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St. Louis Cardinals spring training

St. Louis Cardinals pitchers and catchers emerge from the clubhouse for the first workout during St. Louis Cardinals spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

JUPITER, Fla. • The Cardinals have already signed the next Matheny.

It happened soon after Ryker James Matheny was born. A certificate welcoming the newborn to the flock arrived, signed by a member of the front office, you know, to make it official.

The team wanted to lock him down early.

They’ve been doing it for generations.

With two games this week between the Cardinals and Boston, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has used the schedule as a reason to get Tate Matheny playing time against his father, manager Mike Matheny. On Friday, at Roger Dean Stadium, Tate started and batted leadoff for the Red Sox, and Cardinals manager Mike said earlier in the week that it would be a chance for three generations of Mathenys to be in the same ballpark. Asked what color of jersey Ryker, Tate’s son and Mike’s first grandson, would wear to the game, the manager said he had already been signed by the Cardinals.

“He’s got a contract,” the manager said with a smile.

It’s a tradition that started more than 40 years ago.

At least since 1967, at the urging of then-general manager Bing Devine, the Cardinals began sending contracts to newborns in the St. Louis area. The contracts would be signed by the field manager and general manager. Michael Girsch said he’s signed a few already in his new role, and manager Mike Matheny mentioned how a few times the certificates have come across his desk for a signature. The parchment-type of paper welcomes the newborn into the Cardinals family, and suggest they become a fan for life. The sheet says the baby will be a vocal supporter of the Cardinals.

Judy Carpenter Barada, the Cardinals’ director of major league administration, has been organizing these newborn contracts for the team for the past four decades.

It started, as so many traditions undoubtedly do, scouring the newspaper. The Cardinals would pick through the birth announcements in The Post-Dispatch, for example, and then send the certificates to the hospitals to be distributed. It was a way to build a fanbase, reach out to fans – and maybe assure another generation of them.

Since those early days, the practice has continued within the walls of Busch Stadium, an internal token. Employees with newborns will get the “fan for life” contract, signed by the current manager and the current general manager. Not stamps. Not facsimile. Their actual signatures. Past certificates will have included a Hall of Fame signature from Joe Torre, Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, and, most recently, Tony La Russa.

Barada said many people frame them.

Matheny, who left the ballpark Friday night with the lineup card from the game Tate batted leadoff, joked the certificate was official enough that he could enforce it.

A tradition more than four decades old and known mostly only known around Busch had already made a claim to his grandson as a bird of the feather, regardless of his father’s Sox.

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.