The Future is Now Thwock. Thwock. Thwock. The future of the St. Louis Cardinals is taking batting practice.

He doesn't hit mammoth homeruns, dropping bombs all over downtown Memphis. Nobody stands in awe as he laces horsehide-covered missiles. There are no oohs, no ahs. He just hits. Thwock. Line drive over second base. Thwock. Base hit over third. Thwock. Deep fly ball to right. He even hits a few pop-ups. But there is still something about the player, the kid, the future. Something in that easy left-handed swing of his that leads a reporter to remark on the talent standing in the batter's box, two-and-a-half hours before a game against the Salt Lake City Bees. "That kid can rake," a Memphis Redbirds intern replies. Drafted twenty-eighth overall in the 2005 Major League Baseball draft, Colby Rasmus appears to be headed for superstardom for the St. Louis Cardinals, and many think that time could be this year. Rasmus was one of the last players cut from the Cardinals' major league spring training camp, and has shown the raw talent necessary to get things done at the big-league level. The 2005 draft class already has the potential to go down as one of--if not the--best in the history of baseball. Five of the first seven picks are already starters for their major league clubs: Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks, Alex Gordon of the Royals, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies. This does not count Jacoby Ellsbury (23 overall) who lit the world on fire as a September call-up for the world-champion Red Sox last year, or his teammate Clay Buchholz (42 overall), who threw a no-hitter in just his

second major-league start. Rasmus has a chance to join them and become the first position player selected with the Cardinals' first overall pick to make his big-league debut with the team since J.D. Drew hit St. Louis as a 22-year-old in 1998. "I'd love to be (in St. Louis)," Rasmus says. "I just have to wait on the Cardinals to feel like I'm ready." It may not be that simple. The Cardinals, surprisingly successful in the early stages of the 2008 season, have a glut of young outfielders, none of whom are worthy of a demotion. Pitcherturned-centerfielder Rick Ankiel has continued his Roy-Hobbes-like resurgence, and Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick and Brian Barton have all earned their stay on the big league roster. "Ultimately, the Cardinals make those decisions," Rasmus says, referring to who will be called up and who will be sent down. "If I made those decisions, everybody would be up, all the time." The fact remains, however, that a lot of people expect Rasmus to make the trek up I-55 to St. Louis sometime this season. The fact also remains that Rasmus is all of 21 years old. Born Aug. 11, 1986, Rasmus has been around baseball all his life. His father, Tony Rasmus, played professionally in the mid '80s, reaching low-A ball in the California Angels' organization. "My dad played pro ball, so I've been playing since I could play," Rasmus says. "I started playing year-round when I was 8 or 9, and I've been playing ever since." After his playing career ended, Tony turned to coaching, standing at the helm of every team Colby played for up through high school. It was in high school that Colby began to realize

that a professional baseball field was in his future. "I guess probably my junior year was when I thought I had a chance to get drafted and maybe play in the big leagues," Rasmus says. "But people still said I was too small, too skinny." That summer Rasmus attended a high-profile showcase for high school baseball players in Florida, and was named MVP. After that, skinny or not, Rasmus had caught the attention of scouts on every level. "I played that whole summer, then played in the fall," he says. "I had a bunch of colleges talking to me in the fall." After that superb junior year, Rasmus followed it up with an even better senior season. He posted the video-game stat line of a .484 batting average, 24 home runs and 66 RBI, leading the Russell County High School (Ala.) Warriors to a state championship and no. 1 ranking in both the National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll and the USA Today Super 25. That senior year only served to solidify his standing as an elite prospect, and by then the question was not "if" he would be drafted, but "when." "I went to a bunch of teams' workouts that had close to the same pick," Rasmus says. "The Marlins said they might take me at 27, other teams at 29 or 30, so I thought it might be somewhere around there, but I wasn't for sure." The Cardinals held the twenty-eighth pick, and after Joey Devine, a pitcher from North Carolina State University, was selected, Rasmus's life changed forever. "The first call I got was from my scout," he says, smiling at the memory. "It was an unbelievable feeling. Words can't describe it." Rasmus had just been drafted into the most successful National League franchise in baseball history, with 10 World Series titles, 21 National League pennants and 26 playoff

