BASEBALL RUNS THROUGH THE VEINS OF ST. LOUISANS
When I think of St. Louis, it reminds me of the old Texas football line. “We have two sports here. Football and Spring Football.” Well, when
it comes to the Gateway
City, the only sport that
really matters is baseball.
Never did I realize it more
than when I took the PR job with the NFL St. Louis Cardinals in 1986. A quick glance at the St. Louis Post Dispatch said it all. It was the middle of December, we’re
playing the Philadelphia Eagles at the old Busch Stadium, and smack dab at the
top of the sports page, there’s an offseason story about the baseball Cardinals’ manager Whitey
Herzog and the lineup he’s contemplating for Opening Day, which by the way, is
still four months away!
And why not? When you’ve won 10 World Series titles in
your history and paraded the likes of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Dizzy Dean,
Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Bob Gibson in Cardinal uniforms
through the years, it’s no wonder an entire region of the Midwest becomes
baseball crazy. And like the Bay Area, Cardinals fans have been blessed with
some classic broadcast voices over the past century…..Harry Caray, Dizzy Dean,
Joe Garagiola, Milo Hamilton, Red Rush, and of course, the voice of Redbird baseball, booming over the powerful airwaves
of KMOX Radio, the late, great Jack Buck.
So, for those of you A’s
fans attending this weekend’s games at the new Busch Stadium–or even those
watching on Comcast SportsNet California–the atmosphere will feel more like a
college football game than a typical major league contest. The fans, who flock from as far away as Louisville, Indianapolis or
all be wearing red gear, head to toe. These
red-clad faithful literally take over downtown St. Louis several hours before a game. Teams used to stay at the Marriott across the
street from the stadium, but the hotel lobby was insane. Fans everywhere, waiting for players to sign
autographs or merely passing the time by sipping a lager brewed blocks away by
the town’s legendary beer company. No
question, Cardinal fans are as knowledgeable as any in the country. But there’s almost a time warp feeling about
a game in St. Louis,
a kind of naïveté really. It could just
as easily be the 1950s and Stan the Man is stepping to the plate.
Thank goodness the days of
that awful Astroturf at the old Busch Stadium are gone, however. As a visiting team, there was nothing more
maddening than watching Willie McGee hit a soft single to right center that
just picked up speed and rolled itself into a standup triple. Or your pitcher, nursing a one-run lead in
the ninth, jamming Ken Reitz with a fastball, yet somehow his routine grounder
sprouted eyes and found a hole to the outfield for a game-tying single. Of course, now visiting teams only have to
contend with three-time MVP Albert Pujols, former A’s slugger Matt Holiday and
perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Carpenter.