Social Media All-Stars

This blog began as an assignment for my social media class in graduate school. As promised, here is my final project: more about the Cardinals, and what we can learn about social media from the team.

As an organization, the St. Louis Cardinals have a strong social media presence, most likely because much of their target audience is on social media. The team has an active Facebook page, Twitter feed, Google+ account, and Pinterest page.

Why would a sports team bother to establish an active presence across so many social media channels? For one thing, it allows the team to engage with fans. Creating a more engaged fan-base helps personalize the Cardinals brand and also likely leads to increased ticket sales, which is obviously good for the team.

Major League Baseball (MLB) provides its own answer, as the League “recognizes the importance of social media as an important way for players to communicate directly with fans,” and encourages players “to connect with fans through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms” in order to “bring fans closer to the game and have them engaged with baseball,” teams, and players “in a meaningful way.” 

Above all else, I enjoy the Cardinals’ use of social media because it allows fans like me, who are living outside of St. Louis, to remain up-to-date with team happenings and participate in the Cardinals conversation from afar. Social media therefore allow Cardinal Nation to extend far beyond St. Louis and allow fans to connect to one another through global networks and communities.

Sports highlights also lend themselves well to video and the Internet. Online video preserves special moments in sports, allowing them to be watched over and over, even years after they take place. Here are a few of my favorite Cardinals moments that I have seen over the years (in no particular order), courtesy of MLB.com. Click on each photo to see the videos. (You may need to press the back button to return to the blog after watching the videos.)

1. Jim Edmonds’ diving catch during the 2004 National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros:

2. Albert Pujols’ home run in the 2005 National League Championship Series against Astros closer Brad Lidge. (The Cardinals were behind 4-2 in the game, and the homerun gave them a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning):

3. Adam Wainwright strikes out Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers to win the 2006 World Series for the Cardinals:

4. After twice being down to their last strike against the Texas Rangers in a do-or-die game, the Cardinals came back to win Game 6 of the World Series on a walk-off home run by David Freese:

The Cardinals entered the 2011 postseason as the major underdog. Nobody predicted that they would be able to get past the first round, let alone win the World Series. But the Cardinals kept winning. And as they did, the club used social media to help rally the fans and get them to believe in the impossible. For example, each day during the playoffs, the Cardinals Facebook page would post pictures and inspirational quotes for fans to like, comment on, and repost to their own profiles in solidarity. As the underdogs, the Cardinals needed all the help they could get.

Another example of this phenomenon is the “Rally Squirrel.” A squirrel ran onto the field at Busch Stadium during the Cardinals’ October 4, 2011 playoff game against the Philadelphia Phillies. During the next game, the squirrel scampered across home plate as Skip Schumaker was batting for the Cardinals. The squirrel interrupted the game briefly and distracted Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals ended up winning the game (and eventually the series), and the squirrel became the Cardinals’ unofficial mascot.

The “Rally Squirrel” soon went “viral,” or should I say spreadable, as it appeared all over the Internet, and eventually made its way onto T-shirts, bumper stickers, and baseball cards. It even created its own Twitter feed (@BuschSquirrel), which accumulated tens of thousands of followers within a matter of days. The team’s social media accounts discussed the squirrel as well. The Rally Squirrel became so popular that the Cardinals’ World Series championship rings even featured a tiny squirrel on one side:

The Cardinals’ World Series championship rings feature a tiny squirrel on the side, in honor of the Rally Squirrel. Photo by David Brown.

The Rally Squirrel also received coverage in the mainstream media (print and broadcast), illustrating convergence, as it crossed over between multiple media platforms.

The Rally Squirrel was not the Cardinals’ only new mascot, though. Cardinals player Allen Craig has a pet tortoise named Torty. Once word about Torty spread, the tortoise soon had his own Twitter feed (@TortyCraig) and merchandise as well. Torty and the Rally Squirrel became so popular that Cardinals then-manager Tony La Russa talked about them in press conferences (he even said that they were dating each other) and Cardinals reporters wrote stories about them.

This picture of the “Rally Squirrel” spread through social media.

Cardinals player Jon Jay used to tell Allen Craig to “Do it for Torty” before Craig’s at-bats.

