Johnny Mac coaches nominate catcher to meet former Cardinal Tino Martinez

By Stephen Glover

When you ask Eric Tripp about former St. Louis Cardinal Tino Martinez, he might give you a different opinion about the first baseman than what you would receive from the local mainstream media.

Martinez, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, played for the Cardinals during the 2002 and 2003 seasons and never fit in well with the St. Louis media or its fans.

Tripp was able to meet Martinez during the pre-game ceremonies of a recent Devil Rays game in conjunction with the Johnny Mac Thunder participating in the Barrett-Fletcher World Series.

“Tino was an unbelievably nice guy,” Tripp told the Call. “He introduced himself and I told him that we were there for the World Series.”

A catcher for Johnny Mac, Tripp was nominated by the Thunder coaching staff after batting .488 during the regular season, in which he had 32 doubles, five home runs, two triples and 43 runs batted in.

“Eric really put up some impressive stats over the summer,” Thunder manager Jim Muskopf told the Call.

“The three coaches on the team selected him because of the outstanding season that he’s had. It’s a once in a lifetime chance.”

Although Tampa Bay may not draw the thousands of fans that the Cardinals do, Tripp will be the first to admit that he was quite nervous standing out on the field with Martinez and the rest of the Devil Rays’ staff.

“I was definitely a little nervous,” Tripp said. “Unfortunately there were only a few thousand people in the stands. If it were Busch Stadium, I would have been more intimidated.”

Tripp started playing T-ball for the Lemay Bullets when he was 5 after watching his older brother, Jason, take up the game.

In fact Tripp remembers many days playing baseball with his brother and other children in the neighborhood in the side yard next to his parents’ house.

“I always played with him in our side yard,” Tripp said. “We would end up playing with all of the other kids in the neighborhood.”

This past season at Mehlville Senior High School, Tripp helped guide the Panthers to a respectable record of 14-14 after suffering numerous back-to-back losing seasons. Tripp batted a solid .324 as he drove in 20 runs on 24 hits. He also had three home runs during the 2004 season.

“Everything seemed to click for Mehlville this year,” Tripp said. “We had a lot of good young players on the team. We just couldn’t put it all together in the previous years.”

Tripp has also made strides in the classroom. Son of Leonard and Lynda Tripp, he made the Honor Roll at Mehlville with a 3.4 grade-point average during his senior year. He plans on attending Harris Stowe State College this fall to study criminal justice and aspires to become a law enforcement officer.

“I heard a lot of good things about the coach at Harris Stowe from the coaches at Mehlville,” Tripp explained. “My ultimate goal is to play professional baseball, but I realize that not many get that kind of opportunity.”