The Cardinals Caravan came through Rolla on Saturday, Jan. 13. There was a bit of a delay after their bus broke down in Joplin, but the crew was able to make it to town to sign autographs and chat with fans.
The stop included current players Greg Garcia, John Jant, Alex Mejia and late a late addition in Jose Martinez. Former players Kyle McClellan, Tom Lawless and another late addition in Danny Cox. Those late additions came after caravan three that included stops in Tennessee and Arkansas was canceled due to weather. Tom Ackerman, the voice of the Cardinals on KMOX, emceed the event.
The event was originally slated to kick off at 5:30, but bus troubles in Joplin pushed the start time back to 7:00. Fans still waited outside for the doors to open at 6:00 and eagerly awaited the arrival of their Redbirds. The caravan was finally able to arrive at 7:30 and were greeted with applause. Cardinal fans Johnny, Austin and Laura Jones won tickets to the Powerade Bridge at Busch Stadium during the event and said that the caravan itself was well worth the wait.
"Oh yeah, we always have fun here," said Johnny, who has brought his family to several Cardinals Caravans. "It gets us ready for baseball season."
A young fan named Cameron Neihaus was at his first Cardinals Caravan and liked the fact that the players came out, because he doesn't have many chances to go to St. Louis to see the Redbirds in person.
"It's pretty nice getting autographs from them, getting them to sign your baseball," said Neihaus. "It's pretty fun."
The experience wasn't lost on the players early. John Gant played his first season with the Cardinals last year after being acquired when the Redbirds traded Jaime Garcia to the Braves. Gant has loved traveling across Missouri and seeing just how far the Cardinal Nation stretches outward.
"It's been a lot of fun. We owe everything to the fans. The reason we're a team is because of them," said the 25-year-old pitcher. "It's awesome looking around and seeing the following that the Cardinals have. It's very big."
This has been Gant's first chance to really see what Cardinal Nation is like outside of Busch Stadium. He didn't know what to expect from the fanbase after his trade from the Braves, but he's been surprised by how many people passionately love his current team.
"When I was first traded over, I had no idea," said Gant. "Definitely a bigger fanbase than I could've imagined. It spans a pretty big deal. It's awesome being able to play for these people."
Jose Martinez had done the caravan before and he loves being able to get out and see the fans across the state.
"I think the Cardinals fans are the best. They live all over the place and they always support us," said the 29-year-old outfielder and first baseman. "They've always treated me well, treated me unbelievably. I have to do it for them. I have to work hard for them, because I want them to enjoy what we're going to do for them."
Spring Training is right around the corner for the Redbirds, with their first game scheduled for Friday, Feb. 23.