Ryan Copeland sampled a major league clubhouse last Thursday when the Quad Cities River Bandits faced Kane County in a Midwest League game played at Busch Stadium.
Having dressed in the locker of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Copeland is focused on earning his own nameplate in St. Louis someday.
"It's a little more motivation to get here," said Copeland, who helped Illinois State to the NCAA Tournament last season before being drafted by St. Louis. "You never realize how big a stadium like this is until you're out on the field."
After being named Pitcher of the Year in the Appalachian League last season, Copeland began his second professional season in the Class A Midwest League.
The left-handed pitcher joined the River Bandits in early May after rehabilitating in extended spring training from a strained bicep tendon.
"I knew I would have a chance to make Palm Beach (a higher level of Class A) but there were circumstances," Copeland said of his injury. "I'm happy here. It couldn't be better for me as far as location. It's three hours to Chicago, I'm close to ISU and the (Midwest League) travel isn't too bad."
Copeland has a 4.63 ERA over his first 11 2/3 innings with Quad Cities. He gave up four earned runs in an early appearance, but has worked 7 1/3 hitless innings over his last two games.
"It was a combination of I just didn't have it that day, and I was still trying to figure out how to get guys out in this league," Copeland said. "The last two outings I've got a nice little streak going."
Copeland expects to return soon from a sprained ankle.
"I was throwing really well right before that. I'm anxious to get back out there," he said. "I think I'm only going to get better as we go along."
Copeland was shifted from a starter to a reliever midway through his final season at ISU. He is pitching in middle relief for Quad Cities.
"I think the organization is set on me being a reliever. It worked well for me at ISU," said Copeland. "My goal is to be a seventh, eighth inning guy they can rely on."
Copeland, who relies more on pitch movement than velocity, is grateful the Cardinals have not asked him to make major adjustments in his delivery.
"There have been a few mechanical things here and there, but they have pretty much left me alone," he said. "They are good at leading guys along if something works for them. My changeup and slider have been great so far this year. Keeping the fastball down in the strike zone is huge for me."