Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals are going nuts for the Rally Squirrel.
The team plans to distribute 40,000 rally towels with a squirrel motif for Game 3 of the NL championship series Wednesday night against Milwaukee. In addition, stuffed Rally Squirrels are available for $5 at the Busch Stadium team store, along with "Got Squirrel" T-shirts and additional rally towels.
"I think it's good. The fans are having fun," said La Russa, the Cardinals' buttoned-up manager. "And I really believe that. This is not old-school, and I know I am in many ways, but I think there's so much attention and pressure on the players that sometimes they don't show their happiness."
La Russa is as serious as they come on game day. Yet he's enjoying all the fuss over the Rally Squirrel.
"I've really gotten over getting upset over it. Sometimes I think it's a release. So I think it's fun," he said.
It all started during the division series against Philadelphia when a squirrel, or squirrels, was seen scampering around the field in both cities.
Twice, with a twinkle in his eye, La Russa has suggested that the squirrel or squirrels was dating utility man Allen Craig's pet tortoise, Torty, and that the squirrel was looking for Torty when it scooted past home plate just as Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt made a pitch to Skip Schumaker. (Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was asked about the rodent after the game - see video below).
"As far as the squirrel and the tortoise is concerned, they had this relationship, so I think it first came out there because Craig wasn't playing, and his boyfriend told him or girlfriend or whatever it was," La Russa said. "And this squirrel was looking for Craig, ran all over, finally found him."
There's also a prolific Torty Twitter feed, accompanied by a photo of a turtle wearing a Cardinals cap on a rock. Craig denies any involvement.
"I have no idea, I swear," Craig said. "Somebody started a Torty account and that's that."
There were no squirrel sightings at Busch Stadium on Tuesday as the Cardinals and Brewers prepared for Game 3.
Cardinals officials said they had nabbed four of the critters in humane cages since the team went on the road one of them on the walkway in center field beyond the pasture and another near the Brewers' dugout.
FAMILIAR FACE: The last time Detroit reached the postseason back in 2006, Joel Zumaya thrilled the home crowd with his overpowering fastball.
The hard-throwing reliever was back at Comerica Park on Tuesday night, delivering the game ball to the mound before Game 3 of the AL championship series against Texas, then motioning for fans to make more noise.
Zumaya's baseball future is uncertain. The right-hander hasn't pitched in the majors since breaking his pitching elbow in June 2010, but he appeared in good spirits and was enjoying a chance to return to Detroit.
"It does bring a lot of memories," he said. "I've been watching the team since Day One, watching all their games."
Zumaya was at spring training, hoping to contribute to Detroit's bullpen this season, but he ended up needing surgery in May on his elbow. Zumaya said he's been cleared to throw since then by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery.
"I want to say I feel terrible. Each time I say I feel good, I end up hurt," Zumaya joked. "The ball is coming out easier than I've ever thrown. I'm throwing with less effort than I used to. I mean, more velocity. I've been working on some pretty good changeups and breaking balls."
The 26-year-old Zumaya agreed in January to a one-year, $1.4 million contract with the Tigers, so even if he is healthy next year, it's not clear where he'll be.
"My mind right now is getting focused on maybe playing some winter ball," he said. "If the Tigers want to go ahead and talk and do something, I'm ready. I don't feel like going anywhere else. I started here and I wish I could end here."
HEAVY HEARTS: The Brewers will wear special "GV" patches on their uniforms for the rest of the postseason to honor groundskeeper Gary VandenBerg, who died Monday night after a long illness. VandenBerg, 59, had been with the team for more than 30 years.
"Gary was one of the most loved individuals in this organization, and this is a tremendous loss for everyone connected to the Milwaukee Brewers," chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio said in a statement. "Gary was one of the most dedicated and positive persons that we will ever know. We were fortunate to have Gary as a member of the Brewers family, and we all feel a tremendous sense of sadness today."
Halfway through answering the first question of his media session Tuesday, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa expressed sympathy for the family. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. also released a statement expressing sympathy for the Brewers.
"A lot of us have known him for a long time. That's a real blow to the Milwaukee Brewers," La Russa said.
VandenBerg began his career with the Brewers as assistant superintendent of grounds in 1981 and served for more than 20 years as the team's director of grounds.