Novelty Twitter feeds like these extended the narrative about these mascots beyond the baseball diamond to where fans could be creative and continue the story. The mascots took on “lives” of their own. For example, the Twitter feed for Cardinals closer Jason Motte’s glove, @SirGlovingtonAWilson, describes that he is “best friends with Torty Craig.”

The Cardinals’ playoff run also led to the creation of several hashtags on Twitter, such as #Happy flight, which was the team’s rallying cry after every victory (because a victory meant the flight home would be a happy one), or #11-in-11, which stood for the team’s quest to win their eleventh World Series championship in the year 2011.

Beyond novelty Twitter feeds, though, many baseball players themselves now use Twitter. The trend has spread to the Cardinals, where players such as David Freese (@dfreese23), Yadier Molina (@yadimolina04), Jon Jay (@jonjayu), Jason Motte (@JMotte30), Matt Holliday (mattholliday7), Carlos Beltran (@carlosbeltran15), and Daniel Descalso (@DanielDescalso) tweet frequently.

As a huge Cardinals fan, I enjoy following these players and others on Twitter, as well as Cardinals beat reporters, sports writers, and bloggers, because their tweets are genuine and personal. In an age where anyone can pretend to be another person online, authenticity is appreciated and rewarded.

I often tweet about baseball (live updates of baseball games fit with well Twitter’s 140-character limit and make Twitter a great source of breaking baseball news). Twitter allows me to become part of the baseball conversation. I tweet to reporters, asking them questions or responding to their comments, and many times I get responses back from them. I’ve even had a conversation via Twitter with a Cardinals player. It’s empowering, as a fan of the game of baseball, to be able to engage and interact with elite members of the sport. Though these players and experts don’t always respond, I try to tweet about baseball as much as possible so that I can establish a voice and a presence on Twitter, making people more likely to respond to or follow me. My experiences with Twitter demonstrate how social media can lower the transaction costs of communication, as Benkler suggests.

Though this type of interaction with reporters may not be as frequent for other types of journalists (see Pew study), I have found it to be quite common in the baseball world.

The use of social media has become so prevalent among baseball players that Major League Baseball recently followed in the footsteps of many news organizations by releasing its first social media policy. The policy outlines the boundaries of appropriate use of social media by players.

MLB encourages its players to use social media to interact with fans, but also recognizes that there must be certain limitations to those interactions. The policy prohibits the following player actions:

1. Displaying or transmitting Content via Social Media that reasonably could be construed as an official public communication of any MLB Entity without obtaining proper authorization.

2. Using an MLB Entity’s logo, mark, or written, photographic, video or audio property without obtaining proper authorization.

3. Linking to the website of any MLB Entity on any Social Media outlet without obtaining proper authorization.

4. Displaying or transmitting Content that contains confidential or proprietary information of any MLB Entity or its employees or agents, including, for example, financial information, medical information, strategic information, etc.

5. Displaying or transmitting Content that reasonably could be construed as condoning the use of any substance prohibited by Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

6. Displaying or transmitting Content that questions the impartiality of or otherwise denigrates a Major League umpire.

7. Displaying or transmitting Content that is derogatory or insensitive to individuals based on race, color, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or religion, including, but not limited to, slurs, jokes, stereotypes or other inappropriate remarks.

8. Displaying or transmitting Content that constitutes harassment of an individual or group of individuals, or threatens or advocates the use of violence against an individual or group of individuals.

9. Displaying or transmitting Content that contains obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts.

10. Displaying or transmitting Content that violates applicable local, state or federal law or regulations.

This policy reflects the importance of ethics when baseball players portray and express themselves. Players must be careful on social media, where comments they make about their personal lives can affect their reputations as professionals.

Social media also allow fans to become media producers. When significant events happen in sports, many fans create their own videos that splice together various highlights with music, resulting in a montage or narrative of sorts. For example, here is my favorite video that tells the story of the Cardinals’ season and their historic comeback to win the World Series in 2011. The video synchronizes action with lyrics in the song:

This video is an example of convergence culture, as it features various highlights and music that amateurs spliced together. Jenkins describes convergence culture as a place “where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways.” The line between media producer and consumer certainly becomes blurred on social media, as any person or sports fan can produce online content that many others can see. Videos that fans create can end up bringing positive publicity to the Cardinals, even though the Cardinals as an organization may have had nothing to do with producing the videos.

