In a classic scene from Bull Durham, journeyman catcher Crash Davis is shooting pool when his protégé – highly-touted prospect Nuke Laloosh – enters the bar after receiving a call-up to the big-league club.

Realizing this signals the end of his career, Kevin Costner’s character imparts a final lesson.

“You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is?” he asks.

Just one extra flare a week, just one. You get a ground ball with eyes; you get a dying quail. Just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

The science of baseball has changed plenty since the 1988 film. Data crunchers in analytic departments scour numbers to account for such flukes, but the heart of the message remains intact.

The enormous task of hitting a baseball at the optimal angle and exit velocity is only a prerequisite. The difference between fame and obscurity is doing it once or twice more per week than the average guy.

Springfield Cardinals’ manager Jose Leger has a term for it, something players are constantly searching for or trying to sustain.

“Consistency.”

“It’s the consistency, knowing that (at the major league level) it’s all about results,” Leger said. “Here you get away with a little bit of the inconsistency – that’s why they’re here, right?”

Leger managed his 1,000th game in 2022 and earned career win No. 500 when the Cards beat Tulsa on Sept. 15.

Manager Jose Leger, of the Springfield Cardinals, during opening day at Hammons Field on Friday, April 8, 2022.
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“I think it gets overlooked how hard this league might be and how hard it’s getting,” he said.

“You’re getting guys here throwing upper 90’s, you know, that’s not easy. We didn’t see that 10, 12, 15 years ago.”

“It’s just the consistency part that takes a little bit of time.”

In the Bull Durham pool hall, Crash introduces Nuke to Sandy Grimes, a former minor leaguer who hit .376 for one season.

“That’s a career man,” Crash says. “In any league.”

Several Cards’ minor leaguers can rightfully say the same about the summer of 2022 – accomplishments that cannot be diminished by whatever happens next.

Matt Koperniak

An undrafted outfielder from Trinity College, Koperniak finished the season with a scorching bat. The Cardinals’ Minor League Player of the Month in August, Koperniak hit for the cycle on August 9, the third game of a 15-game hitting streak.

He hit two inside-the-park home runs this year and recently joined the United Kingdom’s national team for the World Baseball Classic qualifiers.

“Turned it around, I think in July and was able to string some games together and find a groove, really,” he said.

The 24-year-old finished with a .291 average, 14 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 59 RBIs in 108 games.

Gordon Graceffo pitches against the Corpus Christi Hooks, June 15, 2022 at Hammons Field in Springfield, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Cardinals

Michael McGreevy & Gordon Graceffo

McGreevy dazzled in Peoria, going 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA and 41 strikeouts in eight starts before receiving a promotion to Double-A. The Cards’ first round pick in 2021 pitched less than eight professional innings last summer and the call-up to Springfield coincided with his first taste of pro-ball grind.

“Definitely hit a rough spot in June in terms of physically how I felt,” he said during the Cards’ last homestand.

“I was a little worried with my arm for a little bit because I’ve never felt that much discomfort in my arm before. Now the arm is feeling good again and I think the body feels a lot better than the mind right now.”

McGreevy posted five strong starts in August; he finished the month with a 3.09 ERA and held batters to a .256 batting average, his best month in Double-A.

Cardinals’ scouting director Randy Flores took McGreevy to dinner last summer and encouraged the tall righthander to develop his change-up.

“It’s really a pitch I go to now,” McGreevy said. “In college, my coach could tell you it was awful. If I ever threw it for a strike, I would like at my catcher like ‘that was cool!’”

“It’s definitely helped me get the lefties out,” he said.

Like McGreevy, Graceffo dominated at Peoria and reached Double-A midseason. The southpaw from Villanova ascended the Cards’ prospect rankings with every start – he went 7-4 with a 3.94 ERA and 83 K’s over 93 and 2/3 innings in the hitter-friendly Texas League.

Graceffo put an exclamation point on the season in his last start; he was perfect through 5 and 2/3 innings and punched out nine Drillers in the Cards’ 8-0 win at Tulsa on Thursday.

Graceffo will return to The Annex Sports Performance Center in New Jersey for off-season workouts.

“They helped me a ton last offseason and I think we can just build on everything.”

Chandler Redmond

Redmond grabbed national headlines when he became the second professional player to accomplish the home run cycle – a solo, 2-run, 3-run and grand slam home run in the same game, the Cards’ 21-4 thrashing of Amarillo on August 10.

Redmond hit four grand slams in 2022, more than three other teams in the Texas League. The left-handed slugger and 32nd round pick from Gardner-Webb University finished with a career-best 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 94 games played at Double-A.

Photo courtesy of the Springfield Cardinals. Chandler Redmond bats against Tulsa at Hammons Field on Saturday, July 16.

Several Springfield teammates – including Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn – credited Redmond for improving their fundamentals at the plate.

On July 16, Redmond’s grand slam in the first inning erased a 3-run deficit to give Springfield the lead for good on Marvel Superhero night. After the game he credited a pregame meal of leftover Buffalo Wild Wings and a healthy dose of caffeine.

“Baseball players are caffeine addicts,” he said. “Whatever form it can come in, give it to us.”

Kramer Robertson

Robertson wore five different uniforms in 2022 – he started the season at Memphis, made his Major League debut in St. Louis, returned to Triple-A and played for Gwinnett (ATL) and Syracuse (NYM) before the New York Mets called him back to the majors for one game. Robertson returned to Memphis on August 9 and homered in the fourth inning, part of a three-hit night.

“When you literally don’t know where you’re going to be week-to-week, it gets tough,” he said upon his return to the Redbirds.

“As it’s gone on, I’ve become a little bit more numb to it.”

Kramer’s season statistics – .757 OPS with 10 home runs and 28 stolen bases as of Sept. 18 – give no hint of the incredible odyssey he’s experienced in 2022.

But his trophy case includes the St. Louis Cardinals’ jersey from his MLB debut plus two New York Mets and two Atlanta Braves bags full of gear.

Mike Antico

Antico terrorized pitchers on the basepaths in 2022 – he stole 67 bases this season, 30 at the Double-A level. He became fast friends with Walker and Winn and the trio will play together again the Arizona Fall League in October.

“From when I first got here until now, I’ve made a lot of adjustments and I think it’s helped my game a lot,” he said.

“I think I’ve found some things over these last couple months that have helped me at the plate, in the field and on the bases.”

Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505