ST. LOUIS — The call Stephen Piscotty made soon after learning of his trade to Oakland, to the Athletics, to his boyhood team, was to his parents.
“They were,” he said, “shocked.”
Their son was coming home.
Their son was needed at home.
As part of a series of moves at the 2017 winter meetings, the Cardinals recast their outfield, and in the process found a way to make a trade inspired as much by helping a player as it was acquiring players. The arrival of Marcell Ozuna meant that the Cardinals could trade a corner outfielder, and with Oakland interested in Piscotty it gave them a chance to send him home, to give him time with his ailing mother. Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, had been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and the trade allowed him to play nearby and live right by her for the final months of her life.
“The trade meant the world,” Piscotty said Tuesday before his first game back at Busch Stadium since leaving the Cardinals. “Going through what we went through as a family, I couldn’t imagine being 2,000 miles away from that. I felt like the trade in and of itself was unique. Hopefully, (it) sets a precedent for the future. You don’t hope for these things to happen, but if they do maybe teams can weigh that into consideration. I felt incredibly grateful to both organizations. It just meant the world to me and my family, especially my mom.”
Piscotty is a newlywed, married this past January, and his family joined him on the trip to St. Louis, his first home in the majors. He and several of his Oakland teammates went across the river to play golf Monday and for dinner he went with family to Peacemaker Lobster & Crab on Sidney Street. The cherry on top of his off-day likely was just that – a cherry on top of a concrete at Ted Drewe’s. His family wanted to come along, he explained, because “it’s kind of their old stomping grounds, too.” And it was going to be his home for years to come.
During the opening home series in 2017, Piscotty and the Cardinals agreed on a six-year, $33.5-million extension – the largest contract ever signed at the time by a Stanford-bred hitter. The contract had an option for 2023, and that option even allowed for a $500,000 bump for every one of his potential All-Star selections. It was a long-term commitment by the Cardinals to their right fielder – and in exchange Piscotty gave them six guaranteed years without a salary greater than $7.25 million. This was, he said, where he intended to stay. During that season, when his mother was diagnosed with ALS, he took a brief leave from the Cardinals and described how he watched the games, his team’s games, with his mother on television. He would talk about how hard it was to be away from her.
That contract went with him to Oakland – where he can call home … home.
“It’s just really interesting how things can unfold,” he said. “I’m very happy. If there was any other team to get traded to that would have been at the top of the list. … I did sign the long-term deal to be here, and obviously things change. It was the best-case scenario for me.”
Piscotty, 28, had a breakout year in his first summer with the A’s, batting .267 with an .821 OPS and a career-high 27 home runs and 88 RBIs. For a team that won an American League wild card, Piscotty appeared in 151 games, mostly in right field.
Off the field, his role was relief.
Piscotty was able to be that at his parents’ home in Pleasanton, Calif., to aid in the care of his mother. That didn’t just mean being present, that meant being active.
“I’ll be honest, being home was a ton of work,” he said Tuesday in the visitors’ dugout. “It was a ton of work. It wasn’t just hang out on the couch and just spend time together. There was work to be done. There was a lot …”
He paused and looked up from the reporters around him.
He took a deep breath.
“There was just a lot,” Piscotty continued. “To be able to help my family go through that, to give them support, give them a break. I’d leave on the road and I felt like I was leaving them hanging a little bit. So it was not easy. But it was easier being home. It was something I wanted to be a part of and be there for. And I'm just forever grateful for that opportunity.”
Piscotty spoke before Tuesday’s game with a bandage on his ear – the reminder of a recent surgery he had that cost a couple of days with the A’s. Piscotty, who the Cardinals drafted in 2012 with one of the two picks they got as compensation for Albert Pujols’ departure, explained that he has had some moles that he wanted to have checked out, including one on his hip that had been irritated. During that visit to a specialist, an entire body scan was suggested. Behind his right ear, the dermatologist uncovered a mole that tested positive for melanoma.
It was, Piscotty said, in a spot “I couldn’t even see if I was looking in the mirror.”
“Someone was looking out for me,” he said.
Piscotty had the surgery about a week before coming to St. Louis, did not have to go on the injured list, and has returned to the A’s lineup. He called the whole experience a “little bit of a scare,” but after the surgery he was told he’s “all in the clear.” He’s prescribed himself “a ton of sunscreen.”
So far this season, as the A’s everyday right fielder, Piscotty has hit nine home runs – as many as he had in his final season with the Cardinals – and has seen his on-base percentage shrink to .304 with a .398 slugging percentage, for a .702 OPS. Since returning from the surgery, Piscotty has gone four-for-24 (.167) with a home run, two doubles, and as many RBIs as strikeouts (four). A difficult June has dragged his OBP down from .343 and his OPS down from .779.
Before Tuesday's game, Piscotty met briefly with John Mozeliak, the Cardinals president of baseball operations, at the A's dugout. Mozeliak and his staff orchestrated the trade, which the A's had also pursued during the 2017 season and revisited that winter. In exchange for Piscotty, the Cardinals received Class AAA infielder Max Schrock and Yairo Munoz, who has been the utility fielder in the majors the past two seasons.
In Piscotty’s first at-bat Tuesday evening, Yadier Molina went to the front of the plate so that an ovation could build for the former Cardinal. When it did, Piscotty raised his batting helmet to acknowledge a fan base and gestured toward the Cardinals dugout. He has thanked St. Louis before for its support during his mother’s illness. She died of ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in early May 2018. She was 55. Piscotty missed four games and then hopped on the earliest flight to Boston he could, arriving at the airport at 3:45 a.m. California time. He started that night and, in his first at-bat since his mother's funeral, he homered.
He did not shed a tear as he rounded the bases at Fenway Park because, he explained later, he was “cried out.”
He touched his hand to his chest and pointed up.
“It wasn’t easy. It was bittersweet because my mom loved coming here (to St. Louis); she loved watching me,” Piscotty said Tuesday. “This is all I knew as a professional. It was a little bittersweet but the value of being home was something you just couldn’t put a number on that.”