So long Colby you will be missed.
BY JOE STRAUSS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Mar. 14 2010
JUPITER, FLA. — He is 15 pounds heavier and noticeably more fit.
His presence no longer represents a first-year curiosity but a second-year
The clubhouse vibe that left him in virtual isolation as a rookie has softened,
leaving him more comfortable to be himself, to speak and, yes, even to laugh.
A year ago he was the 22-year-old product of a renovated farm system. Today he
is 23 and a first-time father.
Colby Rasmus still roams the same position, though he now finds himself in a
different and better place, a place that perceives him as a key component
rather than an interloper.
"This year," Rasmus promises, "it's completely different."
Personal and professional issues tugged at Rasmus for his entire 2009 rookie
season. He dealt with a hiatal hernia that sapped him of 25 pounds and much of
his energy. He confronted difficult adjustments at the plate that left him with
a .251 average, 16 home runs and little gratification against lefthanded
pitching. His longtime girlfriend's unplanned pregnancy strained relationships
within his family, particularly with his father, Tony.
"Last year was a crazy year. A lot of things happened," Rasmus said. "I went
through a lot of things for the first time and had to learn a lot of things for
myself. I think it made me a stronger person. But it was tough at the time."
A son who last summer lived for his father's approval now leaves Roger Dean
Stadium each afternoon to embrace his fiancée, Megan Hudson, and infant
Once starved for acceptance, Rasmus now seeks the best within himself.
"I learned a lot in a short time," he said. "One thing I try to do is to focus
on what's in front of me and on nothing else. I need to focus on becoming the
best player I can be. That was hard last year with all the stuff that was going
on. My head wasn't in the right place sometimes."
Rasmus joined a team with three established outfielders, two of whom also
Left fielder Chris Duncan was among the few players left from the 2006 World
Series championship team. Center fielder Rick Ankiel had salvaged his career by
abandoning pitching, then slammed 25 home runs in 2008, his first full
major-league season as a position player. Right fielder Ryan Ludwick returned
after earning a Silver Slugger and making the NL All-Star team in 2008. Every
at-bat Rasmus took meant less opportunity for a senior teammate.
At-bats are currency. Rasmus' gain also represented someone's loss.
Rasmus' relationship with the popular Ankiel was particularly prickly. Ankiel
had been with the organization since 1997 and enjoyed the respect of his peers.
However, two collisions with outfield walls contributed to an offensive slide
that left Ankiel unable to hit better than .250 in any of the season's final
five months. As Ankiel managed only eight RBIs in his final 109 regular-season
at-bats, manager Tony La Russa commited to Rasmus as his everyday center
On most days Rasmus kept to himself at his locker. He confided only in
shortstop Brendan Ryan, with whom he shared a downtown apartment near Busch
"That definitely made it tough, being so young," Rasmus recalled. "A lot of
guys on the team are married. There's nothing wrong with that at all. But we
didn't have a lot of things in common. I really didn't have many people to show
me the ropes."
The anticipation surrounding the 2005 first-round pick's arrival in St. Louis
made Rasmus an easy target.
Some questioned Rasmus' work ethic. Rasmus confesses to an erratic regimen but
said the hernia that made it difficult for him to eat was a significant factor.
After beginning the season at 210 pounds, he slipped to 185. (A modified diet
and strenuous offseason conditioning have returned him to a solid 200 pounds.)
"Toward the middle and the last part of the season I lost so much strength. I
was tired every day. I wasn't able to put the time in, and it definitely
showed. I was beat down. I wasn't eating. My body was struggling," he said.
Eyebrows raised when he would be tardy to a hitters' meeting after taking a
clubhouse nap. A quick connection was made between his fatigue and off-field
habits. He withdrew, sensing, "If I said something, the reaction would make me
feel like it was the wrong thing to say. If I said nothing, people wondered if
"It's not easy being a rookie here," said Ryan, who played 67 games in St.
Louis in 2007 and 80 in 2008. "I don't know why it's that way, but it's kind of
the way it is."
