It’s that wonderful time of the year when children throughout the country joyfully await Santa’s arrival. Whether you’ve been naughty (Stan Kroenke) or nice (Vladimir Tarasenko), chances are that there will be something waiting for you under the Christmas tree this weekend.
By now most of you already have made your Christmas lists, but we’ve added a few gift requests for some local sports figures and fans.
Tarasenko • We’ll start our list with the most exciting athlete in Missouri, the Blues’ superstar forward. We thought about putting the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL’s most valuable player) on his list. But the Conn Smythe Trophy that goes to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs would be a more important goal for a man who would love another chance to overcome his Western Conference finals struggles.
At his current pace, Tarasenko surely will earn consideration for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which goes to the regular season MVP. Legends are built in the playoffs, though. A Smythe Trophy run for the Russian sniper probably would mean the Blues returned to the finals for the first time since 1970.
Cardinals fans • The so-called best fans in baseball deserve better than what they saw at Busch Stadium in 2016, where the Cardinals had a rare losing record at home. They had their worst season since 2010, missing the playoffs for the first time in six years. They finished 17½ games behind the Cubs in the National League Central, their biggest deficit in the division since finishing 21½ out in 1999. Here’s hoping they bounce back in 2017 in the same way they rebounded after their last 86-win season in 2010, with a trip to the World Series.
Cards manager Mike Matheny • He was hampered by a flawed roster last season, forcing him to put out a poor defensive lineup that made the pitching staff appear much worse than it was. The defense has been upgraded with the addition of center fielder Dexter Fowler, but Matheny’s job would be a lot easier if owner Bill DeWitt Jr. had added slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the lineup. Here’s hoping fans temper their expectations next year because it would be unfair to assume DeWitt has given Matheny a roster to compete against the stacked Cubs.
Adam Wainwright • You would have a difficult time finding a more professional veteran leader than the Cardinals’ ace. Let’s hope Wainwright can bounce back from his worst ERA (4.62) since his brief debut in 2005. He surely will be pleased if he can lower his ERA closer to his career 3.17 figure.
Carlos Martinez • The hard-throwing righthander from the Dominican Republic took a tremendous step forward as the staff ace in 2016, leading the team with a 16-9 record and 3.04 ERA. Now that he’s 25, perhaps he can take another positive step off and on the mound so that nobody has to discuss his maturity anymore.
Blues owner Tom Stillman • In this wonderful baseball town, it should not be overlooked that the Blues provide the best bang for your sports buck. In many ways, Stillman is the anti-Stan Kroenke. He cares about his community and is as accessible as any professional sports team owner in the country. He deserves a packed Scottrade Center each time his Blues take the ice.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. • Here’s hoping the ugly hacking scandal can be put to rest soon so that the club can move on. He is one of the most respected owners in American professional sports. It will be important for baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to decide if any punishment will be necessary so that the Cardinals no longer have to worry about the actions of what is believed to have been just one rogue employee, Chris Correa.
Blues alumni • They don’t move as fast as they once did, but it would be a tremendous treat for local sports fans and for their beloved Blues legends if Bernie Federko, Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Al MacInnis and the rest of the Blues alumni can regain some of that old magic on Dec. 31 so that they can relive a bit of their glory days in the Winter Classic Alumni Game, against Chicago alums at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis University basketball coach Travis Ford • Ever since Jordan Goodwin committed to the Billikens in August, Ford has shown that he can be a dominant recruiting force in this area. With the Rams gone, the local sports scene could benefit greatly if Ford can build a basketball power at SLU. Patience is in short supply at this time of year, but patience will be key until Ford’s team gets rolling next season.
SLU women’s basketball guard Jackie Kemph • While the SLU men struggle as Ford rebuilds the program, it is important for local sports fans to appreciate Kemph’s brilliant career. The junior guard paced SLU (9-3) to a come-from-behind victory over Mizzou on Wednesday. With more than 1,000 points and 507 assists in her career, let’s hope Santa makes sure Kemph’s stellar career isn’t overlooked. She’s only 13 assists away from the SLU career mark of 520, which she will surely obliterate by the time she’s done.
Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz • No athlete in St. Louis had a more surprising season than the rookie All-Star. He pounced when injuries created an opportunity during the opening series of the season. He established himself in the majors, earned an All-Star berth, welcomed his first child and coped with the death of his childhood friend Jose Fernandez. Now he could use a steady sophomore season and improved defense to make another run at an All-Star berth.
Mizzou football coach Barry Odom • Surely he must ask for a better defense in 2017. It was unfair for anybody to have expected seven victories out of the Tigers this season. I predicted five, so the 4-8 record wasn’t much of a shock. Nonetheless, it’s completely unacceptable for Mizzou to give up 51 points to Middle Tennessee or 63 points to a Tennessee squad in disarray. Odom must hope for an improved defense.
Mizzou men’s basketball • Most Mizzou basketball fans put a new coach on their Christmas wish lists long ago. The loss in the Braggin’ Rights Game didn’t help matters. Kim Anderson’s coaching stint has been hindered by many things out of his control, but Mizzou basketball fans deserve a change.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock • The legendary coach has said this will be the final season of his career. Associate coach Mike Yeo is definitely set to take over for the Blues next season. But the more I speak with the future Hall of Famer, the more I believe he’ll coach elsewhere after a year or two off. He has too much to give, and I hope he’ll return to the bench somewhere in the NHL after next Christmas.
Cards center fielder Dexter Fowler • The former Cub already received his gifts with a five-year, $82.5 million contract this month. Now he must hope Ol’ Saint Bill Dewitt Jr. makes another addition to the roster so he can help take down the former Cubs teammates he left behind a month after they won the World Series.
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo • The transition to the captain’s role is not an easy one, but the star defenseman slowly is settling into David Backes’ former role. Here’s hoping he finds his leadership voice.
Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal • The former closer hopes to get a chance at starting and the Cards have promised to stretch him out this spring. Although it might be unrealistic to expect him to start, it will be a huge gift to Matheny and Cardinals fans if the hard-throwing righthander regains his form and proves to be a multi-inning lockdown reliever to bridge the gap to closer Seung Hwan Oh.