appearances to its credit. The Cardinals had just come off an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 World Series after posting a Major-League-best 105 wins in the regular season. In 2005, St. Louis again hit triple digits in wins, posting an even 100, before falling to the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series in six games. After being drafted in June, Rasmus spent the remainder of that year in rookie ball, with the Johnson City (Tenn.) Cardinals. He was successful at the plate in his first professional season, appearing in 62 games, posting a .296 batting average in 216 at-bats. The Cardinals kept their young phenom moving in the system; Rasmus never spent more than a year at any one stop. From Johnson City it was half a year with the Swing of Quad Cities in low-A ball where he hit .310 with 11 homeruns and 50 RBI, and another half with the Palm Beach Cardinals of the high-A Florida State League (.254/5/35). In 2007 his offense picked back up with the double-A Springfield Cardinals, Rasmus's first full year at any level in the minor leagues. In Springfield he hit .275 with 29 homeruns and 72 runs driven in, numbers worthy of a non-roster invitation to the Cardinals' major-league spring training. The centerfield spot appeared ripe for the taking, as new Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak had traded perennial Gold Glover Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres in the offseason. Rasmus came in to camp and forced Cardinal front office personnel to consider him for the St. Louis opening day roster, hitting .273 and playing excellent defense while in major league camp. However, on March 17, the Cardinals, saying they did not want to rush the development of their prize prospect, sent the kid down. Which is how he finds himself here. "Here" is Memphis. Home of the blues, Elvis and, for now at least, the

future of the St. Louis Cardinals. While here, he's not Colby Rasmus, future AllStar. He's just another kid, trying to make it. "He's a really good teammate," says Memphis Redbirds manager Chris Maloney. "He's a good ballplayer with lots of talent." Maloney, like most managers, is not one to gush praise on any particular player. "He's 21 years old, this is his first year at triple-A. He just needs time for his whole game to sharpen up." At the core of it all, Rasmus is just a kid playing a kid's game. Before batting practice one could find him at a table in the corner of the clubhouse, amidst the just-too-loud-to-becomfortable music, dirty laundry and general chaos of a baseball locker room. A muted television hanging from the ceiling shows "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," suitable pre-game entertainment for one of baseball's top five prospects. Wearing baseball pants, socks and a Redbirds undershirt, Rasmus munches a frozen pizza, washing it down with iced tea out of a can. When congratulated on a two-for-four game with two homeruns the previous night, Rasmus, wearing a .210 batting average so far this year, chuckles and rolls his eyes in self-frustration. "Everybody gets lucky sometimes." True, but a lucky person's homerun doesn't ricochet off a building behind the outfield wall, some 440 feet away from the plate. To the opposite field. For a player widely regarded as the best Cardinals prospect in at least 10 years, Rasmus is humble about his chances in St. Louis. "I just go out and play every day, be the best player I can be," he says. "Ratings don't mean anything. You still have to hit the ball, run balls down. I don't look at anything like (ratings)." That is not to say he isn't eager to make it Busch Stadium.

"I'm still young. There are a lot of guys older than me in this league," he says. "But I just want to get (to St. Louis) as soon as I can." Suddenly a clubhouse attendant pops his head around the corner. "Colby, what time do you have to be on the field?" Rasmus instantly takes on the look that every athlete knows all too well: panicked at the thought of missing a deadline. "What time is it? Pitcher's stretch at 3:45. When's position stretch?" Rasmus asks, his pizza, iced tea and Fresh Prince all forgotten. The attendant checks a clock, then the schedule on the wall. "It's 3:50. Position stretch at 4." Rasmus nods in relief, gives a thumbs up. "We're good," he says. Ten minutes later, the future is trotting up the dugout steps, bat in hand, for his first round of BP. The world is all green grass, blue sky and staccato crack of heaven itself, white ash on hardball. Rasmus leans on the batting cage, laughing at the probably off-color humor that ballplayers are so good at. After his first round at the plate, he cracks his bat. Standing near the on-deck circle, his right leg bent at a 90-degree angle at the knee, he offers up a primal scream and breaks the bat in two over his thigh. His teammates laugh at his antics, and he ambles over to the dugout, where a Redbirds publicity worker is sitting, taking in the American tableau known as batting practice. "Hey, do you want to take this so they can sell it? They used to sell this stuff in Springfield all the time," Rasmus asks. The attendant doesn't know the standard fate of splintered sticks at AutoZone Park. "Well, maybe you can just give it a little kid or something," Rasmus says, before turning

and jogging back through the dugout, his cleats cracking and scraping on the concrete floor. Eyes closed, it sounds like a high school game again, kids playing a kid's game. Which, of course, is exactly what Rasmus is. Soon it is Rasmus's turn in the cage again. He squares, drops down the standard two bunts. At this moment, he's not Colby Rasmus, future superstar. He's not Colby Rasmus, future centefielder of the St. Louis Cardinals. He's not even Colby Rasmus, former Russell County High School Warrior. He's just Colby Rasmus, ballplayer. Finally, it's time for him to swing away. Thwock. Line drive in the gap. Thwock. Hard-hit ground ball through the infield. Colby Rasmus, ballplayer, just going to work. Thwock. Making his way to St. Louis. Thwock. One swing at a time.

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