Walker shows his metal as he nears a return
By Derrick Goold
Of the Post-Dispatch

Having had two days of putting the sting in the ball in batting practice, Cardinals right fielder Larry Walker brought a lot of ping to BP Wednesday.

Wielding a 31-ounce aluminum bat - like the ones legal in college baseball - Walker assaulted the right field seats with launches that caused an explosive ping to echo around Busch Stadium. One shot, a sizzling liner, pounded a luxury box just under the upper deck in right field.

On the verge of returning from the disabled list, Walker has had two days of impressive batting practice and, more importantly, felt fine after each.

"There's more to it than just going out there and hitting off a coach," Walker said. "I could pick up a bat in December and hit off a coach. This is the easy part and now I've got to get in playing condition. I don't know when that will be."

Walker, out because of a herniated disc, has said he'll probably play in this home stand, meaning a return this weekend.

Catcher Yadier Molina is a possibility for tonight's game - particularly to catch starter Jason Marquis - but manager Tony La Russa said that Friday is the more likely target for Molina's return from a broken hand.

If either returns this weekend, a roster move will have to be made to make room. (Reggie Sanders isn't expected to return until after the rosters expand Sept. 1; Scott Rolen may be out indefinitely.) The Cardinals plan to carry only two catchers when Molina returns but could recall a third Sept. 1 or after. A move will have to be made by Aug. 31 to reduce the pitching staff to 11.

Discussing the shape of a healthy roster offered general manager Walt Jocketty a chance to detail the benefit of the bench play.

"No. 1, it's allowed us to take our time in getting these guys back," he said. "We don't have to rush through to get these guys ready and get them back before they should." Walker ran for the first time Wednesday. It is his call when he's ready to be activated. But if he shares time with an emerging bench player like So Taguchi, so be it, Walker said.

"I'm here for one thing, and it's a three letter word that starts with a 'W' and ends in an 'N'," he said. "If it's done with me in the lineup or me part-time in the lineup, I don't care. I'm here for a good time, not a long time."

Brett stops by

Hall of Famer George Brett visited St. Louis on Wednesday to promote the Players Choice Club, a venture that for a monthly fee promises fans more personal access to current and former pro ballplayers. Brett also discussed the sinking of the Kansas City Royals and the steroid taint but started with another controversy.

"Yeah, we did get a break," he said of the '85 World Series call in Game 6 at first base by umpire Don Denkinger.

Brett said last week the Royals hosted a reunion of the 1985 club, but the highlight video could not be played because of a rainout. Brett said he told a teammate: "God's letting us know he really was out at first base."

The Players Choice Club offers members-only special events that range from clinics to cruises, meet-and-greets to great seats. On Wednesday, Brett and former Cardinal Scott Terry participated in a baseball clinic at Wohl Recreation Center - an example of the year-round activities for members.

Brett, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 with more than 3,000 hits and more than 300 home runs, said at the recent induction there was frustration from Hall of Famers over steroid use in baseball. Particularly, Brett said, from the members of the 500-homer club.

"The only muddy water was the steroid talk," Brett said. "People are (ticked). Guys are cheating. And I understand where they are coming from. I like being where I am (ranked 15th with 3,154 career hits), and if guys pass me, I get mad. I'd be (ticked) if those guys were cheating to do it. It's not like Paul Molitor, where you pat him on the back and say, 'Paulie, good going.'

"It would be hard to deal with."

3.45 million tickets

The Cardinals announced Wednesday that they have sold 3.45 million tickets for this season, snapping the record of 3.43 million in 1989. With 19 home games remaining, the Cardinals expect each to attract more than 40,000 fans and about half to be sellouts. The Cardinals will close Busch with a run of 42 consecutive crowds of more than 40,000.