ST. LOUIS — With injuries, come opportunities. The Cardinals have already seen quite a few opportunities for major league debuts in 2022. But the next one could be one of the most special.
Pitcher James Naile, 29, was called up to the big leagues on Monday, with Jack Flaherty heading back to the Injured List.
What makes his arrival special, other than him spending seven years in the minors before finally getting this chance, is that Naile has been dreaming of this exact moment since he was a kid in southeast Missouri.
"It's been a lifetime of being a Cardinal fan, and it doesn't get much more special for myself, my family and for our small area back in southeast Missouri. So it's a really exciting day," Naile.
Naile is a native of Charleston, Missouri, which is about 40 minutes south of Cape Girardeau.
And he grew up rooting for some of the guys he now shares a locker room with.
"I don't think I ever picked up a bat and didn't pretend I was Albert Pujols. I grew up watching Chris Carpenter, and Waino and Yadi. I had a picture of Waino and Yadi on my wall from like '05 or something. It's pretty neat. I got to meet those guys in spring training and so walking into that clubhouse today and knowing those guys a little bit made a difference. But it's been a whirlwind," Naile said.
Naile said when he got the news from Memphis manager Ben Johnson on Sunday, he didn't believe him at first. But once he was convinced, he got on the phone with his dad.
"He was either watching the Cardinals or had just finished watching the Cardinals play. And I asked him, 'You got any plans tomorrow'? And he goes on to tell me that he's gonna put up an I-beam or something on a construction site. And I said, 'Maybe meet me in St. Louis instead'," Naile said.
Naile said he lost his mother, a long-time Cardinals fan, in 2018. But he said he knows she's "looking down today and smiling."
Naile had a 3.28 ERA in Memphis so far this season, and knows his seven-year journey to get to the big leagues has been harder than most.
"It's a tougher journey than most people understand. Seven years in the minor leagues is not necessarily how you draw it up. Being a 29-year-old rookie is not necessarily ideal. But I'm happy to be here and contribute. I think I've gotten better every time, and I feel good. I'm just here to help out," Naile said.
Naile got into his first game of his major-league career on Monday night, tossing a scoreless eighth inning in relief of Adam Wainwright.
"He congratulated me after the game. Such a special night Adam had a huge impact on me as a young player. I grew up watching him. And I take a lot from his mound presence and his ability to keep making pitches one after another. So it was special to follow him," Naile said of following Wainwright in his debut.