(Jupiter, FL) Like the rest of Cardinals Nation, Mike Matheny and his players get excited when team Hall of Famer Willie McGee arrives for Spring Training.
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“We light up,” smiled Matheny as he watched #51 say hellos on the practice field before Friday’s game. McGee, who is a special assistant to General Manager John Mozeliak and focuses most of his attention on working with minor league players, does not have a specific duty this camp.
“He’s got carte blanche, Willie can do whatever he wants to do,” stated Matheny. “He doesn’t want to be seen or talked about or made a big deal of but it’s like I told the guys this morning, too bad, because we’re going to make a big deal about him. You draw up how to go about being a pro, Willie McGee is a really good one to model yourself after.”
Besides visiting with friends and former teammates in David Bell, Tom Lawless, and John Mabry, McGee also had some conversation with new faces like Jason Heyward.
“Absolutely,” stated Heyward, who was already aware of Willie’s popularity in St. Louis thanks to his former first base coach. “I got the gist of how important the players are here even of the past from Terry Pendleton. You know how important guys are. You come through and you can see just from the other players interacting–they take a lot of pride in being able to say I can go talk to Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith, the next person. Why not? I feel like it would behoove you to do so.”
Heyward also spent time talking with Ozzie around the batting cage during the week Smith spent in camp with the team.
“To have people like that around the game still, is still awesome to see that. They do that because they like it, they don’t mind it, and obviously for this organization, very family oriented.”
McGee is expected to be in Spring Training at least through March 19th, when the minor leaguers arrive.