11/29/06 – Written by Jessica Merrill, James Madison University Intern
David Eckstein Written by Jessica Merrill James Madison University Intern Standing at 5’7" David Eckstein wasn’t considered much of a prospect. In fact, Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times called him a "freak of nature, a second baseman forced to play shortstop, a guy with small hands and a funky throw, a castoff with a baby face and a bad hair cut." Now, the former Harrisonburg Turk joins Bucky Dent, Alan Trammell, and Derek Jeter as the fourth shortstop to win MVP of a World Series. Eckstein made the Turks roster in 1995 but left two weeks into the season due to an injury. David returned, after healing, for the following 1996 season. He batted .336, hit 6 doubles, and scored 35 runs. Now, ten years later, the two-time NL All-Star, having been a member of the 2002 Angels that defeated the Giants in seven games, ended the 2006 regular season hitting .292, with 18 doubles, and 68 runs scored. After getting off to a rocky start in the 2006 World Series, the two-time All-Star, who was waived by Boston in 2000, stood tall with a World Series MVP trophy in one hand and the keys to a brand new yellow Corvette in the other – the first car, Eckstein tells fans, "that I can call my own from the beginning." "To me," Cards manager Tony LaRussa said during an interview with Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "what separates David is his stature. He’s not especially big and especially strong, and he gets beat up. And if your bigger and stronger, maybe it still hurts, but you have a chance to deal with the blows a little more. And he is just a man of iron. I look at ways guys slide into him and the way they beat him up and everything else he does and the way he responds, I think he’s the toughest guy I’ve ever seen." Eckstein missed 24 games beginning in mid-August due to a strained side muscle, then in Game 5 of the NL Championship series hurt his shoulder while making a diving stop on a ball. Despite his many injuries and set backs, including opening 0-for-10 in the World Series, Eckstein wound up going 8-for-12. Finishing with a .364 average (8-for-22), with 3 doubles, 4 runs batted in and 3 runs scored. He was named, "the offensive catalyst of the last two games," by Barry M. Bloom, a national reporter for MLB.com. Eckstein’s bat came alive, beginning with Game 3 when he went 2-for-4. Then during the Cardinals 5-4 win over the Tigers in Game 4 Eckstein had all three of his doubles and drove in the winning run in the eighth with two outs, when his drive to left-center ticked off the glove of outfielder Craig Monroe. The clutch the Cardinals were looking for came from Eckstein in Game 5 when he batted in the first and third runs of the game, both with wingles. Finally, Eckstein scored the final run on an infield single to lift the Cardinals to a 4-2 World Series win over the Tigers in five games. "I think the No. 1 thing about Eckstein," Tigers manager Kim Leyland said to Timmermann, "is that people don’t really give him the credit for the amount of talent he has. This guy is a much more talented player than I think is the perception. I mean, this guy is very tough to strike out. He can pop a ball. They say he doesn’t have a strong arm, but everybody is always out. This guy is really a talented player." Eckstein may even be considered a role model to some. At the age of only 31 he has two World Series rings from two different teams, along with an MVP trophy and the keys to a shiny new Corvette. After the big game though, you won’t find Eckstein downing a bottle of champagne with the rest of the team in the locker room. Scott Spiezio had been Eckstein’s teammate on both title teams in St. Louis and Anaheim and once again interrupted another interview to hold out a half empty bottle of tequila. "He doesn’t drink," Spiezio said to Bloom. "It’s the second time in the history of the world. It’s tradition. He had to do it in Anaheim, too." According to Bloom, "Oblingingly, Eckstein took a long, uncomfortable swig and asked friends standing near him for a glass of water." "It’s the best feeling in the game, having the opportunity to win back in 2002, when no one predicted us to win and we got on an unbelievable roll," Eckstein said to Bloom. "And coming here (in 2005), it’s been pretty much the same type of thing the way it worked out." "No one believed in our club, but we just believed in ourselves and went out and took one day at a time. We didn’t dwell on the past and we weren’t looking towards the future. We stayed in the moment. By doing just that, there are a lot of similarities between the two clubs. And it’s just been unbelievable to be able to do it in both places."