Cards far from soft touch with hit-'em-hard Jordan Rising: A football player's aggressiveness has made ex-Milford Mill star Brian Jordan into a surprising key to St. Louis' hopes.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ST. LOUIS -- His wife talks about his competitiveness; about how he hates to lose at anything, be it a game in the National League Championship Series or a game of backyard hoops.

His manager and general manager tell of his fearlessness and, at times, his recklessness. They talk of how he takes a football player's approach to baseball, like the time he ran into a brick wall -- literally.

And his teammates marvel at his work ethic, about the disappointments that pushed him even harder, about the injuries he has played through and his slow, steady rise from part-time player to blossoming star.

All those qualities have contributed to one indisputable fact: At age 29, with less than three seasons of major-league experience, Brian Jordan has become the leader of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"He's a key player on our team, our MVP," pitcher Andy Benes said of Jordan before the Cardinals began their best-of-seven series with the defending World Series-champion Atlanta Braves. inspirational."

That inspiration -- not to mention a career-high .310 batting average and .422 average with men on base, the best in the National League -- helped carry the seemingly moribund Cardinals to their first postseason appearance in nine years.

It was Jordan's diving catch of a ball hit by Jody Reed in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the Division Series against the San Diego Padres that saved the go-ahead run from scoring.

And it was his two-run home run moments later that helped complete the three-game sweep, moving the Cardinals into their NCLS series that is now tied at one game each going into Game 3 today here at Busch Stadium.

Not that the evolution of Jordan -- from a former three-sport star at Milford Mill High School to a two-sport star at the University of Richmond to a player who was forced to choose between playing two professional sports or only one -- has been easy.

"There was a lot of frustration," said Jordan, sitting in the visitors' dugout at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium before Game 2 Thursday night, a game in which Jordan went 2-for-4 in an 8-3 Cards win.

The frustration stemmed from the fact that his two employers -- the Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons, for whom Jordan played safety for three seasons -- were constantly pulling him in different directions and doubting his ability as a baseball player.

Former Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill wasn't sure Jordan had the makings of a full-time player, let alone a star. The Falcons thought that, like Deion Sanders before him, Jordan was merely flirting with baseball.

"I'm still bitter with the Falcons," said Jordan, who makes his off-season home in the Atlanta suburbs with his wife, Pam, and their two children, 4-year-old Brianna and 2-year-old Bryson. "They expected me to fail."

As for the Cardinals, it wasn't until Walt Jocketty came over from the Colorado Rockies as general manager last season that Jordan started to see his future in baseball.

It came first when the Cardinals traded Mark Whiten and made Jordan their everyday right-fielder last season, when he hit .296 with 22 home runs, 81 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 131 games.

It came after he considered a $1.25 million offer from the Oakland Raiders to return to the NFL. Instead, Jordan signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Cardinals.

"I don't think the Cardinals thought I was serious [about returning to football],' " he said. "I was getting pumped up, lifting every day. I gave the Cardinals an ultimatum. I'll be honest. I miss it.

"When I played football, I loved the contact. I tell my wife, in football you can take your frustrations out on somebody. In baseball, you can't do that. But at this point, I don't think I'll go back. If I was going to do it, last year was the year."

So Jordan looks at the Cardinals as his future and the Cardinals look at Jordan as a big part of theirs.

When the Cardinals got off to a sluggish start this season under manager Tony La Russa and there were some unhappy players in the clubhouse, it was Jordan who went into the manager's office, closed the door and voiced the players' complaints. The more Jordan and La Russa talked, the more they realized how similar they were.

"Tony's an aggressive manager and I'm an aggressive player," said Jordan.

Said La Russa: "I think Brian approaches the game a lot differently than most guys, and it's because of his background [in football]. He's goes at it as hard as any player I've ever managed."

At times, he is too aggressive for his -- and the team's -- good. In a game late in spring training, Jordan dived trying to catch a ball. He tore ligaments in his left thumb and sprained his wrist.

The injuries caused him to miss only two weeks at the start of the season, but it has forced him to alter the way he holds the bat and has robbed him of some power. Then there was the bruised shoulder he suffered in Chicago this summer, running into the wall in Wrigley Field.

"He took some of the ivy off the wall," said Jocketty. "But he learned that he couldn't run through a brick wall."

Pam Jordan has been through her husband's journey to burgeoning baseball stardom right from the start. They began dating when she was a freshman at Richmond and he was a sophomore. She was the star of the women's basketball team and still plays a pretty mean game of H-O-R-S-E.

Sometimes he challenges her. Sometimes he loses.

L "If I win, we have to keep playing until he wins," she said.

When he was coming out of high school in 1985, Jordan had wanted to go to the University of Maryland. But then-Terps football coach Bobby Ross wanted him to concentrate on football as a freshman. So he went off to Richmond.

Last week, Jordan met up with Ross, now the coach of the San Diego Chargers, during a workout at Jack Murphy Stadium. "He told me, 'I guess I did you a favor,' " Jordan said with a laugh.

Soaring Jordan

;/ How Brian Jordan has fared this postseason:

Opponent ...... AB ... H ... R ... HR ... RBI

S.D. (G. 1) ... 4 .... 1 ... 1 ... 0 .... 0

S.D. (G. 2) ... 3 .... 0 ... 1 ... 0 .... 0

S.D. (G. 3) ... 5 .... 3 ... 2 ... 1 .... 3

Atl. (G. 1) ... 4 .... 1 ... 1 ... 0 .... 0

Atl. (G. 2) ... 4 .... 2 ... 1 ... 0 .... 1

Totals ........ 20 ... 7 ... 6 ... 1 .... 4

Note: Played against San Diego in NL Division Series and Atlanta in NL Championship Series.

Pub Date: 10/12/96

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