The Memphis Redbirds are enjoying a season for the ages. In beating Las Vegas Sunday afternoon at AutoZone Park, the Redbirds improved their record to 65-35, reaching 30 games above .500 for the first time in the 20-year history of the franchise. With more than 40 games still to play, the team record for wins in a season — 83 by the 2000 Pacific Coast League champions — is all but sure to fall. The winning continues as the club continues to sacrifice talent to the parent St. Louis Cardinals.
No fewer than four of the eight position players who took the field for Memphis on Opening Day can now be found wearing Cardinal uniforms. Outfielder Tommy Pham and shortstop Paul DeJong are playing every day for St. Louis. (DeJong is just the second player to hit 10 home runs for both the Redbirds and Cardinals in the same season. The first was Rick Ankiel in 2007.) Slugger Luke Voit is playing some first base for the Cards and delivering right-handed pop off the bench. Just last Friday, St. Louis promoted Carson Kelly, the top-ranked catching prospect in baseball. Memphis has won all four games (through Monday) since Kelly’s departure.
What has kept this team so steady, so consistently strong despite the roster fluctuation? The first place you might look is third base, where 25-year-old Patrick Wisdom — in a supporting role — has put up numbers that could earn him team MVP honors by season’s end. Through Monday, Wisdom has clubbed a team-leading 22 home runs, driven in 66 runs (also tops on the team), while hitting .251 with a .506 slugging percentage. The power numbers are already career highs for Wisdom, a 2012 supplemental draft pick of the Cardinals. (He entered this season with a career batting average of .237 and hit 14 home runs in each of two seasons at Double-A Springfield.)
Wisdom spent the 2016 season with Memphis, but missed 64 games with an injury to his left hand (broken hamate) that required surgery. He’s been healthy since spring training, though, and has focused on the same development priority of every Triple-A player from Pawtucket to Tacoma: consistency. Instead of muscle memory, though, Wisdom’s emphasis has been on the organ that controls muscle memory. “It’s being able to switch off from baseball once you leave the field,” he says. “Finding an outlet, whether it be reading, video games, hanging with the guys, a TV show. This game is so mental. Leave baseball at the field.”
Wisdom’s quick to credit Redbirds manager Stubby Clapp for instilling a don’t-quit, never-panic culture in the Memphis clubhouse. This has come in handy not just in game situations — the Redbirds are 7-0 in extra-inning contests — but in adjusting to the roster fluctuation as the Cardinals continue searching for a winning mix. “We just have an expectation to win,” says Wisdom. “Individually, we all bought into that mindset. We know what we need to do to be successful. When that comes together, you see the results. We have a lot of high-character guys in the clubhouse, and that carries over to the field. Whether we’re playing card games, or just sitting around the table, we’re laughing, having fun together. We come to the park ready to win. And we bounce back after a loss.”
Wisdom has heard stories of Clapp’s playing days in Memphis, which hasn’t hurt the rookie manager’s standing among the players he now must lead. “When he played, he played with a lot of grit, liked to get dirty on the ground,” says Wisdom with a smile. “He’s rubbed that off on us. Have fun, but play hard. He allows us to be ourselves, and that’s a big part of [our success].”
Barring a calamity of Hindenburg proportions, the Redbirds will return to the PCL playoffs in September, their first postseason venture in three years. And Wisdom offers a confident nod when asked if this team can win the franchise’s third PCL championship. “I like our team,” he stresses. “I like the way we play baseball. There’s no panic. Our pitching has kept us in games, we play solid defense, and we’ve been hitting the ball. I like our chances. It’s been a fun year.”
A native of California, Wisdom grew up rooting for the San Diego Padres and L.A. Angels. He confesses to having to do some research upon being drafted by the Cardinals. “I knew they were one of the two top franchises, along with the New York Yankees,” he says. If Wisdom continues to produce as he has in 2017, he may soon be able to continue that research in the clubhouse at Busch Stadium.