DENVER--Cardinals Nation, it's time to relax and exhale. Matt Adams is alive and well and driving balls out of ballparks, again.
No, Adams hasn't gotten caught up in the beat-the-shift mentality, suddenly settling for weak singles to left field. Yes, he still feels he is a power source for the middle of the Cardinals lineup.
Don't believe it? Look no further than the Cardinals' 8-0 victory against the Rockies in late June at Coors Field. Adams popped out on the first pitch he was thrown in the first inning. He singled home two runs in the third. And then Adams finished off his career-best, six-RBI night with an opposite-field home run off righthander Jhoulys Chacin in the fifth before belting a three-run shot to right off lefty Franklin Morales in the seventh.
That gave Adams five home runs, 14 RBIs and 13 hits in 38 at-bats since he returned from a calf strain. That's a lot more encouraging than the three home runs and 17 RBIs he had in his first 195 at-bats, even if he hit .325.
“All of a sudden we told him it's OK to hit home runs," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Early on, we were telling them just wait for singles."
Thankfully for Adams, the power is starting to come and the redundancy of questions focusing on his high average and low slugging percentage are disappearing.
“The question I tended to get the most is if I was trying to beat the shift (with three infielders on the right side), and the power questions were second," Adams said. “It wasn't either. I don't think anybody is freaking out about the low number of home runs now."
Home runs, after all, are not a conscious act. They are a bonus.
“We try to go up and get on base for the next guy," Adams said. “The home runs come in time."
Just Looking For A Chance
Not that it bothers Adams. He is having too much fun living his dream in the big leagues.
It's what Adams dreamed about growing up in Philipsburg, Pa., and it was what he was determined to do if he was ever given the slightest opportunity. And it's safe to say he got the slightest opportunity.
In high school, Adams thought he was going to get a chance to play baseball at the University of Pittsburgh, “but things fell through." So it was off to Slippery Rock State, best known to sports fans because its football scores were shown on the old Prudential Saturday Scoreboard, and the team was frequently featured in the early days of the Bottom 10.
Adams' high school coach, Doug Sankey, played at Slippery Rock for coach Jeff Messer and persuaded Messer to give Craig a chance.
“I just wanted to go someplace where I knew I was going to get a chance to play, not sit on the bench and watch," Adams said.
Play he did. Adams set school records with a career .473 average and .754 slugging percentage, and he was the 2009 NCAA Division II player of the year. Scouts evidently weren't impressed. Adams lasted until the 23rd round of the 2009 draft, going to the Cardinals.
“I had heard I would go higher, and when I kept sinking, I was disappointed. But after the draft was over, I was thankful to get a chance to continue my career," Adams said. “Once I got drafted, I knew it wasn't what round I was selected in, but how I played that would matter."
Now look at him. He is moving up the list of famous Slippery Rock alumni, just ahead of Arena Football League Hall of Fame quarterback Greg Hopkins and former Canadian Football League receiver D.J. Flick. Still ahead are Robert Stevens, CEO of Lockheed Martin; Vivian Stringer, the only coach to take three schools to the women's NCAA finals; musician Donnie Iris; and mathematician Joseph Gallian.
“I don't know Vivian Stringer, but I know who she is," Adams said of the current coach of Rutgers, who previously coached at Iowa and Cheyney State.
With the way Adams is fitting into things in St. Louis, plenty of people are going to know who he is, too.