Jupiter, Fla.- The beginning of the season always has a lot of promise. Talented prospects, fresh starts and new season of optimism filled the air. For the Palm Beach Cardinals it was a roster bolstered by the 2011 Midwest League Champions, so their sights were set on a Florida State League Crown.
The first half of the season was washed away, as the St. Lucie Mets ran away with the first half crown, posting a remarkable 49-19 mark. The Mets play in the first half took everyone by storm as they teetered on the .800 winning percentage marker, while bolstering a league high eight Florida State League All Stars.
Despite the Mets fast start, it did not deter the Cardinals coaching staff, "We knew they would come down to earth," said Palm Beach Cardinals Manager Johnny Rodriguez. "The great thing about this league is everyone is pretty equal, so all the little breaks that they were getting would even themselves out."
After starting the second half of the season on the wrong side of a 1-5 record, the Cardinals went on a run in the month of July, winning a season-high 14 games. Their 20-20 record put them within striking distance of the first place Bradenton Marauders.
The Cardinals took advantage on August 3rd, as they beat the Marauders to take sole possession of first place in second half standings of the South Division for the first time in the 2012
Their place on top did not last very long, as the Cardinals went through a cold stretch, dropping 10 of 12 games and falling out of first and down to fifth in the division.
However, the Cardinals remained on the grind, winning eight of ten games to get within four games of the Jupiter Hammerheads. With the Cardinals needing a big weekday series sweep against the Stone Crabs, the pitching staff showed its grit, dominating the Tampa Bay affiliate for an easy 3-0 sweep.
On August 29th, Chris Corrigan joined the record books, as he tossed the first complete game in franchise history. The 94-pitch performance kept the Cardinals in the hunt until the Hammerheads clinched the South Division crown later that night.
The Cardinals would end the season on the wrong side of a 3-1 series finale against Jupiter, but all was not lost amongst the players. Despite being knocked out of the playoff race the night before the series began, the Cardinals fought into the end, finishing the season 64-72.
The Cardinals would take a few honors home, as Mike O'Neill won the first FSL batting title for the Palm Beach Cardinals, while Ryan Sherriff finished third in wins despite spending the first 2 ½ months in extended spring training.
On the mound, the Beach Birds combined for 3.71 ERA, ranking four in the league, while finishing eight in hitting with a .253 combined team batting average.
Multiple players were awarded through out the ranks, as Seth Maness (April) and Ryan Sherriff (June) won St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Pitchers of the Month Awards for their respective months. While Mike O'Neill captured the St. Louis Minor League Player of the Month award for July and August.
All in all, it was a pretty solid season for individual players. Outfielder Alan Ahmady, through High-A and Double-A, finished the season with a career-high in batting average (.292), home runs (5) and RBI (46).Drew Benes and Chris Corrigan became starters and finished the year with career-highs in wins. Benes picked up six victories, while Corrigan tallied four. Catcher Luis De La Cruz, known for his work behind the plate, was solid at the plate, hitting .302 with one home run and 16 RBI.
Dean Kiekhefer paced the bullpen, as he set a career-high with 14 saves this season, while Zach Russsell, former starter, tallied six saves in the last month of the season. Iden Nazario and Aidan Lucas were valuable cogs as set up men, racking up 11 and 10 holds respectively.
Starlin Rodriguez and Ryan Sherriff had banner years. Rodriguez completed the season hitting .300 with eight home runs, 58 RBI and 16 stolen bases. The second basemen finished the season as an FSL All-Star, while competing in the FSL All-Star game in June. Sherriff on the other hand was the biggest surprise. Filling in as a spot starter on a Sunday evening, Sherriff took off for a monster year. He would go 10-3 with 3.25 ERA and messily 1.02 WHIP. During the stretch run, Sherriff became the staff Ace, even though he started the season in extended.
The Cardinals did not have the success as some of its players, but the progression of theses future Red Birds was something special to watch.