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On Opening Day, I went to church…

Apr 1, 2011, 1:12 PM EDT

busch

I’ve lived in St. Louis since 1996 and have spent 20 or so days and nights at Cardinals games each season since I moved here. But I had never been to the Cardinals’ home opener until yesterday.

I don’t love the new Busch Stadium. There are too many gaudy ads and the decision to switch from a manual to electronic out-of-town scoreboard in the move from the old place still bothers me. A development the Cardinals termed “Ballpark Village” was supposed to be built just after the construction of the new stadium in 2006 but remains in planning mode five years later. There’s a rarely used softball field out in the lot where that project was meant to take shape. We, the residents of St. Louis and loyal followers of all things red, were promised a large residential space and all sorts of bars and restaurants. It hasn’t happened yet and things don’t look promising with the economy landing blow after blow on most Midwest cities.

Nobody in St. Louis really talks about the problems with Busch or that joke of a softball field. Maybe because it’s a bit embarrassing, or maybe it’s because … well … the game just started. And Carp is pitching.

I’ve never been to Opening Day in other towns. I’ve seen Camden Yards, Fenway Park, the old Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Great American Ballpark, but all during mid-season games. I can’t speak to the way the start of the baseball season is celebrated in other cities, so I won’t. I’m sure Boston is nuts, and I can hear the kegs being tapped and untapped in Wrigleyville as I type this 300 or so miles away.

In St. Louis, the Redbirds have a college football-like following. And me? I like a good tailgate.

My four buddies drove down to my house just south of Busch around 10:00am. Through some act of the supernatural, we had acquired tickets in an all-you-can-consume luxury box for the 3:15pm game. We hung out for a bit, then joked about ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume picking the Astros to win the Central as we headed out the door around noon and entered the sun-drenched sea of red.

My friend Kevin had a cousin with a nice tailgate spot, so we stopped there for a short while and then moved on to the patio outside Kilroy’s — a busy place about two blocks from the ballpark. Kevin had a buddy doing promotional stuff for Budweiser, so we sucked down some of the local stuff (ha!) as a girl not far from us flashed her Cardinals panties to strangers in the bathroom line. What a peach.

Around 2:00pm we headed toward the gate and waited in a mass of fans who held the same desire to catch all of the pre-game festivities. People always say the Yankees “know how to throw a party.” I think the Cardinals are the same way. Hall of Famers and all sorts of other favorites are introduced and take big looping laps around the stadium in the back of Ford trucks. Brock, Schoendienst, Whitey, Gibson.

Then comes Stan Musial, trailing the pack in a golf cart. Former MLB commissioner Ford Frick called him “baseball’s perfect knight” and he’s waving to his kingdom as the public address announcer offers his career stats. “1,815 hits at home. 1,815 hits on the road. 20 consecutive All-Star teams.” He’s The Man, and he’s ours.

The announcer wraps up the intro noting that Stan was a “recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the greatest honor this country can bestow on a civilian,” and it puts a charge into the crowd. Musial won that medal through the hard work of a lot of local people who organized a successful petitioning movement called Stand for Stan. Musial breaks down, he can’t make it out of the cart because the emotion is overwhelming. You can tell how much this all means to him. And the moment rewards us with the confirmation that baseball is far from trivial.

We get a first pitch from Jim Edmonds and a flyover of two big military cargo planes. The weather is great, the fans are into every pitch, and a first-inning RBI single from Holliday brings optimism for a season thrown into an odd spiral by the failed Albert Pujols contract talks and Adam Wainwright‘s spring Tommy John surgery.

Then we start seeing the holes. The middle infield defense proves its shoddiness, Ryan Franklin serves up beach balls in the ninth inning, Albert Pujols grounds into three double plays for the first time in his career and flies out to the warning track. Baseball is back, and it brings heartache right alongside joy.

We leave the stadium after the 11-inning loss to San Diego and stop in around a few bars to see friends. It’s a long season and the world’s biggest brewery is down the street. There’s no sense in letting a hanging curve and a Cameron Maybin fist pump ruin an otherwise beautiful day. Concerns about a baseball team are best served in a cold frosty mug. 161-1 is still well within reach.

  1. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 1, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    Sounds like fun, even with a home-team loss. That is why baseball is beautiful. The best game I’ve ever attended was my only playoff game that I attended: Game 1 of the Cubs/Marlins series in 2003. The home-team (Cubbies) lost, but only after Sosa put one in the stands to tie it in the bottom of the ninth. It was electric. They lost, but people weren’t all that down about it b/c it was so close and there were some heroics involved. [note: I did not attend Game 6 or 7 or else this story would be entirely different]
    What I’m saying here is that baseball is the best thing since anything. America! Baseball! WOOO!

  2. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 1, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    Also WGN News had everybody on location at Wrigley this morning, including the bar next door. They untapped the kegs and the brew was flowing before I left to go to work. They do it right on the North Side too.

    • Utley's Hair - Apr 1, 2011 at 2:04 PM

      You work?

      But nice writeup, Drew. I like the Bank much better than the old park, since, you know, it was the Vet.

      • Drew Silva - Apr 1, 2011 at 2:06 PM

        Thanks. Still need to visit Philly for a game. I hear booing is allowed there.

      • Utley's Hair - Apr 1, 2011 at 2:21 PM

        It’s encouraged, especially for opposing teams.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 1, 2011 at 5:02 PM

        I guess so. I’m really good at feigning work when the bosses are near.

  3. umrguy42 - Apr 1, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    Drew, love or hate the current state of the brewery, but how do you not even mention the traditional Clydesdales pulling the wagon? (I assume they still did that… didn’t they?)

    By the way, haven’t had time to check my DVR yet, anybody know if ESPN covered the pre-game activities?

    • umrguy42 - Apr 1, 2011 at 2:16 PM

      Oh, and personally, I like the new park better than the old one… and that’s even after growing up with old Busch Stadium…

  4. cintiphil - Apr 1, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    Drew, come on guy. Is this the best you have to say about the birds? You know tey don’t stand a chance after Wainwright went down. Now Holliday is out. You will be fighting with Pgh. for last [-place in the division. By the way, we son it in the ninth after trailing by 3 runs and 2 outs. You think your birds have a chance of doing that this year? Not a chance. Sorry to see Holliday and his problems, because I think he is a great player.It is now 0 & 1. I think it soon will be 0 &10. I watched your game after ours yesterday. Your team looks poor except for one or two guys. And, my favorite player Albert, what happened?

    By the way, we have been having large parades for about 100 years here. All kinds of people out to enjoy the event even in years when we have had nothing to cheer about. Opening day is big, we can agree on that.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Apr 1, 2011 at 3:27 PM

      What position do you play on the Reds? What you aren’t on the team? Then please stop with the whole “We” and “Our”…makes you sound like a 4th grader.

  5. cintiphil - Apr 1, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    The Reds is OUR TEAM JACKASSZ.

    • rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 1, 2011 at 8:21 PM

      This is America, it is your team, support them, they have a good team too.
      I saw Pete was at the game, I like Pete, the heck with the hall we know
      who has the most hits.

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