JUPITER, Fla. – The story of how Adron Chambers came to impress the Cardinals during a pre-draft workout in Memphis, Tenn., in 2007 brings comparisons to the scene from the baseball comedy Major League.
Chambers’ bus from Pensecola arrived in Memphis after the workout had already started, causing him to quickly put on his cleats and run out to the field to participate in the running drills.
It was a similar scenario to Willie Mays Hayes in Major League, who oversleeps on the first morning of Spring Training and awakes to realize that his mattress had been moved outside and everyone was already running sprints. He takes off in his pajamas and wins the race, drawing the attention of the nearby coaches.
Recalling his story on a recent afternoon outside the Cardinals clubhouse in Jupiter, Chambers can’t help but notice the comparison.
“I use that movie as motivation to tell you the truth,” Chambers said. “One day I want to wake up, not saying I want to be late, but just run in my pajamas to let everyone know I can do this in my sleep.”
The speedy Chambers currently finds himself competing with Shane Robinson and non-roster invite Justin Christian for the final outfield spot on the Cardinals bench. And while his speed will surely help, the left-handed hitter hopes to show the club he’s improved in all areas as the competition heats up when games start Saturday.
Chambers was up and down a few times between the big leagues and Triple-A Memphis a season ago, hitting .222 with two triples and four runs scored in 54 at-bats over 41 games. He ran the beach in Pensicola during the offseason to improve his foot speed and get stronger and hopes the difference pays off this spring.
“We’ll see what it looks like,” Chambers said. “I’m going at it full throttle and going to do what I have to do. We’ll see what happens.
“I just want to get on base. I want to steal some bases. I have Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith out here helping me and they were great ballplayers and great base stealers and the kind of player I want to be, not necessarily home run hitters but could run and had great athletic ability and could do some damage on the base paths and create some things.”
Robinson and Christian provide similar skills. All three can play any of the three outfield spots and all have decent speed on the bases. Chambers is the only left-handed hitter of the three.
Tony Cruz is expected to be on the bench as the backup catcher while Ty Wigginton and Ronny Cedeno appear to have backup infield spots. Whoever doesn’t win the second base job between Matt Carpenter and Dan Descalso will also be on the bench, leaving one spot left for the three outfielders.
Robinson has the experience factor on his side. He played in 102 games for the Cardinals last year and spent much of the season on the big league roster. He hit .253 with three home runs and 16 RBI in 166 at-bats but was among the league leaders with 11 pinch-hits.
He also spent time with the big league club in 2009 and 2011.
“I hope that does work in my favor,” Robinson says of the club’s familiarity with him. “I learned a couple hard lessons that nothing is guaranteed in this game so I’m just going to go out there and do what I can to the best of my abilities and hopefully put that seed in the coaches head that this is the guy they want.
“I want to show the coaches that I’m the guy they want. I don’t want to be on the fence with anything. I want to bust my butt and do all the things right that I need to do and when it comes to when they are picking the team, I don’t want to be the guy that’s on the fence. I want to be the guy they say, ‘this is the guy we want on the team, no ifs, ands or buts about it. He hustles, he does all the right things. He’s smart. That’s pretty much it.”
Christian, 32, hit .343 in 72 games for Triple-A Fresno last season but struggled during his limited opportunities with the San Francisco Giants. He hit just .125 (7-56) in 34 games with the Giants and has just a .203 career batting average in 143 big league at-bats between the Yankees in 2008 and the Giants in 2011-2012.
The former Independent League star with the nearby River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., hit .338 in 64 games with Fresno in 2011 and has a career .297 average in the minor leagues. He’s proven to mash in the minors. Now his challenge is doing it at the Major League level.
“Everybody here is a heck of a player,” Christian said. “For me just being able to have the opportunity to come out here, every year I’m pretty much in the same situation where you have to fight and scrap to prove yourself year in and year out. For me it’s just an opportunity to come out here and I’ve been well received over here with the Cardinals. I’m excited.
“I’m just a guy that’s going to give it 110 percent every day, whether I’m starting or not starting, I’m going to go out there and be a team guy and play hard every day. Every time I’m in the lineup I’m going to try to bring to the table some good defense and some situational hitting and try to steal some bases.”
All three should get plenty of chances to prove their worth this spring with Carlos Beltran leaving for the World Baseball Classic and Matt Holliday usually eased into games early in camp.
And manager Mike Matheny can’t wait to start getting a look at them.
“We’re looking to see what they bring to the table and who takes advantage of the opportunities and who helps the club as a whole when you look at all of our needs,” Matheny said.
The Cardinals open their spring schedule Saturday afternoon against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.