Before the Clydesdales that led the victory parade had returned to their stables or the reek of World Series champagne could clear from the clubhouse, the Cardinals' celebration surrendered to a sudden and sometimes somber chain of changes.
The goodbyes drowned out the congratulations.
The revelry quickly gave way to a new reality.
"We went from Friday night winning the World Series to Sunday preparing for (the announcement of Tony La Russa's) retirement," general manager John Mozeliak recalled Friday before listing the moves that followed, such as hiring Mike Matheny, failing to re-sign Albert Pujols and landing Carlos Beltran. "Really it kept going right up until the Christmas break, and then it was like, 'Wait.' It was hard to sit back and analyze what we really accomplished. I like the word 'reflect.' We didn't get a chance to reflect on what really happened."
The 2011 World Series champs will remedy that this weekend.
The 16th annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up arrives at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch today and lasts through Monday. The three-day fest, the ceremonial first pitch of the new season, is the biggest fundraiser for the Cardinals' charitable arm, and it offers a yearly thaw for the fan base. This year it also offers the team a chance to reset and revisit the Warm-Up's honored guest, the World Series trophy.
The Warm-Up will act as a bridge between the team that won the 11th World Series title in franchise history and the one that will defend it in 2012, minus headliners Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa.
"Even with all of the changes, I do get the sense that people are pretty excited," said Michael Hall, the club's vice president in charge of Cardinals Care. "A lot of that has to do with us winning the championship. But I also think people are excited to see Matheny, the new manager, and Beltran joining the team."
The Warm-Up will begin where the World Series ended, with Chris Carpenter leading off as the first Cardinal to sign autographs. Appearances will continue through Monday afternoon, when Beltran will make his first public appearance as a Cardinal. Autograph tickets for Beltran cost $75 (all proceeds going to Cardinal Care), and they sold out within a day of release. The Cardinals stopped selling autograph tickets online Wednesday. Hall expected all of the autograph tickets to be sold out by Friday evening, leaving drawings as the only way to score an autograph ticket during the event.
A handful of players also will be signing for free.
Hall said the club plans to have as many as 20,000 fans attend the three-day event, up from around 17,000 last year and closing in on the crowd that attended the 2007 Winter Warm-Up. That year's event, which also followed a World Series championship, was the first to surpass $1 million in proceeds.
For the second consecutive year, Yadier Molina will not attend the Warm-Up, according to his agent and the club. Rafael Furcal hasn't confirmed his scheduled appearance Monday. Molina's agent, Melvin Roman, said that Molina doesn't plan to attend so he can "address some family matters." Asked about Molina missing consecutive years for similar reasons, Roman insisted Molina didn't plan to avoid to event.
"There are no issues here," Roman said.
The Cardinals have made it policy to encourage players to appear at the event, even urging newcomer Beltran as they finalized a two-year, $26 million contract to be available at the Warm-Up for his formal introduction.
"We do like for every player to show up, and we think it's important that we get close to 100 percent attendance every year," Mozeliak said. "We understand that sometimes family emergencies or other legitimate reasons come up and keep a player from attending."
Passes to the three-day event cost $40 for fans 16 and older. Passes for fans between the ages of 5 and 15 cost $10; children younger than 5 receive free admission.
Carpenter and Adam Wainwright will highlight today's autograph appearances with Mozeliak being the featured presenter in the main hall. Mozeliak will take questions from the stage this year, a first.
On Sunday, new lefty reliever J.C. Romero will make his first public appearance as a Cardinal and La Russa will sign autographs. That night the 53rd annual St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner will be held at the Millennium Hotel. La Russa and Mozeliak will be honored as St. Louis Baseball Men of the Year, and the World Series trophy will be in attendance.
On Monday, Beltran will sign autographs starting at 1 p.m., and an introduction on the main stage is planned. The writers' dinner Sunday will be geared toward a celebration of the 2011 season, serving as a summary and allowing Beltran's debut the next day and new manager Matheny's autograph session at the same time to offer a tidy and symbolic start to the new era.
"My first hope, when you think about Winter Warm-Up, is this weekend really is going to be about 2012 and a look ahead at the team we have," Mozeliak said. "I wouldn't mind if it offers a moment or two to look back. Maybe we can take the time to do a little bit of both."