Espinoza, about to enter his third season as manager of the Johnson City Cardinals, grew up in Venezuela and lives in Florida. Counting his one season in Johnson City as a player and two as hitting coach, by the time this season is over, Espinoza will have spent six of his 30 summers here.
“It’s great here,” Espinoza said Thursday as his team was preparing for a workout. “I love the mountains. I like the weather during the summertime. I live in Florida so I enjoy this weather here. Where I grew up is around mountains and a valley in Venezuela so I love the mountains.”
Espinoza and the Cardinals open the Appalachian League season Tuesday night when the Pulaski Yankees pay a visit to TVA Credit Union Ballpark. He says he’ll have a very young team this season.
The Cardinals have not released their roster yet.
“A few guys from last year, but just a handful,” Espinoza said. “We have a really young group. Most of them first-timers. We’ve been in extended spring training in Jupiter, Florida. We’re coaching them.”
The players drafted this month by the St. Louis Cardinals who have signed are in Florida this week waiting to be assigned to minor league teams, so Espinoza doesn’t know which of the draftees will end up on his roster.
“We will see later who will come here,” he said. “We don’t have any idea yet. We will know by Tuesday.”
Until then, the current Cardinals will work out at TVA Credit Union Stadium at 7 o’clock each night to get them used to playing games at that time. For many of the players, it will be their first time performing under lights and in front of people.
“They don’t know how to play in front of 2,000 people,” Espinoza said. “What we need to teach them is how to deal with that, don’t feel pressure, play the game the right way and off the field take care of your careers.
“We need to teach these guys what we call the ‘Cardinal Way.’ It’s not just on the field, it’s off the field too. Most of these guys, it’s their first time out of their hotel in Florida or the academies in the Dominican Republic. So it’s the first time they’re dealing with fans.”
Cardinals fans can meet the players at the team’s annual Fan Fest on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Fans will be able to enjoy ballpark tours and samples of food and drink. The Cardinals will play a 3-inning intrasquad game at 6:30 p.m.
Afterward, the field will be open for fans to play catch (Bring your own gloves and balls). Players will be available for autographs and the team’s store will be open for business.
Ticket information can be found online at jccardinals.com or by calling the team’s ticket office at 423-461-4866.