JUPITER, Fla. • They recently held Cardinals Fantasy Camp here at the Florida facility, where St. Louisans got to fly down and play like they were on the Cardinals. And now, St. Louisan Tommy Layne is living out his fantasy on the same fields, trying to play for the actual Cardinals.
The 34-year-old lefthanded pitcher — a graduate of Fort Zumwalt South High — is a non-roster invitee to Cardinals spring training.
“It's a dream come true, right?” Layne said Monday. “I just got to finish it now. I got to make the team.”
He'll wear No. 68 (Austin Gomber switched to 36) for St. Louis this spring. Last season out of the bullpen, he pitched in 26 2/3 innings for Class-AAA Memphis with a 3.04 ERA, 34 strikeouts and just four walks.
“The hope is to pick up where I left off last year — and show them whatever they need to see,” the southpaw said. “I'm open to changing things if need be, but what I do and how I do it, I've had a lot of success, especially against lefthanded hitters. And unless it's broke, you don't really fix it.”
Layne played at three colleges — Southwestern Illinois College, Central Missouri and Mount Olive (N.C.) College — and was drafted in the 26th round by the Diamondbacks, back in 2007.
He made his big-league debut in 2012 while with the Padres, and was with Boston from 2014-16, then the Yankees for some of 2016 and 2017.
“I've pitched at Busch twice – I was with the Red Sox, and we came to St. Louis for interleague,” Layne said. “I got to throw in two of the three games there. But to able to do it with a Cardinal jersey on is going to be special. …
“I grew up watching the Cardinals. I was an outfielder at heart. I didn't really start pitching until I was in college, so I was a (Jim) Edmonds fan, obviously. Basically I remember the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race pretty well, but Edmonds, (Larry) Walker, watching (David) Eckstein, all those guys. Watching (Chris) Carpenter pitch. It was just cool, you know? The Cardinals just had a knack for getting it done, year in and year out. So it was easy to be a fan. The whole deal, I remember all those guys.
“Yadi (Molina) is always going to be held to a very, very high echelon. What he's done in his career as a player is special. But you can kind of take the starstruck-ness part of it out, because you realize there might be a point in time when you two might be battling together. I'm really interested to hopefully have him catch me at some point. Because guys like that, you can learn a ton from. I'm anxious and excited to work with him.”
Tommy Layne also shared an amusing story about the first time he met Cards prospect Lane Thomas. When Layne signed with the Cards organization last year, they first sent him to Class AA Springfield “to get my feet wet, while the Triple-A team was on the West Coast.”
While he was in Springfield, he walked into the clubhouse and saw the daily announcements board.
“And right there on the board it says: 'First pitch ceremony, Lane Thomas,'" Layne said. “And I'm thinking, 'Are these guys kidding me? I'm 33 years old, and they want me to go out and do that? Surely there's a younger guy (with less experience) here who can do it.'
“So I get dressed up, all ready to go do it, and I heard somebody say, 'Hey, Laner, you got first pitch,' and I said, 'I know, I'm on it,” and they said, 'No, no – it's him.” It was Lane Thomas. So that's how I was introduced to him.”
After this interview, Layne pointed out that his brother also had recently been interviewed by the Post-Dispatch. Jim Layne is the head soccer coach at Fort Zumwalt South, and the Bulldogs won the Class 3 state championship.