Here is another video that ended up circulating the Internet. This one is a compilation of fan reactions to the Cardinals’ World Series victory:

Each of the above videos was uploaded to YouTube (another social media channel), and was then shared through email, Facebook, and other channels when people posted or sent the link. YouTube thus serves as an aggregator that facilitates video sharing. According to Burgess and Green, “we watch videos after we stumble across them on blogs, or click on links sent to us in emails by our friends, and we pass them along to others” (9).

This is certainly true for me. I usually find Cardinals videos after people post them to Facebook or Twitter. If I like them enough, I’ll send them to other fans (like my Dad, brothers, or friends) who would appreciate them.

Burgess and Green therefore consider YouTube to be a site of “participatory culture,” or a culture in which “fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content” (10).

In addition to videos, Cardinals fans have also developed several memes that have spread across the Internet and have been spotted on Facebook. For example, this meme spread when Albert Pujols went on a home run drought for the entire month of April:

The “No Homers Club” meme capitalizes on [some] Cards fans’ resentment of Albert Pujols for leaving the team and also uses humor to poke fun at Pujols for his extended offensive slump. Homer Simpson is not allowed in the club, but Albert Pujols, who had no “homers” (home runs) at the time is allowed and can be seen through the window.

Another popular meme features the thoughts of Mike Matheny, the Cardinals’ new manager, and relies on his good looks and the fact that he is baseball’s youngest manager. The meme is based on the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme and has several versions that have spread online.

These memes are examples of user-generated content and spreadability. According to Kaplan and Hainlein, the main characteristics of user-generated content are: (1) the content is published on either a publicly accessible website or on a social networking site; (2) the content shows a certain amount of creative effort; (3) The content was created outside of “professional routines and practices.” Anyone could make a meme like this, but only certain ones receive enough views and publicity that they spread rapidly among their target audiences, in this case St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Social media and baseball are two of my favorite things. I love that I can use them together. Even as I write this, I am watching the Cards game, Tweeting about it, and keeping up with what people are saying about the team on Twitter. Social media have allowed me to combine my passions for communication and baseball and find innovative ways to interact with the Cardinals. For a complete list of Cardinals social media accounts, visit the team’s social media clubhouse.

Works Cited

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Alexander, A. (2009). “Post Editor Ends Tweets as New Guidelines are Issued.” The Washington Post: Omblog. Retrieved from http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ombudsman-blog/2009/09/post_editor_ends_tweets_as_new.html

Brown, David. (2012). “Cardinals Put ‘Rally Squirrel’ on World Series Ring.” Yahoo Sports: Big League Stew Blog. Retrieved from http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/cardinals-put-rally-squirrel-world-series-ring-160249382.html

Burgess, J., Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Digital Media and Society Series. Malden, MA: Polity.

Goold, D. (2011). “A Field Guide to Cards’ Wild, Wild Kingdom.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/birdland/article_f8105c4a-f109-11e0-a20e-001a4bcf6878.html

Holcomb, J., Gross K., Mitchell A. (2011). “How Mainstream Media Outlets Use Twitter.” Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/how_mainstream_media_outlets_use_twitter.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2009, February 11). If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead. Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org

Kaplan, A., Haenlein, M. (2010). “Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media.”  Business Horizons. Retrieved from Science Direct.

“Memorandum RE: Major League Baseball’s Social Media Policy.” Retrieved from http://davidhallsocialmedia.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/mlbsocialmediapolicy.pdf

Schroeder, S. (2009). “WSJ Social Media Policy: Still Not Getting It.” Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2009/05/14/wsj-social-media-policy/

Silverman, M. (2010). “The Future of Social Media and Politics.” Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2010/11/01/future-social-media-politics/

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Seven Reasons to Visit the Loop

Where do young people hang out in St. Louis? One popular place to go is the Delmar Loop, or simply “The Loop.”

The Loop is a six-block area on Delmar Boulevard filled with restaurants, boutiques, nightlife, entertainment, and culture. The area got its nickname because it used to be the place where “streetcars from downtown ‘looped around‘ to return to the city.”

