ST. LOUIS — Growing up 30 miles outside of St. Louis, religiously watching every Cardinals game either in the stands or in front of the TV, Jake Odorizzi had the same dream as thousands of other young Midwestern boys: to someday play baseball at Busch Stadium.
And tonight he will, starting for the Rays against those Cardinals.
"I think everybody else was thinking the exact same thing," Odorizzi said. "I'm just lucky I had the opportunity and that I'm able to do it. I wanted it, and it's come true."
Odorizzi was thrilled last month when he got to face the Cardinals at the Trop, matching up — and pretty well — with St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright and the next day getting to talk with manager Mike Matheny, both of whom he grew up watching.
And now his turn has come up again during this two-game series, where he not only will pitch against Wainwright but get to bat against him.
"It all worked out for the best, I guess," Odorizzi said. "At least I'll have an opportunity to throw there and we'll see how everything goes."
The game is also a big deal for Odorizzi's family and friends, including his grandparents, as he said anywhere from 150 to 500 will be on hand tonight, many making the short drive from Highland, Ill.
"There's going to be a lot of people," Odorizzi said. "That's the closest I'm ever going to get … so they're not going to miss it."
Odorizzi used the excitement of the first meeting with the Cardinals as motivation and pitched extremely well. As a result, he claims nerves won't be an issue tonight.
"If I wouldn't have faced them I would say yes, but since I saw them in Tampa (Bay) it's kind of like getting it out of the way early," he said. "Now I'm fine, ready to go. It will be special just going out there, but once I get focused and locked in it will be 60 feet, 6 inches (from mound to plate like anywhere else)."
The Odorizzi clan will have company, as INF/OF Ben Zobrist has chartered two buses to bring his 90-plus relatives down from Eureka, Ill.
PITCHING IN: The Rays were considering placing RHP Joel Peralta on the disabled list as he deals with the tiredness and achiness from the chikungunya virus, which he believes he contracted when bitten by a mosquito during the All-Star break in the Dominican Republic. Relievers who could be called up from Triple A include RHPs Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke (who would have to be added to the 40-man roster) and LHPs Jeff Beliveau and C.J. Riefenhauser.
ALL-STAR MEMORIES: The visit to Busch Stadium will bring back good memories for manager Joe Maddon and his staff because their last visit was for the 2009 All-Star Game, following the '08 World Series run. Also for Zobrist, who caught the final out in that All-Star Game.
MISCELLANY: Maddon said they will soon sort out the weekend rotation, and where RHP Jeremy Hellickson will slot in. … Model/actress Kim DeJesus, the wife of injured Rays OF David, will be on tonight's Sullivan and Son show on TBS at 10. … New Port Richey's Gavin Lambert, the 8-year-old who won the courage award at the recent Sneaker Soiree for being active in sports despite a rare neuromuscular disease, will be Maddon's guest at Friday's game. … Charlie Montoyo won his 614th game Monday, surpassing Bill Evers as the winningest manager in Durham Bulls history.
. UP NEXT
What's new: Since the loss of All-Star C Yadier Molina to injury, the big question about the Cardinals is whether to seek to improve an offense that ranks 29th in runs and homers or focus on an injury-depleted rotation, with Rays ace LHP David Price an option. Despite those woes, they have 54 wins, second most in the NL. 1B Matt Adams and SS Jhonny Peralta provide what power they do have, but OF Matt Holliday is their biggest threat. RHP Trevor Rosenthal anchors a powerful bullpen.
Key stat: Holliday leads the majors with 14 game-winning RBIs and is third with a .367 average with runners in scoring position.
Connections: Cards LHP Randy Choate is an ex-Ray, 2B Kolten Wong older brother of Rays prospect Kean, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist a Sarasota High product. OF Shane Robinson, a Tampa Jesuit product, is in the minors. Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi is a native of nearby Highland, Ill., C Jose Molina the older brother of Yadier.
Series history: Split two games this season. Cards lead 7-4 overall, 2-1 in St. Louis.
Marc Topkin, Times staff writer