[Ed. note - I know it's July. I know I'm about four-ish weeks late with this post. Sue me. Better late than never, right?]
I was lucky growing up where I did, about a half-hour east of St Louis – “on the Illinois side.” I was able to attend Cardinal games fairly regularly, thanks to the generous companies that employed my parents. My father and his friends, relatives, and neighbors had been going to games for years, when they could, and I was always regaled with stories about the kind gentleman across the street who would bet on anything while at a Cards game – “Bet ya a dollar the next pitch is a strike!” It was this same fellow who gave my dad his extra ticket to a game at the 1982 World Series. My memory doesn’t recall a lot of those early years, but I still have the game program from the ’82 Series proudly displayed on my bookshelf. It’s right next to the Busch II lithos that my old roommate produced for me, which are surrounding the Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols signed baseball in its case, that sits next to the Danbury Mint scale model of Busch Stadium III that I received as a gift for being in a friend’s wedding. Of course, these are all above the stacks and stacks of old St Louis Post-Dispatch copies that chronicle my current obsession with the Cardinals…
(in no particular order)
As is the case with many folks I imagine (at least the number of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have season tickets), this game for me was another last minute phone call from a friend.
“Hey, I’ve got an extra ticket to the game tonight, do you want to go?”
“Well, let’s see. McGwire is about to hit his 500th home run, and Tony Gwynn is in town just a few hits shy of 3000. Yes, I will go.”
Gwynn was two hits shy of 3000, to be exact. And, in St Louis fashion, he was cheered on lustily during each at-bat. Alas, Gwynn failed on that day to reach his milestone. His first hit didn’t come until the top of the ninth, and with San Diego leading, it was a pretty safe bet he wouldn’t bat again. 3000 would come just one day later in Montreal.
McGwire was not to be denied his 500th long ball, however. As he did on many occasions at the plate in St Louis, McGwire stirred up “that feeling” in me, if not the entire crowd. He was going to hit a home run. He hadn’t done it yet, but it was coming, no doubt.
As sure as the day is long and Cardinal fans wear red, McGwire did hit that 500th home run. Then just for good measure, he added 501 before the game was over.
Of course, the Cardinals finished the season below .500. Controversy has shrouded McGwire since his retirement in 2001. That day none of that mattered. McGwire was the Cardinals’ meal ticket then, and he earned his keep on this night.
04.03.2006 – Opening Day of the 2006 season, Opening Day of Busch Stadium III
Again, another “I’ve got extras” situation. My buddy Jason and I took to the streets (Paddy O’s, Hrabosky’s) outside the new, yet-unfinished Busch III on a still-chilly April day.
From our seats in the right-field upper deck, we saw the parade of players, we saw the Clydesdales, we saw Chris Carpenter accept his Cy Young Award from 2005 and Albert Pujols accept his Most Valuable Player Award from 2005. Little did we know the roller-coaster of a season this team would take us on.
This game was a walk-over, with Pujols hitting two home runs and Scott Rolen chipped in with one of his own. I’m finally just now able to admit that I miss Scotty Rolen. Troy Glaus helped last season, but this year I’m feeling something missing. It has less to do with the Cards’ struggles at third base and more to do with an appreciation for the way the guy plays the game and disappointment that he and TLR couldn’t be bigger men and put their petty spat aside. But I digress…
Not to get too cliche or metaphorical on you, but it seemed that the 2006 Cardinals were much like the left-field stands on that Opening Day. Incomplete for much of the season.
But boy what a pretty park it was…
10.27.2006 – Cardinals win Game 5 to win the 2006 World Series
As much as I would’ve liked to be in St Louis again for this – how many times do you get to see a World Series game live – I was still stuck in Chicago-land.
With the (soon-to-be) wife in bed, I stayed up to watch the end of this game on Fox in my living room. In my opinion, the outcome had long been decided. Karma was paying the Cardinals back for 2004. The clear favorite Detroit Tigers had fallen apart, much like the Cardinals in 2004. It was destiny.
Wainwright closed things out again. They did it at home, in the stadium they had opened just a little over six months earlier.
I’m not afraid to admit that I sat on my couch, watching the final pitches, eyes welling up. When the victory celebration started, the welling became full-fledged tears. I woke my (soon-to-be) wife up, explained to her that part of her training as a Cardinal fan, she needed to watch.
I love this team.
10.19.2006 – Yadier Molina homers in the top of the ninth of Game 7, 2006 NLCS
Between Opening Day 2006 and the playoffs, I moved further north, this time into enemy territory. By the time the NLCS rolled around, with the Cubs having missed the playoffs *yet again*, folks were none too pleased when I would walk into a bar with my home Rolen jersey on (complete with “Inaugural Season” patch for the new stadium) and make sure they had Fox’s broadcast on before deciding to order a drink.
My die-hard Cubs fan friend (he knows I’m up against it, and tags along for moral support, but still won’t root for the ‘Birds) and I watched this game intently. Obviously a win-and-in scenario, the Cardinals were not expected to make it even this far, but here they were, on the precipice of their second World Series appearance within three years.
Several patrons had already proceeded to “give me the business” throughout the night, as is typically the case with a Cards fan in the Chicago area, squarely throwing their support behind the Mets. Then came the top of the ninth.
I certainly didn’t expect it, but when Yadier Molina hit his home run, almost the entire bar focused on me, by this time smiling from ear to ear and cheering wildly, not caring who was around – I turn to see the guy who had exclaimed to me earlier, “Your boys shouldn’t even be in this game!” laughing and pointing at me. Not in the “ha ha, look at him act like a fool” way, but more in the “hey, those are your boys, congrats” way. Make sense? Guess you had to be there.
In true 2006 Cardinals style, this couldn’t be the end of the drama. Adam Wainwright proceeded to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and Karlos Beltran (if you’re confused about the spelling, check this out) at the plate. As he had admirably done throughout the 2006 postseason, the rookie Wainwright, in the closer role he was forced into because of injuries, struck out Beltran with one of the most memorable 12-to-6 breaking balls in Cardinals history. Don’t believe me? Ask any Cardinal fan if they’ve seen the pitch, or a replay of the pitch, or heard someone tell them a five-minute story about it. Go ahead. Ask.
10.27.2004 – Cardinals lose Game 4 of the 2004 World Series to the Boston Red Sox
Strange thing, choosing a loss as a favorite memory? Let me explain.
Enthusiasm was high for this Cardinal team, one of the best in recent memory going into the playoffs. World Series aspirations were not unfounded, and in fact, were the expectation.
The Cards did not disappoint, and neither did the curse-chasing Red Sox.
I was one of the lucky few to win World Series tickets via the online lottery operated by the team. Having moved away from the St Louis area by this time, this was a true treat for me, being able to drive in that afternoon, meet my aforementioned father at the Stan Musial statue, and head into the stadium.
I will cherish that game forever, for more reason than one. There’s the photo of Dad and I in the upper deck, overlooking the field, in several layers – the top one red, and me with my rally cap on (that I will spare you all from here). There’s the chatter that we carry on that makes these occasions so much more than a baseball game. Finally, this is one of the last memories I have of attending games at the “old” Busch. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new yard, but there was something magical about that old cookie cutter that still gives me the tingles. One of the reasons is this game.
Naturally, it only took until about the third inning before Dad leaned over and said,
“Bet ya a dollar the next pitch is a strike.”
Many more to come…
Pujols’ 500th home run? Carpenter winning more Cy Youngs? Certainly we all hope for more rings. What about Colby Rasmus and the promise he holds for the future? It’s good to be a Cardinal fan.