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A Night at the Peabody: covering the premiere of MLB Productions’ 2011 World Series Film…

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I was invited, through Craig and MLB’s PR people, to attend and report on the premiere of the 2011 World Series Film on Tuesday night in St. Louis. I’ve been writing professionally about baseball since 2008, but it was the first time I had covered any sort of live event with a media badge and access to players.

I probably shouldn’t mention that. Amateurism is in no way redeeming. But I’ve had trouble thinking of ways to recount my experience in a straightforward way, like a seasoned member of the media would. And so rather than fake it, I’ll offer you full disclosure.

I moved to St. Louis when I was nine years old and have lived in or around the city for the past 15-plus years of my life. I’m a Cardinals fan. I write about baseball six days a week in an objective way and I find it easy to dissociate work with personal rooting interests. But I’m a Cardinals fan. Maybe that will fade as I begin craving provocative stories over home-team victories, but it hasn’t yet and no one has told me that it must.

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The film premiere was held at the Peabody Opera House in downtown St. Louis, a few blocks west of Busch Stadium. Originally founded as the Kiel Opera House in 1934, the 3,500-seat theater hosted countless plays, musicals, operas and concerts until 1991, when it was closed along with the adjacent Kiel Auditorium for the development of a new hockey arena — currently called the Scottrade Center, home to the Blues.

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In the summer of 2009 the St. Louis Board of Aldermen agreed to subsidize renovations of the Opera House, and it reopened in October of this year with a debut benefit featuring Aretha Franklin, Jay Leno and hometown hero Chuck Berry. I saw Wilco there just a few days after the grand opening.

The place is absolutely gorgeous, and it becomes obvious upon passing through the entrance why the the city’s decision-makers decided to put forth tax dollars to assist in getting the building back.

Great theaters, like great baseball stadiums, affect you the moment you walk into them. They take you somewhere. At the old Yankee Stadium, there was a buzz of expectation. At Wrigley Field, it’s like being thrust into a frat party. Inside the Peabody, it still feels like the 1930s. It feels like everyone should be wearing tuxedos. I wore jeans, a jacket and a button-down.

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The check-in table for members of the press was tucked next to the theater’s loading dock, beyond a double-door that read “Employees Only.” I gave the man at the table my name and media affiliate, he gave me a media pass, and a woman directed me on a minute-or-so walk to the red carpet area inside the Peabody’s foyer, where hundreds of dressed-in-red Cardinals fans were already gathered with cameras at the ready.

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I introduced myself to a few of the baseball writers I recognized and chuckled upon hearing discussions of Deadspin’s Dan Lozano takedown as I waited with St. Louis’ finest news anchors, cameramen and radio jockeys for the arrival of the evening’s VIPs.

David Freese was the first to show. The place went nuts as he walked in, was handed a copy of the World Series Film DVD, and stood smiling next to a display featuring the World Series trophy.

Kyle McClellan entered the room next, followed by Cardinals radio announcers Mike Shannon and John Rooney, and television announcer Rick Horton.

I took pictures while reviewing in my head a couple of questions I had prepared to ask Freese, the night’s primary draw. “What’s the best experience you’ve had since winning the World Series?” “How do you deal with raised expectations locally but also nationally?” “What is your relationship with new manager Mike Matheny?”

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When the photo-ops ended, the interviews began. Freese was hustled around to various clusters of reporters and cameras as I stood a few feet away and held out my iPhone, hoping to record some interesting quotes. MLB’s PR manager must have taken notice of my helplessness, because he hollered at me over the crowd and pointed to a spot at the end of the red carpet where I might be able to fit in a few questions.

As Freese made his way to the final few stretches of red matting where I was standing, I heard the questions I had prepared — all of them — being asked over and over again by other reporters. Freese didn’t budge, giving long and thoughtful answers to each inquiry, however repetitive. But I figured it was time to pull an audible.

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“Has the media attention grown to be overwhelming or are you able to still enjoy it?,” I efforted.

“Yeah, I mean, you understand that it comes with the territory. I get it. Everybody’s got a job to do, so you take it in stride,” Freese responded. “You’ve just gotta manage it. Everybody’s gonna come after you, but if you have good people behind you and you schedule it right… you can take care of business.”

I shook Freese’s hand as he was shooed away to the VIP reception behind us, where St. Louis dignitaries waited to greet him while dining on local favorites like toasted ravioli, St. Louis-style pizza and ice-cold Budweiser bottles. There was also a large Anheuser-Busch ice bar in the front of the reception room, and I wondered to myself for a moment if they might be accepting applications to blow-torch the thing once the event was through.

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I was given an aisle seat in the sixth row for the screening, among a few of the baseball writers whom I had met before. I chatted football and music with MLB.com’s Matthew Leach, a writer I’ve admired for years, and I got a few texts from friends in the sold-out crowd who were wanting to know how I scored such great seats.

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The movie was fantastic. NFL Films draws awards and praise for the pieces they put together each year, but MLB Productions deserves just as much acclaim. Jon Hamm, a St. Louis native, was perfect for his narration role. The tight-shots of the on-field celebration were spectacular. And the crowd in the Peabody responded to the scenes as if the Cardinals were playing one final victory-lap game.

When Freese launched his Game 6-tying triple over the head of Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz, the place erupted. People were actually taking pictures — with flash — of the screen. When Freese ended that wild Game 6 with a walkoff home run just a few highlights later, nearly three-quarters of the premiere attendees were on their feet, high-fiving and screaming.

I didn’t cheer or applaud because I felt like enough of a rookie already. When the film hit the ending credits and the lights came on in the theater, I took a few final pictures of the crowd and headed toward the exit.

On the way home, I grabbed a fountain Pepsi and blasted the Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues.”

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I grew up wanting to be a sports writer — one with access, a dedicated readership, and a license to once-in-a-lifetime experiences — but I’ve always had an awareness of the mountain one has to climb in order to secure such a position. It never seemed attainable. I guess I don’t completely feel that way anymore.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?