In no particular order, here are seven good reasons to visit the Loop:

1) The St. Louis Walk of Fame – If you walk around the Loop, chances are you’ll notice the bronze colored stars on the sidewalk. These stars and accompanying plaques recognize famous St. Louisans including Chuck Berry, Nelly, Maya Angelou, T.S. Eliot, Yogi Berra, Scott Joplin, Charles A. Lindbergh, Joseph Pulitzer, and many others. There are 116 stars in total. In order to get a star on the Walk of Fame, people must be nominated and must make it through a rigorous selection process. Criteria for nomination include:

*The person must have been born in St. Louis or spent their formative or creative years here.

*The person’s accomplishments must have had a national impact on our cultural heritage.

Selections are made by the Walk of Fame selection committee, which consists of 120 St. Louisans.

Chuck Berry's Star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Photo Courtesy of http://discoverblackheritage.com/walk-of-fame/

2) Blueberry Hill – Blueberry Hill is a famous restaurant and music club in the Loop. It is a crowd favorite because Rock and Roll legend Chuck Berry played there, and still does, on a monthly basis. Chuck Berry was born in St. Louis and was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Blueberry Hill is a great place to get a burger and listen to some live music. The restaurant also features many collections of pop culture memorabilia, from baseball cards to Beatles figurines. Watch the video below to see Chuck Berry perform at Blueberry Hill:

3) Fitzs Bottling Company –  Fitz’s Bottling Company, “America’s original soda microbrewery,” is a restaurant and Root Beer Bottling company, known for its home-made root beer and its burgers. It has been a fixture in the Loop since 1993. You can watch the factory bottle root beer using its vintage bottling line and then enjoy some freshly made root beer. You can also take a tour of the facilities. Fitz’s Root Beer is made using an original recipe developed in St. Louis in 1947.

Fitz's Rootbeer

Fitz's Bottling Company. Photo courtesy of Fitz's Web site.

The Fitz's vintage bottling line in action. Photo courtesy of Fitz's Web site.

4) Pi Pizzeria – See my earlier post for more information about this awesome pizza place.

5) The Pageant – The Pageant is a concert nightclub that features shows from local, national, and international bands. Upcoming shows include Creed, The Fray, FUN., Afrojack, The Shins, Ingrid Michaelson, and Tenacious D. The pageant was built like a theater so that every seat or standing room area is within 70 feet of the stage. This creates an intimate concert experience where there is no such thing as a bad seat. Tickets usually cost around $15-$50. Pollstar recently rated the Pageant as one of the top five concert venues in the world.

The Outside of the Pageant. Photo by Adam Allington.

6) Nightlife – At night, the Loop is a great spot for going out. Make sure to check out the Moonrise Hotel and Lounge, which features a rooftop terrace bar that overlooks the St. Louis skyline, Pin-Up Bowl, a bowling and martini lounge, and Cicero’s, a bar that features live music and has 55 different beers on tap.

Roof-top Terrace Bar at the Moonrise Hotel. Photo courtesy of The Moonrise Hotel's photo gallery/Web site.

7) The TivoliThe Tivoli is a landmark movie theatre in the Loop that plays independent film and foreign language cinema. For example, the Tivoli will be playing a new documentary about the Beatles in May. The Tivoli has been operating since 1924, and has three screens. The building itself is also an architectural masterpiece, known for the huge vertical sign that stands in front of the building.

The sign outside the Tivoli Theatre. Photo by Tojosan, on Flickr.

Make sure to stop by the Loop the next time you’re in St. Louis for the weekend!

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Majestic Tradition

In honor of the Cardinals’ Opening Day in St. Louis last week, I am going to dedicate this post to one of the more majestic parts of St. Louis tradition. You might know them from the Budweiser Super Bowl commercials:

They are the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.

The Clydesdales are some of the most majestic animals imaginable, and are part of St. Louis lore. Each year they march around the field at Busch Stadium for the Cardinals on Opening Day.

Budweiser's famous Clydesdales make their annual loop around the field at Busch Stadium in honor of Cardinals' Opening Day. Photo courtesy of mlb.com.

