Growing up on the Iowa/Illinois border, two things were always assured every summer. You spent a lot of time in or around the Mississippi River and the Cubs/Cards rivalry became the big story no matter how each team was playing.
Luckily for me I was able to witness the Big Mac/Sosa experience before leaving home for good, as it was one of the last times I truly had zero responsibility other than giving my brother and our mutual Chicago fans a truly hard time on the drive back to LeClaire, Iowa.
This will not be a sad tale about missing my small river town since this is not a day for mourning. I applaud what our group is doing and for St. Louis taking the time to honor Birds on the Bat fans everywhere because let me tell you folks…
The Cardinal Nation resides everywhere, and I have the proof in spades!
21 years of calling the Quad-Cities home was just the right amount even though this would happen five years too late for me to take advantage. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and barely remember much of the 2000 edition due to boot camp in July and combat training in October.
What I do remember, however, was looking forward to Sunday afternoons and the Sports section of the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was our only downtime and provided a glimpse of home to break up the grueling schedule. (The standings helped as well due to the Baby Bears floundering while the Cardinals cruised to the top of the Central
Quickly rebounding from a playoff defeat is never easy, but some young guy named Albert Pujols made losing to New York easier to swallow while chomping at the bit for 2001. Everyone already knows how ‘that kid’ worked out but catching him in action was difficult while training in 29 Palms, California.
It seemed like October struggles were all the West Coast provided, so the powers that be promptly sent me to Okinawa just in time for the 2002 campaign. This would begin an almost Reggie Sanders like streak that tested even the most dedicated St. Louis supporter on Camp Foster. I proudly showed off the red jersey I ‘found’ on base (it was actually given to me — go figure) and took jabs from New York natives all in stride.
But it was my loyalty at work that made me what I am today. To properly explain how much ‘effort’ goes into following your team while half-way across the world, look up the time zone difference one of these days and try to pair up the start times — that is where high-end algebra comes in people!
In all seriousness my one year tour in Okinawa was much more subdued than anything that was to come. I didn’t leave the island but felt the deaths of Jack Buck and Darryl Kile all the same. The best invention known to baseball man was also dropped in my lap at the same time: internet play-by-play. I preferred MLB.com GameDay due to the ability of leaving it minimized on my work computer but by July, even the higher ups would stop by to check the scores. My work never suffered and the Cardinals were just as much a part of my everyday life as today.
A funny thing happens in the military, though. Just when you start to get settled, Uncle Sam decides it is time to change zip codes. This time it was on to the East Coast, North Carolina to be exact. I was a running joke for the last month I was in Oki, since I was one of the last of my unit to leave before stop-move took over. My Commanding Officer joked that they would give me the keys to the base so that the lights would get turned off every night.
Well, he wasn’t too far off in describing Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in March of 2003. Pretty much everyone who could had deployed to Iraq, and I knew my time was coming. I made the best of it while trying to forget much of that baseball season except for one tidbit that went mostly unnoticed at the time:
December 13, 2002: Chris Carpenter was signed as a Free Agent with the St. Louis Cardinals — talk about the best $300k investment ever!
While the year of ’03 found many changes in my life, I was again drawn to the internet for nearly all of my information. I relied heavily on the P-D and official team site while also exploring just how many other displaced Cards’ fans were out there. It would turn out to be the best decision I could make with the hardest year of my life about to begin.
2004 had highs and lows almost from day one, as I was set to be deployed for six months. While back in wonderful 29 Palms for training, it was there that I learned that J.D. Drew had been traded and wondered about the return St. Louis managed to get from Atlanta. As a new parent, Nick can feel my pain when life intervenes and yes, even the Cardinals take a back seat.
My daughter, Emma Jean, was born on January 4th so Adam Wainwright had to wait awhile for my attention (I think A&W would understand). When the news came that my turn to head overseas was upcoming, it is hard to recall much of that time. Honestly, I remember the Redbirds were playing well and had actually just traded for Larry Walker when Iraq became my home away from home.
With this I am going to pause and let everyone catch up while reflecting on how 2004 ended from a personal and baseball front. Make sure you tune in tonight for the game and also for the conclusion here as we celebrate our freedom this Holiday weekend.