Memories of Place, Practice & Championships:
Mike Shannon and DeAnna Price
July 26, 2021
Sometimes it seems like much of deep southern Illinois is an extended suburb of St. Louis MO.
Many residents of southern Illinois claim to be more ardent fans of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team than those who root for the Redbirds from the west side of the Mississippi River.
But it is probably most accurate
to say that residents of southern Illinois towns such as Germantown,
and Brighton (birthplaces of Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, and Jason
Isringhausen, respectively) along with hundreds of thousands of other
Illinoisans, are ‘tied for first’ with residents of St. Louis city
of both Mike Shannon and Bernard Gilkey) as far as Cardinal loyalty is
Most southern Illinois families know than the St. Louis metropolitan area has more to offer than Cardinals baseball.
For example, it is a virtual certainty that substantial numbers of youngsters (and their parents) residing in Randolph, Perry, Franklin, Williamson, Johnson and Union Counties (all of which surround Jackson County) and Jackson County itself (home of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) have visited the St. Louis Zoo at least once in their lifetimes.
The St. Louis Zoo is located within Forest Park, which for anyone who is interested, compares with large city parks located in Chicago (Lincoln Park), New York (Central Park) and San Francisco (Golden Gate Park).
But you are reading St. Louis Sports Online…
Every time I drive by St. Louis’ Forest Park, and
Louis Zoo, I think of Mike Shannon and a story that, in the early
shared with yours truly.
Mike Shannon is currently in his 50th year as Cardinals broadcaster, and prior to his broadcasting career, he appeared in three (3!) World Series as a Cardinal player (1964, 1967 and 1968).
A St. Louis native, Mike Shannon has been, in the minds of many, the face and/or voice of the Cardinals, but especially during the lifespan of Busch Stadium II, first as a player and then as a broadcaster…for decades.
Several years ago, a few feet outside of the Cardinals’ spring training clubhouse in Jupiter FL, I had a chance to speak with Shannon.
Dressed in all black, he was wearing his game face when I asked him about the Cardinals’ trade for Roger Maris, who on December 8, 1966, was acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Charlie Smith.
Listening to Shannon’s answer, his admiration for Maris and Maris’ mental approach to the game of baseball was obvious. It almost seemed as though Roger Maris, in his brief two-year stay in St. Louis, became Shannon’s favorite teammate.
But what I really wanted to hear Shannon talk about was what he was asked to do as a result of the Cardinals’ acquisition of Maris—who in 1463 MLB games never made an appearance as an infielder.
Heading into the 1967 season (Maris’ first season in STL), the Cardinals were set in both left field (Lou Brock) and center field (Curt Flood), leaving right field as Maris’ likely position as a Cardinal.
In 1966, Mike Shannon was the Cardinals’ primary right fielder, starting 109 games at the position. But when Roger Maris became a Cardinal, Shannon drew the short straw and was expected to switch positions: to third base.
In 1967, as a result of the acquisition of Maris, Shannon was the Cardinals’ primary third baseman, starting 120 games at the position.
By making room for Roger Maris, Mike Shannon's move to third base was widely credited as an important part of the Cardinals World Series championship in 1967, and a National League pennant in 1968 (155 starts at 3B).
So I asked Shannon about the move to third base. When and how did he begin learning to play the position?
Shannon said that, prior to spring training 1967, he began practicing for third base during a handful of the warmer days of the ’66-’67 offseason, by taking ground balls at an easy-on easy-off baseball diamond available at that time of year: a skinned infield at St. Louis’ Forest Park!
And the Cards staffer hitting the ground balls to Shannon? Cards manager Red Schoendiest! What a cool thought…
That’s why, for this occasional St. Louis visitor, Mike Shannon, already a big leaguer, practicing and learning to play third base, comes to mind when driving past Forest Park.=====
There is another sports-related location renting space in my head these days: the Connie Price-Smith Throws Area on the Southern Illinois University campus in Carbondale.
Southern Illinois is the home of two-time Olympian DeAnna Price, the Moscow Mills MO native and 2019 World Champion women’s hammer thrower who, after qualifying for the 2016 Rio de Janiero Summer Olympics, has also qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
On June 28, 2021, Price qualified for Tokyo when, at the US Olympic Team trials held in Eugene OR, she heaved the 4-kg ball-and-chain 80.31 meters.
With this throw, she became only the second woman to ever throw the hammer more than 80 meters, and by doing so made herself a favorite to medal at Tokyo.
DeAnna Price began her college career as a track-and-field athlete in 2011, when she enrolled at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Two years later, the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex and the Connie Price-Smith Throws Area were dedicated on the SIUC campus at their respective locations just beyond the outfield wall of SIU baseball’s Abe Martin Field.
The track’s surface at the Hartzog complex is easy on the knees, so yours truly regularly runs laps ever-so-slowly there…and more times than not, especially during the 2016 and 2021 summers, the adjacent Price-Smith throws area is where Price and her husband (and SIU throws coach) J.C. Lambert are found, usually by themselves.Practicing.
Maybe once or twice a year, we exchange waves. Nothing more—they are practicing.
But prior to the 2016 Rio games, I asked Price to appear as a guest (via telephone) on my radio show. While her drive and determination came through loud and clear during the interview, it is impossible to describe DeAnna Price the hammer thrower without talking about DeAnna Price the person: her small-town Midwest-friendly personality and genuine charm brings a smile to the faces of even the most jaded among us.
All of these things come to mind when I visit the
Hartzog track, adjacent to the Price-Smith Throws Area, where DeAnna
Price logged hours upon hours of practice required for her to reach
Olympic-sized heights, that the Moscow Mills MO native probably never
Three hundred or so fans and supporters were in attendance, lining up (some with signs, most cheering) on both sides of the north-south aisle in the parking lot that terminates in a loop that circles the fountain in front of the Arena’s lower-level (i.e. old) entrance.
With Price in the passenger seat, Lambert drove north to the loop, and then back south before leaving campus; the crowd was boisterous and the ‘DeAnna Smile’ was evident for all to see.
In the minds of many in attendance at the send-off, DeAnna Price has already won.
But she can win even more.
The women’s Hammer Throw at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to commence on August 1.
To be continued...
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