You can also see them during other parts of the year if you visit Grant’s Farm in St. Louis,  which has about 25 Clydesdales, or the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis for a free tour. Anheuser-Busch is headquartered in St. Louis. Here is a picture I took of one of the Clydesdales when I went on a tour of the brewery:

A Clydesdale horse at Anheuser Busch's brewery in St. Louis.

The Clydesdales are famous for their distinct, giant hooves that have shaggy white hair around them.

Their 9/11 tribute is one of their most famous ads:

The Clydesdales have been part of American and Anheuser-Busch tradition since 1933. They were a gift from August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch to their father to celebrate the repeal of the Prohibition. The Clydesdales participated in President Truman’s inauguration (Truman was from Missouri), as well as President Clinton’s. Anheuser-Busch calls the horses “the living embodiment of America’s great industrial spirit.” They are so important and loved that they even get their own mascot – a dalmation that rides with them whenever they make public appearances.

They usually appear in at least one Super Bowl ad per year.

Not all of the Clydesdales make the cut to become part of the prestigious Budweiser teams, though. According to the Grant’s Farm Web site, the distinction is reserved for “only the finest Clydesdales.” Specifically, they must meet the following requirements:

1) The full-grown Clydesdale should stand 18 hands (about six feet) at the shoulder and weigh between 2,000 and 2,300 pounds.

2) The ideal horse is bay in color, has a blaze of white on its face, a black mane and black tail.

3) The Clydesdale will have white feathering on all four legs and feet. All hitch horses are geldings, characterized by their even temperament and stronger, more natural draft horse appearance.

The process is quite selective. Here’s one of my favorite ads, about a Clydesdale named Hank who gets left off the team and works hard to get picked the next year:

The Clydesdales are truly a classic must-see. A trip to St. Louis is not complete without visiting these American icons.

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The City Museum

I just turned in my Master’s capstone project this week. Finals are coming up, and I’m in the middle of a job search. Many of my friends are going through the same processes. With all of this going on, do you ever miss the days when we were little and the biggest decision we had to make was what to do first on the playground? Well, at the City Museum in downtown St. Louis, you can bring those days back–even as an adult.

At the City Museum, you have plenty of choices to make. You can walk through caves, tunnels, and secret passages, climb up a giant metal coil that looks like a slinky, hang out in a giant bird’s nest or tree house, and slide down a three-story slide. You can ride a ferris wheel that sits on top of the building or walk around in an old school bus that dangles over that rooftop. You can swing on ropes, walk through a huge stone whale, or sneak into an underground tunnel that you can barely fit through.

Rather than your typical museum, the City Museum is a giant jungle-gym. But it is also a work of art and an architectural masterpiece. The floors and walls are covered in tile mosaics, and most of the structures are made of recycled materials, such as abandoned planes and conveyor belt rollers. The City Museum describes itself as “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” The Museum occupies what used to be the International Shoe Company. All of the Museum’s materials come from St. Louis.

It sounds pretty cool, but the pictures speak for themselves:

A girl crawls through one of the metal tunnels in the outdoor part of the City Museum. Photo by Peter Newcomb for The New York Times.

You can go inside this old school bus that hangs off the roof of the City Museum. Photo by Nicandjessica

Concrete caves at the City Museum. Photo by City Museum.

Kids climbing up a metal, slinky-like structure at the City Museum. Photo by Trista Digiuseppi.

Abandoned airplane at the City Museum. Photo by Valrie.

The City Museum is fun for all ages. I have taken little kids there on field trips as a camp counselor, and also bring my friends there when they visit. On Friday and Saturday nights, the City Museum is open until 1am and serves drinks and plays music.

The New York Times featured the City Museum in an article a few years ago that described one out-of-town family’s trip to the Museum. The Mother, Gay Rhodes, commented, “This place is incredible…I have two 22-year-olds, an 18-year-old and a husband, and they are all being gerbils.”

With so many places to climb or walk through at the City Museum, you can be a gerbil too. You’ll have a different experience each time you go. You might end up with a few skinned knees, but a trip to the City Museum is well worth it.

