Wacha, Piscotty headline Cardinals Caravan Jan. 15

National League All-Star pitcher Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty, the 2015 Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year, will be among the players coming to AutoZone Park for the Friday, Jan. 15, Cardinals Caravan.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with the event slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the newly renovated Home Plate Club. St. Louis Cardinals alumni and Memphis fan favorites Stubby Clapp and Bo Hart, along with former pitcher Jason Simontacchi and top prospects Patrick Wisdom and Carson Kelly, also will join the Caravan.

As in previous years, the Cardinals will implement an autograph ticket system. The first 400 children (ages 15 and under) through the door on the night of the event will receive a free autograph ticket which guarantees one autograph from each current and former player. Due to high demand, autographs will only be available for children ages 15 and under.

Admission is free to attend the Cardinals Caravan program, which will offer first-come, first-served seating.

Piscotty enjoyed a breakthrough 2015 season. The 24-year-old outfielder/first baseman batted .305 (71-for-233) with seven home runs and 39 RBI in 63 games for St. Louis, while being a key contributor in the Cardinals’ Central Division title team. The former first-round pick played in a total of 223 games for Memphis over the last two seasons, and represented the Pacific Coast League in the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game.

Wacha was recognized as a National League All-Star and finished 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 30 starts. The right-hander made 15 starts for Memphis in 2013, going 5-3 with a 2.64 ERA That same season, the dominant Wacha represented the Redbirds on the Pacific Coast League Mid-Season All-Star team, where he was named the PCL’s Top Star in the Triple-A All-Star Game.

Clapp was known for doing a backflip while running out to his position at second base when playing with the Redbirds. He was part of the Pacific Coast League Championship with Memphis in 2000, played for the Redbirds from 1999-2002 and Cardinals in 2001. He sits at the top of the Redbirds’ career leaders in walks and triples, while also ranking second in runs scored, and third in games played, at-bats, hits, doubles, extra-base hits, and total bases. Clapp most recently served as hitting coach for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

Hart played parts of four seasons in Memphis from 2003-06 and ranks among franchise career leaders in games played, hits, doubles, total bases, and runs scored. The second baseman also played two seasons for the Cardinals from 2003-04 and was named to the Topps Baseball Major League All-Rookie Team in 2003.

Simontacchi, who appeared for the Redbirds in 2002 and 2004, pitched in parts of three seasons for the Cardinals from 2002-04. He finished ninth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2002, going 11-5 with a 4.02 ERA. Simontacchi currently serves as pitching coach for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals.

Wisdom spent the majority of last season with Double-A Springfield, hitting .237 with 14 home runs, 20 doubles, and 61 RBI in 114 games. Following the season, the 24-year-old third baseman played for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League, where he was recognized as one of the league’s Top Prospects and Rising Stars.

Kelly batted .219 with eight homers, 18 doubles, and 51 RBI in 108 games for Advanced-A Palm Beach last season. The backstop also received the 2015 Rawlings Gold Glove Award® as the best defensive catcher in Minor League Baseball.

– Don Wade

Thanks, Alton

It’s easy to get caught up in the trap of letting our civic pride swell when we allow our perception of ourselves to be defined by fans of the city who don’t live here, especially celebrity fans.

That’s not to say, though, that the positive vibes should be ignored altogether.

Take these comments from celebrity chef Alton Brown, as recounted by the folks at Choose 901, for what they are: A thumbs up about one distinct aspect of life in Memphis – the one-of-a-kind food culture here -from someone who’s been clear about his Memphis appreciation before.

“I’ve gotta say, Memphis, Tennessee: probably my number-one food town in the U.S.”

Not as good as my favorite outsider quote about Memphis from last year (from an Esquire piece: “Whoever said, “good things come to those who wait” must have been in Memphis at the time…”) but it’ll do.


One of the things that stood out to me in my colleague Bill Dries’ exit interview with Mayor Wharton is the mayor’s assessment of his political legacy, which Wharton views as the civic pride that’s swept through the city in recent years.

“I would think it’s the intangible of how we changed the attitude of Memphis as we see ourselves, and we also changed the way the larger outside world sees us,” Wharton said. “We were kind of down on ourselves. … We were starting to believe that stuff. We weathered the recession. We had a recession of the spirit about the same time we had an economic recession, and that’s a bad condition.”

Five years ago, when he was still settling in at City Hall, the mayor gave me some insight into what the above quote means.

In this piece I wrote back in 2010, we got a look at the mayor as a sort of one-man chamber of commerce. I caught up with him after he’d just come back from New York City and met with the chairman and CEO of Sharp Electronics Corp., which Wharton was helping encourage to keep Memphis on its radar.

A flurry of out of town trips to Washington and elsewhere followed. And this is what the mayor told me back then, harkening to the pride he was trying to help foment in Memphis, particularly in the business community here:

“I’m coming up on my 40th (wedding) anniversary,” Wharton said. “I don’t take roses home as often as I did. But you’ve got to take something home. Don’t take anything for granted. With our existing employers, it’s like a marriage that’s gotten some age to it. ‘Oh, we’ve got them here, they aren’t going anywhere.’ But there’s people bringing them roses, perfume and sweet music every day. I want to start taking them roses, perfume and sweet music. Whether it’s to southeast Shelby County or Southeast Asia, we’re going to be there.”

A new force awakens at Memphis City Hall…

Think you know Memphis Mayor-elect Jim Strickland? This satirical, lightsaber-filled video from the Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Luncheon shows a side of the mayor-to-be that you probably didn’t see on the campaign trail:

“He keeps referring to planes as X-wings,” says Grindfather (and Memphis International Airport spokesman) Tony Allen. “I don’t want to be rude, so I just nod.”

May the force be with you too, mayor.

– Kate Simone

The Peabody, at Thanksgiving and Christmas

Some holiday-related facts about the South’s Grand Hotel:

The Peabody will serve Thanksgiving dinner to about 1,800 guests, between Thanksgiving brunch and holiday events in Chez Philippe and Capriccio Grill, according to the hotel. For Thanksgiving meals at the hotel, that amounts to about 140 turkeys the Peabody chefs will prepare, along with 500 pounds of potatoes and 20 pounds of cranberries. Also part of the feast – 200 pounds of green beans, 400 pounds of free range chicken, 120 pounds of prime rib, and the hotel expects to go through 30 gallons of orange juice and 150 bottles of champagne. A 36-foot-long dessert table will include 600 mini cookies, 400 mini cheesecakes, 400 crème brulee minis, 200 bite-sized brownies, and 5,000 other small desserts.

Looking ahead to Christmas:

The Christmas tree that stands in The Peabody’s Grand Lobby is 30 feet tall and has about 20,000 lights on it. It takes 20 florists 7 hours to put up and decorate. There are an additional 11 Christmas trees and 600 feet of lighted garland used to decorate the Lobby, Mezzanine and remainder of the hotel. The grand lobby is where the hotel also presents a giant gingerbread display featuring a traditional Christmas village. It was made using 400 pounds of sugar, 120 pounds of flour, 4 gallons of molasses, 300 eggs plus 8 gallons of egg whites, 5 pounds of gingerbread spices, and 50 pounds of assorted candy.

Here’s a time-lapse video of the tree going up: