Cardinals ‘escape’ spring training to build clubhouse camaraderie
JUPITER, Fla. — About 30 minutes before the time spring training workouts usually start, about half of the Cardinals — already in uniform — boarded a bus outside the clubhouse.
Most had no idea where the bus was going.
“That was the most fun part of it,” said pitcher Adam Wainwright, one of the few who knew the destination.
Wainwright’s agent had taken him and three other players to an “escape room” attraction. When Cardinals’ spring training camp opened, Wainwright suggested to manager Mike Matheny that St. Louis make a team trip to a similar facility to help build clubhouse unity.
So many of the Cardinals made the short journey to Legends of Xscape in nearby West Palm Beach on Thursday while the other half took to a practice field for a shortened workout. When the bus returned at about 11:30 a.m., three hours after leaving, the other half headed to the facility. The venue features several rooms with clues where people are to find hidden objects, solve puzzles and earn freedom before time expires.
The excursion is part of an effort by Matheny and St. Louis veterans to build camaraderie — something many within the team feel Cardinals lacked last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“I think our camp this year has been a testament to change,” Wainwright said. “We had to go through last year to know how we needed to change and how we needed to be a team, better. This camp, we’ve had a lot more fun together. We’ve enjoyed coming to the park and shooting the breeze and getting to know guys.”
At Legends of Xscape, the Cardinals split into teams of four or five players. Coaches selected the groups, making an effort to pair players who don’t normally spend much time together.
Wainwright’s foursome found themselves locked in a room dubbed Area 51. They escaped with a little less than 2 minutes remaining on the clock — thereby saving themselves and the aliens in the room.
Outfielder Tommy Pham, who spent the morning searching for pirate’s booty, was drained.
“I did way too much thinking — more than I’ve done in the last three years. My brain is stunned,” said Pham, drawing laughter from those gathered around him.
Outfielder Randal Grichuk, who escaped the Charles Manson Room, sensed a changed clubhouse atmosphere in his fourth spring training with the Cardinals.
“Way different — night and day compared to any of the other three,” he said.
He’s noticing that there aren’t as many cliques within the clubhouse. Wainwright has seen more veterans taking younger players to dinner.
“At the end of the day I think when we looked at ourselves in the mirror after the season last year, we knew we had to get better, and it starts with us in the clubhouse,” Wainwright said. “You get better in the clubhouse, you usually get better in the field.”
Notes: Matheny said Friday will be an off day. The Cardinals open exhibition play Saturday against fellow Roger Dean Stadium tenant Miami.