10/25/06 11:21 PM ET
Duncan acts like he's been there before
Rookie seems wise beyond his years in postseason limelight
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
The first two times St. Louis called him up from Triple-A Memphis, it sent him back shortly thereafter. Never mind that dad is Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan. That wasn't going to get him into the lineup or have anything to do with how much playing time he would get.
Finally, on July 3, the Cards sent down Timo Perez, and Duncan proceeded to stamp his name on a job. Now Duncan is part of the Cards' outfield rotation. He started Game 1 of the World Series in Detroit, and was to be in the lineup for rained-out Game 4 at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night.
"It helped out a lot to get into Game 1 to get comfortable in the World Series environment," Duncan said.
No matter how prominent his name is with the Cards, Duncan had to put in extra work to find a place.
A supplemental first-round pick in 1999, Duncan made his Major League debut last season. The problem was that he was primarily a first baseman, and Albert Pujols wasn't going anywhere. So Duncan played in the Mexican Winter League, batting .254 in 32 games while, more importantly, learning to play the outfield.
The first callup was a roster tweak, when the Cards needed to send down pitcher Anthony Reyes to alleviate crowding in the rotation. The second time was because of a Pujols injury. Only when St. Louis sent down Perez could Duncan earn more than a few cool trips with the big club.
Having been around baseball for so long -- not only did his dad have a significant playing career, but his brother, Shelley, is a first baseman in the Yankees' system -- helped him not succumb to the potential pressure.
"As a player, you can't get distracted by thoughts like that," Duncan said. "You play the best you can, and whatever happens after that, happens. I was still nervous a little bit, but growing up in a Major League Baseball environment and being in the stadiums since I was a little kid, I definitely feel it made it easier for me to get comfortable."
All Duncan did was hit safely in 17 of the 21 games he played in July and earn the NL Rookie of the Month Award for August by hitting .361, with nine home runs and 14 RBIs. By the end of the regular season, he had 22 home runs, second most for a Cards rookie to Pujols' 37 in 2001.
Duncan said having known St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who had Dave Duncan as his pitching coach with the Athletics before coming to the Cardinals, helped ease the transition.
"At first, it made it easier, just because I knew he believed in me," Duncan said. "It always helps when the manager has confidence in you. That was important for me, especially when I first came up and went into left field for the first time. He always stayed positive with me."
His youth rarely shows, although it did on Wednesday night. After the rainout was announced, most of the Cards players had slipped away before the throng of media arrived. At one point, Duncan was the only player facing the questions.
"The veteran guys knew that you guys were coming in and darted out of here pretty quick," Duncan noted.
Duncan has batted .167 in the postseason, with a home run in the Cards' Game 5 NL Championship Series victory over the Mets. Nonetheless, the Redbirds believe in Duncan.
"He's done an exceptional job, and we're happy that he's advanced as quickly as he has," said fellow outfielder Preston Wilson. "We look for more good things out of him."
The less-than-stellar numbers haven't deterred Duncan.
"My swing feels good so far," Duncan said. "I haven't been playing a lot, so it's hard to really tell, but so far I feel all right."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.