School kids show up to class to find this St. Louis Cardinals star as their substitute

·5 min read
School kids show up to class to find this St. Louis Cardinals star as their substitute
Tom Gannam/AP

Harrison Bader does not necessarily have an abundance of free time these days, but with Major League Baseball’s lockout pressing on without an end in sight, he’s finding creative ways to fill his time.

The Gold Glove-winning Cardinals center fielder made a pit stop in St. Louis this week, finding headlines everywhere he went and incidentally reinforcing the risks of the folly currently being undertaken by ownership.

Meramec Elementary in Clayton, Missouri, found itself short of staff thanks to a surge in COVID-19 cases, but with students in need of exercise, Bader stepped in. Thanks to a chance connection from a friend to the district’s superintendent, a class full of elementary school students reported to PE to find a unique substitute – Mr. Bader, if you will — waiting for them.

The leather bomber jacket he wore to the school perhaps did not optimally suit itself for getting down and dirty in a dodgeball game, but Bader did his best, providing a little bit of levity in a tough situation for school kids still muddling through the challenges of the pandemic.

“There wasn’t a hesitation from him just to hop right in and get in there and mix it with the kids,” Patrick Fisher, the school’s principal, told KSDK.

“We introduced him as a sub, or a guest teacher, and so they were all, like, wearing masks and he didn’t have a uniform. It was like, ‘wait a second, who is this? What’s going on?’”

Bader, for his part, joked to the television station that teaching in a more typical classroom setting may have been beyond his abilities, but as an award-winning ball catcher and thrower, the gym was right in his element.

“Definitely not going to have a career change,” Bader joked to KSDK. “It was nice though to be in St. Louis and not have to worry about which righty throwing 100 was trying to take my lunch that day.”

Bader then moved from the classroom to the ballroom. Typically, he would be required to be in town in January in order to attend the club’s annual Winter Warm-Up fan convention, but the confluence of the coronavirus and the lockout canceled the event for 2022. Instead, Bader was available to receive a royal honor — he was named the King of Mardi Gras.

Ordinarily, attendance at spring training would prevent players (and, tragically, reporters) from attending the annual Mardi Gras parade in Soulard. However, with the start of the spring season in doubt, there’s a chance the newly minted king won’t be forced to rule in absentia, and may instead be at the Feb. 26 parade to be feted from a float along the route.

It’s that public-facing versatility the Cardinals saw in Bader when they made him the face of the release of their alternate Saturday road uniforms in late 2018. His polished demeanor and flowing blonde locks have made him into a modern day matinee idol; he’s the player for all fans of all ages, for a wide variety of reasons.

Gold mine gone barren for Cardinals

It’s confounding, then, that the Cardinals are at the moment in a position where they have to pretend he doesn’t exist. None of the team’s official social media channels highlighted his activity in the community. What could’ve been a veritable content gold mine has instead gone barren. This weekend, ordinarily the setting for a long string of forgettable interviews, might instead have been a celebration of one of the game’s most exciting players just hitting his stride in the way the team long envisioned.

Rather than the wonder of that upside, baseball finds itself staring all the way at the game’s barren backside. The collected ownership groups made their first collective bargaining proposal to the Players Association in more than a month this week, only to see very little progress. What was advertised as bargaining on core economics instead included only tweaks to baseline compensation and a byzantine method for determining whether a team might occasionally squeak out an extra draft pick.

The sides, regrettably, have not made progress.

Ownership has drawn its lines in the sand, refusing to discuss a faster path to free agency for the game’s most talented young players and holding firm on any potentially significant increase to the competitive balance tax. The players still have time on their side and have seen their solidarity hold; indeed, a lack of serious negotiation from ownership may well serve only to reinforce that solidarity.

Will spring training start on time?

All the while, the clock ticks ominously in the background. One month from the scheduled report date for pitchers and catchers, there’s less reason to believe spring training will start on time than ever. Preponderance of evidence suggests that decampment to Arizona and Florida will come, in the best case scenario, in early March, dragging a hard winter right up against the threshold of spring and threatening greater public hostility where traditionally there ought be joy.

The game’s players — its talent — are what bring people to their feet and inspire passion throughout those who follow baseball. Absent a stadium, Harrison Bader and his counterparts are instead heading out themselves, throwing balls and gathering cheers in some unorthodox settings.

It’s best for everyone involved if he’s not available for that parade, but it’s regrettably prudent for him to start planning his costume.

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