Every year, it's a rite of spring training. The Cardinals legends come to Jupiter.
For years, you'd see Red Schoendienst riding around on his signature golf cart. Or you'd see Ozzie dusting off the glove to show the young guns how it's done. You can always count on Jose Oquendo putting in extra hours with infielders on the backfields. And Willie McGee, now on staff with the big club, is sure to be hanging by the batting cage giving advice to rookies and veterans alike.
For the past couple of seasons, there has been a new towering figure stalking the grounds around Roger Dean Stadium. Now, instead of striking fear into the hearts of opposing batters, he's filling young Cardinals pitchers' brains with knowledge.
Of course, I'm talking about Cardinals legend and 2005 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.
There just happens to be a current redbird who has oft been compared to Carpenter since breaking into the big leagues in 2017. The talent, the competitive fire and the drive to be the best; Chris Carpenter had them, and so does Jack Flaherty. Now, the legend is teaching the new ace.
The Flaherty/Carpenter comparisons are easy to see. Two tall, righthanded, thoughtfully-spoken, super-intense studs. It was only natural a connection would form.
"It started early on as he was one of the guys that I met when I first started this role, so it's fun to watch him grow and develop and turn into the pro he's becoming," Carpenter said of Flaherty. "He's got a long way to go in rounding himself out in truly what he can be as a leader in the clubhouse as a leader on and off the field."
"We talked one time this offseason. He texted me out of the blue and checked up on me. So, I called him and we talked for about 30 or 40 minutes just asking some questions here and there and saw how he was doing," Flaherty said of Carpenter. "We have a good relationship. He's been very kind and generous to me when I've got something I want to ask him."
Now, in spring training, Carpenter can really connect with the emerging ace again. And make no mistake, Carpenter does see the 24-year-old as an ace in the making.
"His intensity, his drive to be great, his hard work, you know, all those things that take a guy to that elite level is something you see in Jack," Carpenter said.
But, Carpenter isn't ready to anoint Flaherty as the second coming of Bob Gibson just yet. He knows it's not fair to expect Flaherty to repeat his 2019 second-half numbers, but said there are other ways he can grow as a player, too.
"I think that numbers are irrelevant. It's getting developed as a true all-around professional and in all areas and all facets of the game. He'll probably never get better than a .91 ERA. I don't think the expectation of him is that he should go out and be better than that," Carpenter said. "He has to go out and be the same Jack Flaherty that the was last year that got him to that position and that was that he was focused, committed to what he was doing, committed to his work and committed to competing. And no matter what happens, you get Jack Flaherty to that spot, you get any of these guys to that spot, and you free them up and allow them to perform and compete. That's when their talents tend to come out and allows them to go out and win ball games. And I think that's what happened to Jack that second half of the season last year. He was able to compete and able to produce."
The Cardinal pitcher mentorship program is a staple of the organization. It seems as if each veteran knows he has a responsibility to pass things down from one generation of Cardinals starters to the next.
Carpenter and Flaherty might be separated by a generation, but 'Carp' knows Flaherty's in good hands day-to-day during the season with the guy he mentored himself for seven seasons.
"It's kind of neat because you see Waino come from it, and you see Jack, who's following in Waino's footsteps and Waino's doing a great job leading and showing these young guys what it takes to be a true pro. And that's what's cool about our organization," Carpenter said. "You get these guys that continue to set the way and set the path who don't tell you, they show you how to work and how to be a pro."
One of the main reasons Flaherty has been compared to Carpenter is his competitiveness. You can see it oozing from every ounce of Flaherty's being when he's mowing down batters on the mound. You could see it with Carpenter as well. If you were an opposing batter, there wasn't a more intimidating glare you could stare into out on the mound for the better part of a decade.
But Carpenter couldn't play baseball forever, and when he hung up his spikes, he admits he struggled with finding a place to put that competitiveness.
"When I first retired I tried to find different ways to do that. And what I realized is there is no such thing. You're not going to find ways to compete like we competed out here. So to be honest with you, it took me a few years to let it go," Carpenter said. "My competitiveness is in myself and holding myself to a high standard and making sure that each and every day I try to impact somebody. But the actual physical competition, you're not going to find pitching in Game 7 or Game 5 or even in a spring training game, the competition level, anywhere outside of this game, so I stopped looking for it."
Now, he's channeling that competitiveness into the next crop of Cardinals intimidators, and lending his experience to the newest star in the organization's assembly line of aces.