The St. Louis Cardinals (81-57) are once again in the thick of the chase for a postseason berth and a National League Central Division championship. Veterans like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, who are putting together MVP-caliber seasons, are largely to thank for that, along with one of the best defenses in baseball and a formidable pitching rotation.
The Cardinals have also gotten a spark this season from a solid core of young players. That includes Brendan Donovan, a do-it-all utility player who has found himself in the conversation for NL Rookie of the Year.
After making his major league debut on April 25, Donovan has found himself as a mainstay in the Cardinals lineup, largely due to his versatility. He’s played every defensive position except pitcher, catcher or center field, and has hit up and down the lineup, giving manager Oliver Marmol a lot of flexibility.
Even as far back as spring training, Marmol knew what kind of potential Donovan had.
“There are certain guys who are just winning players and that’s how I would describe him,” Marmol told reporters in April. “You put him anywhere and he doesn’t scare. He takes a good at-bat and he stays in there versus lefties. He’s shown us exactly what he was described as — he’s impressive.”
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After Thursday’s game, in which he went 3-for-3 with a double, Donovan is hitting .297 with three home runs, 38 runs batted in and a rookie-leading .400 on-base percentage, which trails only Goldschmidt (.416) on the Cardinals.
It’s been a whirlwind of a rookie season for him with the workload that’s been thrust upon him in the middle of a playoff race. But the 25-year-old has been able to stay focused and manage the highs and lows by getting involved with the team chapel.
Donovan was a part of Christian Day at the Ballpark in July, where he shared about the influence guys like Goldschmidt and other veterans have had on him this season. Donovan showed up to chapel shortly after he arrived in St. Louis and Goldschmidt pulled him aside to get to know him. Goldy told Donovan he was going to add him to their group text message thread.
For a rookie trying to get settled, it was important that he felt welcomed and encouraged by the veterans right away, especially when it came to his faith.
“Going through the Word, going through chapels on the road, having our own Bible studies, it was immediate,” Donovan said during Christian Day. “The minute I got here, they pulled me in, and I’ve just been hooked since. To have those mentors out on the field and in the clubhouse that have great faith is just truly a blessing.”
Goldschmidt came up with the idea before the season to break their chapel studies down month to month, where a different player each month chooses a book of the Bible for the team to study and that player gets to lead the study.
As Donovan learns how to be a big leaguer, he said these chapel studies have helped him grow as a Christian, too.
“We’re always going 100 miles an hour, and I think reading and just being where your feet are and just truly appreciating the blessings just allows you to slow down and just appreciate how many blessings He’s given us,” Donovan said.
Playing in a city like St. Louis, where winning is expected and the stadium is always packed, can be a lot for a young player to adjust to. By default, players inherit a platform and a public-figure role, especially when they’re having a rookie season like Donovan is. Some players handle that well, some don’t.
He wants to steward his position well, he said.
“All of us are given these blessings and this platform to show faith, to show what kind of people we are and how we can impact others,” Donovan said. “To have success out here, we get to use that platform and we get to promote our faith. Obviously, we want to have success out here, but people remember you for what kind of person you are, so that’s how I try to view it.”
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