Cardinals fans packed Lake Land’s field house to listen to St. Louis Cardinals players and broadcasters Sunday afternoon. (photo/Jeremy Arzuaga)

St. Louis Cardinals’ broadcaster Benji Molina and Cardinals’ center fielder Harrison Bader addressed the importance of development of students athletically and academically to hundreds of St. Louis Cardinals fans gathered inside the Lake Land College field house on Sunday afternoon.

Molina said children need parental support in all activities and Bader said school is more important than athletics.

Molina and Bader were part of the Cardinals’ caravan that annually makes stops across the state, including at Lake Land each year, in order to show appreciation to the organization’s fans. The Cardinals bring players, personnel and broadcasters to these events, where fans can meet, talk, ask questions – and, if 12 years old or younger, can get autographs. 

This year’s Cardinals caravan included Bader, Molina, Jason Motte, Alex Reyes, Jake Woodford, and Kodi Whitley. All have played for the organization whether in the minors or major leagues or serve in some capacity for the organization.

In a time where sport specialization and academics are stressed to the younger generation, these professionals gave their advice on these things as well as advice to their parents on how to support their children. 

“Support your kids in everything they do,” Molina said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of sports, music or whatever they like. Just support them and be out there for them and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Bader, who was a scholar-athlete growing up, emphasized the importance of school being the first priority, saying that opportunities can come from athletics and academics.

“I went to college and I was brought up to understand that school is the most important thing,” Bader said “So, obviously, take care of your grade and you get to play on that field. Play as many sports as possible, stay outdoors and have fun.”

Bader played three seasons collegiately at University of Florida before getting drafted in 2015 for the St. Louis Cardinals. Bader made his major league debut on July 25, 2017 and since has become a regular starter in the Cardinals’ outfield.

Last season, Bader hit .205, his average dropping 59 points from the year before. He was a finalist for a Gold Glove in center field in 2019.

Although he has only played two seasons at the major-league level, Bader, working his fourth caravan, knows this event is important to fans.

“Every single time I go on these things, I just get so excited to meet everyone and all of the different faces and the energy,” Bader said. “It means the world, and it just goes to show how much we really are supported in these areas. Just to share this love and everything is awesome.”

Motte began his career as a catcher in the minor-league system for the Cardinals but converted into a pitcher. Motte later played seven seasons for the Cardinals, including the 2011 World Series where Motte took the closer’s role and closed out Game 7 for the championship.

“I’ve played for a couple different organizations in my career, but being able to win a World Series here in St. Louis was pretty awesome,” Motte said. “That’s kinda what you do in sports: You wanna go out and win those championships. So St. Louis will always have a special place in my heart. Being able to come out and see the Cardinal fans (who were) so great to me on the field and off the field. (It) is always good to go back around and see them, say hi, sign some autographs and see some people all over the country.”

The Cardinals Caravan changes its players, personnel, organization members and people who travel with the team every year. So, next year’s event at the field house will look different in that aspect, but it will remain the same when it comes to the Coles County community showing its admiration for the Cardinals.