This is a story about baseball and about family, and perhaps even about Christmas. It is a story about a beginning rushing far too quickly at an ending, and also one about heart. They know about this story in St. Louis now, for sure, one of the capitals of the game. They know about the story in Oakland. But in the December of Stanton and Ohtani, everybody should know about Stephen Piscotty, who goes from the Cardinals to the A's now. Who goes home.
Piscotty is 26 and an outfielder and comes out of northern California, Pleasanton, and went to Stanford and has played three years now in the big leagues. He hit .305 in 2015 and then played 153 games for the Cardinals the next season and hit .273. There were injuries last season, limiting him to 107 games, and he ended up hitting .235. And maybe there were other reasons for that besides injuries caused by diving for balls in the outfield and getting hit in the elbow. Piscotty played most of the year knowing that his mother, Gretchen, had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. ALS. Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease upon which the great Pete Frates, my Boston College friend, helped shine such a tremendous light with the Ice Bucket Challenge.
"I've actually done the Ice Bucket Challenge twice," John Mozeliak, the Cardinals' president of baseball operations, was saying on Friday morning. "Did it most recently at an ALS event in St. Louis." Mozeliak, in fact, knows all about the Boston College connection to ALS and the money that has been raised for ALS research by the Ice Bucket Challenge because one of his children attends the school.
"It's an odd way," he said on Friday, "for this whole thing to come full circle."
This was at the end of a Winter Meetings week when Mozeliak traded Stephen Piscotty to the A's, the same week when the Cardinals made one of the big moves of the Meetings by acquiring Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. So Piscotty had become expendable. There were several trade options for Mozeliak. In the end he chose the A's. He did not solely do that for reasons of the heart, or family, or even because it really is the right season for a story like this. But try telling that to Piscotty and his own family, and his mother Gretchen most of all. This was something you would expect Mozeliak and the Cardinals to do. You just would.
"We had options," Mozeliak said. "We could have moved him in several different directions. But ultimately we knew that if the offers were even close, we wanted to get him as close to home as possible. Oakland, I have to say, was aggressive all along. And in the end, we couldn't be happier about the way things turned out."
He got a couple of Minor Leaguers in the deal, Mozeliak did, in Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock. And when the trade was completed, this is what Gretchen Piscotty said from Pleasanton, Calif., to Jon Becker of the San Jose Mercury-News:
"I guess I would say it was bittersweet. I wasn't 100 percent sure how to feel about it. The Cardinals have been really good to Stephen and good to us. We made a lot of friends there. I feel like one of the luckiest people to have been able to experience their hospitality. I still have immense gratitude that they drafted Stephen back in June 2012.
"But then my phone just blew up with congratulations that he was coming home. I thought about how it will be easier for all of our friends and family to come see him play. (And) it will be nice to not have to fly on a plane to go see him play. It will be nice to have him around and closer to home."
Finally she said, "I guess it's a good thing."
We spent much of the past couple of weeks obsessing as baseball fans, and rightly so, about the nearly $300 million left on Giancarlo Stanton's contract, and about all of Shohei Ohtani's two-way possibilities with the Angels, at least before we found out that there was damage to the ligament in his pitching elbow. But then it turned out that there was no better story worth knowing about than one about an outfielder from the Cardinals working on a six-year contract worth $33 million and change.
Mozeliak used the same word -- bittersweet -- that Gretchen Piscotty did to describe his emotions about this trade.
"Stephen so enjoyed his time with the Cardinals," Mozeliak said. "He embraced so many of the things that we hope our young players will embrace in our organization as they make their way up through the system: Hard work and diligence and a thoughtful approach to our game. So I think it really is a bittersweet moment for him and for all of us that he won't continue to be a part of this."
Then Mozeliak said: "But at this point in his life, Gretchen has more meaning to him than just baseball."
So it is the same for Gretchen Piscotty, now in a wheelchair after being diagnosed last spring, knowing what all others afflicted with this disease know: It is, as someone once described the process to me, as if they jumped off a cliff, all of them knowing what the bottom will be like, just not knowing how long it will take to get there.
Mike Gambino, who coached Pete Frates when Frates was still a baseball star at Boston College, once said, "The most inspiring thing I've ever seen in my life is the kind of strength (Frates) has shown as his body has gotten weaker."
The world came to know about Frates' strength and his courage because of the Ice Bucket Challenge. There has been a book written about him. There will eventually be a movie. Now we learn about Gretchen Piscotty, her strength, her family's, her son's.
"Sometimes," Mozeliak said, "things work out the way they're supposed to."
Stephen Piscotty is with the A's now. It is a bittersweet story, in so many ways. But it is one that will do in baseball this December. He goes home for Christmas.