La Russa believes this year will be easier for Rasmus because "he's going to
have a lot more awareness both on and off the field." However, La Russa
disputes the notion of a clubhouse hostile to young players. Asked about
Rasmus' discomfort, he cited "rookie dues."
"We're less of a dues-paying group than some others," La Russa says. "He didn't
have to dress up in a ridiculous costume or something like that."
"I hold nothing against anybody," Rasmus said. "I do think sometimes if I had
come up with a different team with not as many things going on I might have had
a different rookie season. I just think about that sometimes. But after you go
through it, I'm glad I experienced it because I think it'll make you a better
Ryan witnessed Rasmus' struggles with the hernia. After eating late at night,
Rasmus frequently ended up vomiting his postgame meal. He found it difficult to
sleep. Concerns over how his father would react to his girlfriend's pregnancy
weighed on him as well. The family kept the news from Tony Rasmus until early
The son's worries were quickly realized; communication between the two quickly
ebbed. Colby had long relied on his father's advice about hitting, often to the
organization's irritation. But without it he became lost.
Rasmus eventually turned again to his father in early October for assistance,
even spending hours in the Busch Stadium cages with him after meeting with La
Rasmus responded with the most consistent series by any Cardinals position
player during their three-game sweep against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"It didn't make things easy at all (last year), just me growing up and doing
things on my own instead of him being on me," Rasmus remembered. "We were
breaking apart a little bit, arguing about it, fighting about it, putting each
other in a bad mood. I guess that's part of growing up. My dad's the reason I'm
here. The time and effort and dedication that he put into me was unbelievable.
I'll thank him forever and ever. But it was a time when I had to start learning
on my own and to grow up a little bit."
"I was always his motivator," said Tony Rasmus, a successful high school and
travel team coach in Phenix City, Ala. "When the baby popped up, the entire
family agreed not to tell me because they worried about how I would react. And
that's exactly how I reacted. At the time I was devastated. Colby's the best
person I've ever met. He's a very accommodating person. He wants to make other
people happy. But there came a point where I told him, 'You can't keep leading
your life worrying about what I want you to do.'"
Without offering detail, Rasmus acknowledged an uneven relationship with
hitting coach Hal McRae, whom La Russa replaced with Mark McGwire less than
three weeks after the Cardinals' loss in the NL Division Series. McGwire
represents a more comfortable fit. Rasmus has related what he believes are the
keys to his swing, and McGwire has tailored his input accordingly.
"Big Mac has been a big help with that," Rasmus said. "So far he's been real
good for me. You can talk to him and joke with him, but at the same time he
takes it serious. But he keeps it light. He has a good idea of what I'm trying
to do with my swing. So far we're working together well."
The rift between father and son healed further shortly after the October birth
of baby Rylee. Tony blames himself for being "an idiot" who only fed his son's
sense of desperation.
"A lot of things happened last year. Now my dad and I have a real good
relationship. That means a whole lot," Colby said. "We had a lot of ups and
downs. That's really tough when it's somebody you've been so close to your
whole life. It definitely made it tougher. Being a rookie and not having many
people to talk to and people who I felt were on my side. ... I don't want a
pity party, but that's just the way it felt to me. I felt real out there by
Said Tony Rasmus: "I think Colby's spent his entire existence trying to make me
happy. I try to be less demanding. It's a crazy thing. There are some
successful major leaguers whose fathers were the driving force behind them. But
that's a burden to bear."
The two have barely talked hitting this spring due to Colby's comfort level
"The biggest joy I've had in the last 10 years was when (Colby) called to say
Mark was going to take what he has and make it work," Tony recalled. "Every
year somebody tried to change him around. This year is different."
Tony Rasmus insisted, "I want to come to the ballpark and be a dad, not a
The sad son of a year ago is now able to leave the clubhouse looking straight
ahead rather than with head down. What lies ahead excites rather than smothers
"Everything is working out for the best now. Everybody is going good," he said.
"It's probably the best my life has been in a long, long time."
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So long Colby you will be missed.
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