I’ve never warmly embraced the end of MLB’s regular season, even when the Cardinals were headed to the playoffs. There’s just something about the end of the regular season that signals a change in the air. It’s the unofficial beginning of “true” fall for those of us who live in denial of what the modern Gregorian calendar indicates every September. Silly little autumnal equinox. The only thing that you’re really good for is standing an egg on end. I taunt you. This same trick can be accomplished on the vernal equinox as well, so you aren’t even unique. Get over yourself. Ha. I’m done taunting. [/childish, geekish taunting]
In a rather futile attempt to push back fall just one more day and delay the inevitable, I decided to make the trip to my baseball paradise just one more time. Busch Stadium called to me from far away, and I could not resist. In an insomnia-induced stupor, I found myself searching for an unreasonably inexpensive ticket several days before the final home game. With a bit of luck, I was able to find score something in the “Diamond Box” area (Section 140A) where people actually come around and take food/drink orders. Fear not, there are also plenty of people who yell “Ice cold beer!” in your ears as well. Personally, I find that bellowing whale call highly disturbing during the peak of summer, and it’s even more annoying when the mercury barely hits 55 degrees.
For those of you unfamiliar with the last regular season home game, I’ll take a moment to familiarize you with a few small items of interest. The final regular season home game is typically “Fan Appreciation Day”. Every fan with a paid admission receives a voucher which may be redeemed for a ticket to a Monday-Thursday home game some time during the following season. As an added bonus this year, fans in attendance had an opportunity prior to the game to honor stadium legend Ernie Hays. After 40 years as the one and only organist for the St. Louis Cardinals, Ernie is calling it quits after the 2010 season. While many of you may not be able to recognize Ernie on the street, I sincerely hope that you recognize his work. Sure, you’re probably familiar with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “William Tell Overture”, but it’s really his signature work “Here Comes the King” that we all know and love. After all, that’s the world-famous Budweiser advertising jingle that many of us can hum without even thinking about it. As expected, Ernie spoke briefly before the game and was rewarded with the standing ovation that Stl. Cardinals fans afford all Stl. Cardinals legends. Would you accept any less? FYI – The replacement for Ernie Hays is named Dwayne Hilton. Ernie is leaving us fans in extremely capable hands, but there’s nothing quite like the original.
Another great part of the final regular season home game is the singing of the National Anthem. For most home games, the National Anthem is sung by a choir or performed by an ensemble from a local performance group. For this special occasion, you have the opportunity to be a part of 40,000 strong singing in unison. While it’s unlikely that more than a handful of people in that entire crowd could perform such a difficult song solo without pulling a “Carl Lewis”, it’s astonishing just how powerful those voices sound when combined into one. Oh by the way, they sing it a cappella. There are words on a screen to help everybody keep time. Zero musical cues. No metronome. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts. You will not convince me otherwise. Earlier in the week, I tried to convinced a good friend to attend this game without telling her all about the experience. After much urging, tweeting, emailing, and some sky writing (no, there wasn’t actually any sky writing), she relented. Anyway, I hope that she’s glad that she went.
To begin the bottom of the 5th inning, Octavio Dotel walked Albert Pujols. Something told me that this was the moment. About 4-5 thousand people started standing and clapping. Collective prescience? Maybe so. This moment represented the last we would see of Pujols in live game action in 2010. Before any official announcement was made, I could see Albert turn to the dugout. Allen Craig appeared suddenly to pinch run for Albert. The standing ovation which had slowly started behind the Cardinals’ dugout slowly spread around the entire stadium and easily lasted a full minute. After disappearing into the dugout for only a few seconds, Albert re-appeared to briefly wave and acknowledge the crowd. The gesture was both appropriate and seemingly geniune. Just another intangible example of “Albert being Albert”. His curtain call lasted only seconds and did nothing to detract from the game. It caused minimal disruption, and I believe that’s exactly how it should be.
A couple of innings later, Skip Schumaker moved to left field to take Matt Holliday‘s place. This allowed the Busch Stadium crowd to shower Holliday with the same adulation shown to Mr. Pujols. Maybe Holliday had experienced something like this prior to today, but maybe he hadn’t. Not all baseball fans cheer effort regardless of outcome and overlook style in favor of substance.
There is one final item worth noting as a point of pride to end a relatively disappointing season for Cardinal Nation. The announced paid admission for the last game of the season was 42,405. Not too shabby for a team that was eliminated from the playoffs long before the final out. We’re now at 178 days and counting until March 31, 2011.
Hat tip to LoveAlwaysGives for the great photos.