By the end of June, Ricky Meinhold will be on the move again.
The University of Missouri signed Meinhold – a St. Louis native and currently the Director of Pitching for the Lotte Giants of the KBO – to be the next pitching coach for the Tigers (the hiring has not been officially announced).
The 36-year-old father of two and former St. Louis Cardinals’ coach and scout has already authored a baseball journey that reads like a Robert Ludlum spy-thriller.
From South Carolina to Seoul, South Korea; Palm Beach, Florida, to New York City – Meinhold has traveled everywhere that clandestine baseball operatives scour for elite talent, and he’s left a mark at every stop.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence he lives close to the fictional birthplace of Ludlum’s character Jason Bourne – and when his flight touches down in the Show-Me state next week, Meinhold will finally be home, but of course he’s still on a mission.
Brian DeLunas passed away earlier this year at the age of 46, a tragic end to his tenure as Missouri’s pitching coach before it could begin. DeLunas worked with Meinhold as a special projects coordinator for the New York Mets and when a spot opened in Columbia last summer, Meinhold recommended him to Tigers’ head coach Steve Bieser.
“It was his dream job to be at Mizzou,” Meinhold said. “And so, I feel honored to represent him as well – that’s another big part of (accepting the job) for me.”
Bieser didn’t need to look hard to find examples of Meinhold’s handiwork.
He was on the coaching staff for USA Baseball’s 2017 18-U club that won gold in the WBSC Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada. During the tournament Meinhold got an extended look at Matthew Liberatore, who struck out 13 batters over 12 shutout innings and won two decisions.
“Matt was probably the hardest one to coach on that USA team – in his mind, that young, he had it all figured out. But as we grew – we’re together for six weeks so it’s a long time – we got to know each other really well.”
Meinhold – by then a Pitching Development Analyst for the Cardinals too – started a lobbying campaign that culminated over two years later.
“I saw him right after he got drafted at the complex in Port Charlotte and I just asked him how things were going – and then I saw him pitch. Okay, he’s the same guy I saw the year before. If we ever need to make a trade with Tampa, he’s got to be in it.”
“Matt Liberatore is a Cardinal because I put my (self) on the line,” Meinhold said. “You need to trade for this guy, he’s a left-handed Adam Wainwright.”
Meinhold accepted the pitching coordinator position with the Mets during the off-season in 2019, but he received a call from his mentor with the Cardinals soon after – “we’re trading for your boy”, he said.
St. Louis put Meinhold’s eyes and ears to work overseas, too.
He was part of the Cardinals’ delegation in Tokyo that scouted Miles Mikolas and he helped St. Louis discover Korean pitchers’ Seung-hwan Oh and Kwang-hyun Kim.
An innovative scout and development coach, Meinhold advanced quickly in St. Louis’ personnel department and his philosophy is steeped in the Cardinal Way.
He earned a degree in Kinesiology from Drury University and he implements biomechanical tools into evaluation and development, but he’s also a baseball guy to the core.
“My heart and soul is old school as it gets, but my brain and how I think is very cerebral and analytical,” he said. “Making those things go together – the teams that do that very well, they’re the teams at the top end of the spectrum.”
“The foundation and the heartbeat of (player evaluation) is still the same. Early on in this process of change, it swayed too far to the (analytical) side, and everybody forgot what this game is built on. I think it’s come back to the middle – there is a full blend.”
“The common denominator of what I feel is the ultimate competitive edge is interpersonal skills,” he said. “The ability to communicate, the relationships you build – it’s a business, but the people that care and show that they care to the individual players – I think that’s a competitive edge.”
Like so many of the major league hopefuls he’s helped along the way, his own career needed a break at the right time.
Meinhold fell in love with baseball on the little league fields in St. Charles but moved to the West Coast in high school and pitched for a community college in California.
He spurned a Division-I opportunity at San Jose State and returned to Missouri to pitch for head coach Mark Stratton, who was resurrecting the baseball program at Drury University in Springfield.
Meinhold helped the Panthers win the 2007 Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament, where he pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings in the opening game at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois. Drury beat Bellarmine 1-0 thanks to a walk-off home run in extra innings by Panthers’ center fielder Harrison Waters.
Meinhold’s run continued in the D-II NCAA Tournament; he tossed nine innings of one-run ball against No. 6-ranked Grand Valley State, but Drury dropped his start, 5-4, in extra innings.
After college, Meinhold caught on with the Gateway Grizzlies but quickly realized his playing days were numbered. He was a volunteer coach at Lindenwood, working as a groundskeeper at the Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex and thinking about applying for medical school, when Waters called.
The man who smacked the game winner against Bellarmine and served as Meinhold’s best man was working in the administration at Coker University in South Carolina and the Cobras needed a pitching coach.
Meinhold took the job and Coker went 38-16 in 2013, led by staff ace Zach Loraine (Fort Zumwalt West), who followed Meinhold from Lindenwood to Corker and caught the attention of Cardinals’ area scout Matt Blood.
St. Louis selected Loraine in the 21st round of the 2013 MLB Draft and Blood recommended Meinhold for a role with the Cardinals.
Now ten years and thousands of frequent flyer miles later, Meinhold is focused on fulfilling DeLunas’ dream to restore Mizzou’s reputation as “Pitcher U”.
“It’s a win-now situation at University of Missouri. I welcome that and I’m very excited about that –in the SEC, in my home state – I couldn’t think of a better opportunity.”
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