Friday, September 30, 2005


Sunday October 2, 2005, the St Louis Cardinals will play their final regular-season game at Busch Memorial Stadium…though, fittingly, they are in the playoffs this year, so Busch will be spared the wrecking ball for a few weeks (hopefully many more weeks - Go Redbirds!!).

Having been born (and for the first 11 years of my life) raised and still constantly visiting family and friends in the St Louis area, this day is an emotional one for me.

Because of this, I have decided that today's blog entry will be about Busch Stadium, and the memory(ies) of mind that stand out the most.

The Gateway Arch reaches into the St Louis skyline, easily visible above Busch Stadium. It stands there like, in the words of The Sporting News, “an ever-vigilant sentry guarding its St. Louis treasures. Jewels, past and present, like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Bob Forsch, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols. Diamond memories of Cardinals, Clydesdales, baseball magic and World Series moments, all colored in a sea of red.” (I couldn’t have said it any better myself)

Outside the stadium the bronze statues of Stan "The Man" Musial, Gibson, Brock, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst and Jack Buck, strategically placed outside the stadium, sit ready to greet visitors and provoke inspiration. In recent years, the team has added smaller sculptures of other players, such as Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, and my favorite all-time Cardinal, Ozzie “Wizard of Oz” Smith.

From its 1966 opening through its impressive, and awe-inspiring facelift in the 90’s, Busch has carried the tag of a "cookie-cutter" stadium. It was the first of the sterile, boringly symmetrical, Astro-Turfed, multi-purpose facilities that sprang up in the late 1960s and '70s alongside Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers, Cincinnati’s Riverfront, and Philadelphia’s Veterans, along with many others.

The early Busch Stadium experience was Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver, Dal Maxvill, Joe Torre and Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock and Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr, Jack Clark and Keith Hernandez, Terry Pendleton and Al Simmons, George Hendrick and Willie McGee, John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar. It was waves of red, line drives into the gap, a man-eating automatic tarp, the Wizard of Oz, Whitey-Ball, Harry Caray, Jack Buck and Mike Shannon in the broadcast booth.

It was a massive two-sectioned scoreboard, one side occupied by an Anheuser-Busch eagle, the other by an electronic Redbird that flew back and forth during a seventh-inning stretch or in recognition of a Cardinals home run. It was team owner August A. Busch triumphantly circling the stadium in a beer wagon pulled by a team of Clydesdales, or an Ozzie Smith back flip.

It was beautiful.

There were no unusual angles, dimensions or nuances to spice up play. Dimensions were standard: 330 feet down both lines and 386 to the power alleys. Center field was 414 (later 404) and the AstroTurf, installed in 1970, was hard and fast.

Supporting the Cardinals meant appreciating the aggressiveness and fundamentals of the game, and, of course, the stolen base, which Brock and Coleman turned into lethal offensive weapons. The home run was a 70’s and 80’s afterthought. Whitey Herzog's 1982 world champions hit 67 homers (three fewer than Mark McGwire hit in his record-setting 1998 season) while recording 200 steals.

Further into the 90’s, new ownership, no longer content to let one of baseball's premier franchises play in a no-frills setting, retro-fitted Busch Stadium into one of the fan-friendliest playgrounds in the game.

The turf was replaced by grass. One area, decorated by flags, celebrated the retired numbers in Cardinals history. The bullpens were moved from the first and third base foul lines to areas behind the left and right field fences. And a more modern scoreboard in left-center was mirrored by a replay/highlights screen in right-center.

Any fan that had not been to a game since the 70’s might not have recognized the new Busch; sleek and modern the stadium became an attraction on its own merit. The house that a beer baron had built in 1966 was officially transformed into a warm, inviting for the best baseball fans in the world.

Trying to pick one favorite memory of Busch Stadium is hard. So I have picked two because, well, it’s my blog and I can do what I want. Also, because they are special to me for different reasons.

While I remember going to Cardinal games when I was younger (me dressed like a Cardinal geek – red shirts, red shorts, red hat, cardinal socks, cardinal sunglasses - I was a sight to see) with my parents and brother, or just my dad. The memories I remember most are much more recent.

Last season, 2004, the Cardinals made into the World Series for the first time since 1987 (a very long draught for a Cardinal fan, nothing of interest for a Cub fan). I was excited. My brother (who is not particularly a fan of sports) was excited. Our excitement grew larger when our Dad called and said our cousin has two tickets for Game 4 on Wednesday, October 27th and wanted to know if my brother and I wanted them.

I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t speak. I was speechless (that means the same thing I know, but stay with me here)

We jumped at the chance. So my memory is getting to the game very early, about 2 hours before game time. The plaza was jumping with a carnival-like atmosphere. Vendors selling food and beverages or novelties and souvenirs. Radio and TV stations handing out signs and rally flags.

It was incredible.

Then the game started. Our seats were in the last row of section xxxx. Literally, we could look behind us and see the city of St Louis. High up yes, but still with a great view of the field and the fans.

(The only negative thing about our seats was we were sitting next to two Red Sox fans. Now, I love sitting with Cub fans, whether it be Wrigley or Busch, because, while we may make fun of the other’s team, there was a mutual respect in there as well. Not so with these two schmucks. Think of the epitome of ego-filled baseball fans and you immediately conjure up images of Yankees fans. These two were like Yankees fans, rude, belligerent, loud, but were rooting for the Red Sox. Add to that that they used the overused and annoying phrase from Joe Buck’s commercial where he says” Slamma-lama-ding-dong.” Every other word out of their mouths was that phrase. By the 4th inning, my brother and I wanted to ‘Slamma-lama-ding-dong’ them back to Boston Harbor…but I digress.)

While the Cardinals suffered a rather impressive lack of hitting and pitching, just the fact that I was at a World Series game for the team I have followed for as long as I can remember, was incredible and etched in my mind forever.

The second moment was this past year when my wife and I, along with my brother and his girlfriend, took my twin daughters to their first Cardinal game. At the tender age of three, they behaved better than I could have possibly hoped. They sat on our laps and watched the game (who lost to the Atlanta Braves – notice a theme here? All of my Cardinal memories have the Cardinals losing the game in the background…) with an intensity and attention that is rarely seen in one three year old, let alone twin three year olds who always have a playmate with them wherever they go.

The fact I was there with my wife and children and my brother and (someday sister-in-law) his girlfriend, made the day that much better. To be able to have my daughters (who since they had been born had been having the phrase: ‘Go Cardinals!’ burned into their minds by myself) experience a game at Busch in the final season was a special thing for me. While they may not remember it all, I will.

And those are my two special memories. As I look back on my relationship with the stadium, I am filled with remorse, but also with hope that the new stadium will be as warm and inviting as the old one. And if it isn’t, it eventually will be.

Goodbye old friend…

Thought of the Day

“Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.”
Translation: "The devil is wiser because he is old, not because he is the devil."
- Old Spanish Proverb