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      Mikey Baseball

      They call Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel "Johnny Football." Fine. Then they should call former Texas A&M pitcher Michael Wacha "Michael Baseball." "I've been called that by a couple of people," Wacha said with a laugh. "But not too much. "I wouldn't consider it a nickname, or anything." How about Mikey Baseball? Whatever, this guy is good ... really good. To the delight of a packed house, Wacha highlighted the St. Louis Cardinals Caravan stop Friday evening at the Missouri Farm Bureau Center in Jefferson City. Less than a year after pitching for Texas A&M --- not much less, it was 364 days later --- he made his debut with the Cardinals. Wacha was 21 at the time and he went 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 15 appearances in the regular season, highlighted by one-hitter against the Washington Nationals in September. To refresh your memory, that no-hit bid was broken up with two outs in the ninth inning. "It was an amazing experience," Wacha said. "My goal has always been to make it to the big leagues, and it definitely came true this past season. "I wasn't always successful, I got hit around a couple times. But it was a learning experience the whole time, whether it was good or bad. Now, the hard part's trying to stay there, that's my main focus right now." This should not be a problem. Wacha was devastatingly good in the postseason, winning a crucial Game 4 in Pittsburgh --- an elimination game for St. Louis --- when he held the Pirates hitless through 7 1/3 innings in a 2-1 win. Then he was named the MVP of the NLCS, going 2-0 --- including a win over the now-$31 million dollar a year man, Clayton Kershaw --- allowing no earned runs and just seven hits in 13.2 innings. Wacha is 6-6, 210 pounds with a blistering fastball and a nasty change-up. But winning those games was as much about guts and mental toughness as it was his physical tools. "There were definitely some nerves," Wacha said. "But I just tried to approach every single game the same way and not let the moment get to me. "I think it had a lot to do with talking to those veteran guys in our clubhouse, like Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. They helped me prepare for anything." Wacha was joined on this stop by fellow pitcher Tyler Lyons, prospects Jermaine Curtis and Stephen Piscotty, alumni Alan Benes and John Costello, and broadcaster John Rooney. Rooney --- a veteran of almost 30 years --- will be in his ninth year in the radio booth with Mike Shannon. "We have a good time up there," said Rooney, 59. "If you don't get along and have respect for each other, it can be a long season. Because from the middle of February to the end of the season, I see those guys a lot more than I see my family. "Every day, I know I'm going to laugh and have a good time. Because if we're having fun --- win or lose --- the listeners will have fun." It's certainly more fun when the Cardinals are winning. This has not been a problem, either. "When I first started at KMOX way back when, Jack Buck told me that there's nothing better in sports than winning baseball," Rooney said. "And he's sure right about that." After winning the World Series in 2006 and 2011, the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS in 2012 and went to the World Series last year, losing to Boston in six games. "They had such a great blend last year, with the young players and the veterans," Rooney continued. "Many of those young players had never played in the months of September and October, and they played to the top of their games." Especially the young pitchers like Wacha, Lyons, Seth Maness, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal. All are 25 or younger, and all are armed and dangerous. "My goodness, what the Cardinals did with their young pitchers, I've never seen anything like it," Rooney said. "And we might not see anything like it again. "But with this pitching, the Cardinals should be good for a long, long time." Said Wacha: "It's unbelievable. It seems like every guy we have goes out there and competes and win games. Having a lot of young guys and having Yadier (Molina) behind the plate ... it's just awesome having him back there. "He really helps me out, as well as all the other pitchers." In the offseason, the Cardinals' major moves were two additions --- shortstop Jhonny Peralta and center fielder Peter Bourjos --- and one substantial subtraction --- Carlos Beltran. "Carlos Beltran signed for a lot of money with the Yankees, the Cardinals just couldn't match that kind of money," Rooney said. "I love Carlos Beltran and I love being around him. He's a great, great player and a great ambassador for the game and he'll do well, but I think it was the right move. "I like all their moves. I'm really looking forward to spring training and seeing how it all shakes out." We'll close with more Wacha. He's not just a rising star, he's already a star. Well, not to everyone. During the long line of kids getting autographs on baseballs, hats and T-shirts, a young girl ('m guessing she was about five) was not impressed. "That's not your name," she said to Wacha after he signed her baseball. "Yes it is," Wacha said with a smile bigger than Busch Stadium. "That's my name, that's how I spell it." "Well," she smiled back, obviously trying to win The Cutest Kid Award, "okay." With that, the hand that helps produce a mid-90s fastball and a NLCS MVP trophy, gently exchanged a high-five with a hand the size of a marshmallow. A great moment. But then, what would you expect from Mikey Baseball?