us have known him for a long time. Thatís a real blow to the Milwaukee Brewers,î La Russa said.
VandenBerg began his career with the Brewers as assistant superintendent of grounds in 1981 and served for more than 20 years as the teamís director of grounds.
The Associated Press