A Redbird to
by Editor Rick
ome pro ballplayers would give anything to have what St. Louis utilityman Daniel Descalso has
earned: a World Series ring (2011) and another visit to the Fall Classic (2013).
Plus, this season he started the front end of a triple play and pitched one-third of an inning. Not
many can make that claim.
Right about now, Descalso—the former UC Davis Aggies star— would simply love to have consistent
playing time at any of the three infield positions he has logged during his four-year career with
But he’s realistic about his current situation with St. Louis: a bench player that gets an
occasional start, defensive replacement or pinch-hit opportunity. In 2011, his rookie season,
Descalso played in all but a dozen games, most of them at third base, had 326 at bats and posted a
respectable .264 average.
He played in that year’s World Series, going two-for-two in one of the most thrilling Game 6’s of
all time as the Cardinals were down to their last strike when David Freese tripled in two runs, and
later won the game in the bottom of the 11th with a home run.
In Game 7, Descalso substituted for Freese at third base in the ninth inning when the Cardinals
clinched their 11th Fall Classic, second most in major league history to the New York Yankees 27
Despite starting at shortstop three times in the 2013 World Series (won by the Red Sox), and
garnering a new $1.29 million contract, when Descalso reported to camp this spring the Cardinals
brought in shortstop Johnny Peralta and journeyman second baseman Mark Ellis. The handwriting was
on the clubhouse wall: Descalso’s future with St. would be as a bench player.
The Cardinals know well that Daniel Descalso is the quintessential “team player” who accepts his
role without incident and always comes to the ballpark ready to play—whatever the situation or
position. “As a bench player when you do get an opportunity you’ve got to be prepared to go out
there and help the team win, he says in the visitor’s dugout at AT&T Park during the Cardinals
recent series in San Francisco. “Whether that’s getting a hit, getting on base, making a defensive
play, or moving a runner over.”
From the bench, Descalso tries to think along with the two managers, staying a step or two ahead of
the game situation, knowing his name might be called at any time. “Just try to watch the game and
get into the flow, and not just sit here and be a spectator. I try to figure out how I may factor
in to the game that night. Whether it’s going in on defense, or being ready for any situation that
may come up
Rick Hummel, longtime columnist and Cardinals sports reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the acquisition of Peralta and
Ellis, and the promotion of second baseman rookie Kolten Wong, left Descalso the odd man out for
starting time at either of the keystone positions. Hummel, elected to the writer’s wing of the
National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, noted that Descalso failed to secure a permanent position
during his four years with St. Louis. The veteran sportswriter points to St. Louis’ woeful
offensive production in 2014 as an opportunity for a strong hitter to insert himself somewhere in
the lineup. “But it’s hard to be a good player, when you don’t play. It’s almost impossible to be
successful when you’re coming off the bench,” Hummel said from the AT&T Park pressbox. “It’s a
Ryan Royster, Descalso’s college teammate and current player agent for California Sports
Management, observes that Dan is imbued with personality strengths that enable him to handle the
situation. “He’s a (UC) Davis kid, too;
not only intelligent, he’s emotionally mature.”
Cardinals outfielder John Jay, who broke in the big leagues in 2010 with Descalso, says his friend
and teammate is “a total player that you need on a winning ballclub. Whenever he gets in there,
he’s going do something, that may not make the box score, but is going to help win the game:
defensively or getting a big hit or extending an inning.”
For instance on June 25 in Colorado, Descalso pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot in the 8th inning
with St. Louis losing 6-5. He hit a bloop double down the left field line that ignited a two-run
rally in the Cardinals 9-6 victory over the Rockies. He’s hitting .304 in close or late game
situations, and has a team-high five pinch hits. His three pinch hit doubles are tied for second in
Despite those accomplishments, Descalso’s batting average is less than .200 (.179 as of this
writing). On a club starving for offense, a return to the starting lineup is unlikely any time
As Post-Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz noted in his July 3 column, the Cardinals are at or near the
bottom in the major leagues in runs scored, slugging and home runs (Peralta leads the team with
Meanwhile, Descalso keeps slogging.
~ ~ ~
The San Carlos native is the oldest of a six children. He starred at powerhouse St. Francis High as
a three-year pitcher and infielder. Each fall, school alumnus and former major leaguer Eric Byrnes
thrilled Descalso and his high school teammates by working out with the team. Descalso followed in
Byrnes’ footsteps, earning All-Central Coast honors two years. But only UC Davis offered him a
scholarship and promised an opportunity to start his freshman season. That coupled with the
competition of the Big West lured Descalso to the little oasis in the Central Valley.
Starting as a freshman at third base, Descalso put up some of the best all-around numbers in the
history of the program as his .397 batting average (2007), 92 hits and 22 doubles rank second
“That helped me a lot, playing every day as a freshman in the Big West, playing against Cal State
Fullerton, Long Beach State and Cal Poly. It really helped me take that step to the next level.
Couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”
Daniel Descalso batting at
In a UC Davis alumni magazine article, former head coach Rex Peters said Desalsco’s intangibles set
him apart from other Aggies’ players. “
He has tools, but he’s not more physically gifted than a lot of players at this level,” Peters told
Aggies media relations’ Mark Honbo. “He just had a determination and desire to be good, and he was
probably one of the most competitive players that I’ve had the privilege of coaching.”
Descalso was named to the American Baseball Coaches Association All-West Region First Team, and
selected by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 amateur draft, the highest ever for an
Aggies, which has fielded baseball teams since 1910.
~ ~ ~
Picked by one of the most pretigious ballclubs in baseball history, Descalso soon learned it came
added pressure and responsibility.
“There’s an expectation to win here,” he says. “They make that very clear from the time you come
into the organization. We’re here to make the playoffs and go far in October.”
When Descalso was brought up to the big club in September 2010, he played alongside Albert Pujols
and for manager Tony LaRussa, who is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.
After La Russa led the Cardinals to their 2011 World Series win and announced his retirement that
fall, St. Louis handed the reins to Mike Matheny, the former Gold Glove catcher for the Cardinals
“(Mike’s) passion and
intensity in the dugout is like when he was playing,” Descalso says. “He’s been a great
transition for those of us leftover from the LaRussa squad.”
On May 12, when the
Cardinals used up all the available arms in their bullpen in a 17-5 beatdown to the Cubs,
Matheny summoned Descalso to the mound in the ninth inning. The former high school pitcher
tossed two pitches and retired the hitter on a long flyout. “I didn’t want to hit anybody, or
walk anybody,” Descalso says, not exactly relishing the moment. Although he kept a photograph
commemorating his one performance on the mound in the majors.
When the Cardinals came to San Francisco this week for a three-game series, Descalso was penciled
in at shortstop against the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, fresh off his second career no-hitter. Despite
going 0-for-3, Descalso says he always enjoys returning to San Francisco, where he resides with his
new bride and high school sweetheart Julia, and playing at the fabulous AT&T Park by the Bay.
always fun coming back and sleeping in my own bed and playing in the ballpark I used to come when I
was younger,” he says.
Growing up, Dan was an A’s
fan as the Descalso family owned season tickets in Oakland. But his parents once won an auction
prize that enabled young Dan to be the Giants batboy for a day. Barry Bonds hit a home run in
“Despite it being windy and
cold a lot, the atmosphere here at AT&T is great,” Descalso notes. “To sit up in the stands
is one thing, but to actually be out there playing and experience it is even better.”
It’s a dream come true for
the kid who grew up down the Peninsula, played for UC Davis, and has carved out a unique role
with the World Series champion, St. Louis Cardinals.
Doesn’t get much better