Stubby Clapp and Memphis met at precisely the right time.
With ground already broken for the soon-to-debut AutoZone Park, Clapp made his Triple-A debut with the Redbirds in 1999, and did so with a back flip.
In the heart of Cardinals Country, Memphis knew back flips thanks to Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. Clapp secured his own middle-infield spot (second base) and became the sideburned heart of a Pacific Coast League championship team in 2000, AutoZone Park's inaugural season.
Clapp played four seasons for the Redbirds and made it up to St. Louis for a 23-game stint with the big league Cardinals in 2001. From there, he stayed in the game, playing for the Canadian national team and coaching for ten years in the Astros and Blue Jays systems.
It turns out, though, you can go home when you're Stubby Clapp and home is Memphis. The Cardinals reunited with Clapp when they announced in Nov. 2016 that he would become the team's new manager.
The Cardinals were rewarded with a sensational season that earned Clapp Baseball America's 2017 Minor League Manager of the Year award.
The 2017 Redbirds set a franchise record with an 11-game winning streak before Memorial Day on their way to a 91-win season. It was the most wins by a PCL team in 10 years and the most by a Memphis club since 1948. As their rookie manager emphasized consistency and effort to the last out, the Redbirds won or split 27 consecutive series and essentially broke the law of averages by going 13-0 in extra-inning games, including Game 2 of the PCL championship series. Memphis won a decisive Game 5 twice in the PCL playoffs to claim the franchise's third championship and second with Stubby Clapp wearing number 10 on his back.
"You sit back and look at it," says Clapp, "and wow, it was a really special year, a blessed year. All prayers were answered and good things happened. We led the division from the first day of the season to the last. To maintain that level of consistency and dedication to the craft, without hitting a major skid, was unbelievable. My hat's off to the players and coaching staff coming ready to work every single day. We had a special group of guys who played every pitch."
During his 14 years away from Memphis, Clapp concedes he'd all but given up on ever being part of the Cardinals system again. So Clapp's 2017 season was as magical for where it happened as for how it happened.
"The fans really supported our team, and me specifically, during my four years as a player (in Memphis)," says Clapp. "It was a mutual feeling. I gave them as much time as a I could, being a part of the community."
Clapp met his wife, Chastity, in Memphis in his last season as a Redbirds player. They now live in Savannah, Tennessee, 120 miles east of Memphis.
"When this opportunity [to return] opened up, my wife and I felt blessed," says Clapp. "And we were able to have a great first season."
The challenge for Clapp, of course, is how to follow up an epic debut season as a Triple-A manager. He chuckles when asked about repeating a 13-0 extra-inning record but has a nice piece of hardware to dust and shine as he plans ahead for 2018.
"I'm honored and humbly accept the award in respect to all the other managers," says Clapp, "because I know the hard work that goes into their days. It's not an easy gig."