If you live in St. Louis and you’ve recognized Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt out and about around town, you can count yourself in an exclusive club. The third St. Louis skipper in the last twenty years may be a baseball lifer through and through, but that doesn’t mean he’s nearly as well known as most of his peers.
“I don’t go out a lot,” said Shildt, just before the Cardinals kicked off a dramatic five game set with the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. “When I do, I’m a pretty ordinary, mainstream guy.”
No one recognizes you, Mike? Even when you’re out for breakfast?
“Maybe occasionally a guy would take your credit card and say, ‘oh, you’re some guy with the Cardinals, maybe?'”
Point taken. Shildt makes for an interesting contrast with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose glasses adorn memorabilia sold throughout and outside Wrigley Field. Shildt, who suffers from the same generative eye condition as center fielder Tommy Pham, also wears glasses. He seemed less excited by the possibility of copycat shirts being produced down I-55.
“Put [third base coach Jose] Oquendo on a t-shirt,” he joked, with a half smile and laugh that brought a little levity that may have been missing from the Cardinals dugout in recent weeks.
In fact, it’s Shildt’s anonymity that was the star in a long story he told in the Cardinals dugout about his first trip to St. Louis to interview for an area scout position in 2004.
He was picked up from and dropped off at the airport by Scott Smulczenski, an organizational fixture who currently serves as the Vice President of Baseball and Business Operations for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. When he arrived at the airport, he was told by the ticket agent that his flight would be delayed three hours. Then, Shildt said, the agent noticed what was printed on the ticket.
“On my ticket, it had…the Cardinals on it,” Shildt recalled. “The lady working the counter said, ‘‘scuse me a minute.’ And I’m like, that’s fine. And she started getting on the phone, she started doing this, and I’m like, oh my goodness.
“She comes back and she slides the ticket across and she says, ‘you’re gonna leave in 20 minutes from another airline across the way.’ I said, excuse me? She said, ‘your ticket says Cardinals. Are you with the Cardinals?
“And I’m like well, I’ve been offered a job. She says, ‘well are you gonna take it?'”
He took it. Mike Shildt joined the Cardinals organization that day, and 14 years later, he became only the second person to hold his current job since 2004’s incumbent was in the dugout. That ascension is four days old, and already, Shildt is starting to be seen.
“Me and Oquendo were on the same flight leaving on Sunday evening and there was Cardinal fans coming and going,” he said. “And it was interesting because, um, a couple people were really…you didn’t think they were paying attention.
“But I would go and get on the plane and they were very respectful. They’d just want to come over and say, ‘hey, nice job today, congratulations, and we wish you the best of luck.’ So it was very, very classy.”
Shildt said that the first time he truly believed he was capable of managing in the major leagues was when he reached Triple-A Memphis in 2015. That’s a long way away from Lambert Airport in 2004, and Shildt laughed when the ticket exchange was described as his first big league perk. “Big league perk as an area scout.”
The ticket agent in 2004 told Shildt, “we take care of the Cardinals around here.”
“So,” he said, “I turned a delay into a 20 minute flight with a better seat.”
“That’s when I realized I’m a special place.”
Mike Shildt prefers to be called “Shildty.” Say hello if you see him out for breakfast.
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