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Animals Always

I just read an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday about how the Saint Louis Zoo has two baby lion lion cubs, named Mtai and Serafina, that were born this past Valentine’s Day. As you can imagine, they are adorable. They’re not old enough to be seen by the public yet, but I hope that the next time I’m in St. Louis I’ll get to go see them. I mean, what could be cuter than this?

Mtai and Serafina playing together at the St. Louis Zoo. Photo by Johnny Andrews

The cubs are being raised by Zoo staff because the mother was unable to produce enough milk. Unfortunately, the two other cubs born in the litter did not survive due to the same problem.

Reading about the lion cubs made me realize how much I miss going to the Saint. Louis Zoo. The Zoo is one of St. Louis’s best attractions. It’s consistently rated among the top zoos in the country, and best of all, it’s completely free.

I used to go there all the time with my parents and siblings. I remember going to see Raja, an elephant born at the Zoo in 1992, and then seeing him grow up and have his own baby elephants, Maliha, Jade, and Kenzi. Raja was the first Asian Elephant born at the St. Louis Zoo.

The Saint Louis Zoo itself was born out of the 1904 World’s Fair, which was held in St. Louis. The Fair featured a “walk-through flight cage” that the city of St. Louis bought after the Fair, rather than letting it go back to Washington, D.C. The flight cage became the major motivating factor in the decision to build a zoo in the city, and the cage is still there to this day. The Saint Louis Zoo was the first zoo in the world to be municipally supported.

As I have grown up, the Zoo has grown with me. I have seen the additions of new exhibits such as the “River’s Edge,” featuring elephants and hippos, as well as new architecture, such as the animal sculpture below that is now at the Zoo’s entrance.The sculpture, called Animals Always, is the largest sculpture at any public zoo in the United States.

The Animals Always steel sculpture at the Saint Louis zoo is 130 feet long, 36 feet high, and weighs 100 tons. Photo by zoochat.com.

I also remember when the zoo opened its “Penguin and Puffin Coast,” an indoor area that you can walk through, featuring penguins and puffins that climb on rocks, dive, and swim through the water, just feet away from where you’re standing. Penguin and Puffin Coast is a fan favorite on St. Louis Summer days, because the exhibit is kept at cool temperatures. There is almost always a line there. Check out this video of the exhibit from the Zoo’s Web site:

Even though the Zoo is great to visit as a little kid, it’s also a fun place to go with friends, when you’re older. I usually try to take all my out-of-town visitors there.

My favorite animals to see are the orangutans, who are often seen dancing or imitating onlookers, the giraffes, who will come up to the fence to greet you and get close enough to touch (but don’t touch them!), and the lions and tigers who rule “Big Cat Country.” I also like encountering the peacocks that roam freely throughout the grounds.

As Former St. Louis Zoo Director George Vierheller said, “There are two things a lively city needs–a good zoo and a good baseball team.” I wholeheartedly agree, and if you read my last post, you’ll see that St. Louis has both.


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Baseball Heaven

Finally, the post I’ve been waiting for. Everyone who knows me well knows that I’m a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan–a bigger fan than almost anyone I know. (I’m sitting here writing this post in my Cardinals pajamas in my bedroom that has an entire wall covered in Cardinals memorabilia. The other windows open on my computer are MLBtraderumors.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sports page.) But people not from St. Louis don’t all realize just how great of a baseball town St. Louis is.

I am reminded every time I land at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. The second I step off the plane and set foot on St. Louis ground, I am greeted by a sea of red, filled with birds on the bats (the Cardinals’ team logo). Everyone wears Cardinals gear in St. Louis. I am so used to living on the East Coast, where the sighting of a Cardinals shirt or hat is cause for a mini-celebration, that when I get to St. Louis and see so many Cardinals logos everywhere, I forget that it’s the norm there. It makes me feel right at home.

St. Louis Cardinals logo. Courtesy of http://zettwoch.blogspot.com

They call Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play, baseball heaven. And they aren’t kidding. It’s my favorite place in all of St. Louis (besides my house, of course!), and if you go there, you can feel the magic in the air. Magic that comes from a franchise that has won 11 World Series Championships (second only to the New York Yankees). Magic that comes from a team that was 10.5 games out of first place in September of last season, and that found a way to not only come back but to win the World Series. Magic that comes from the team that was on the brink of elimination, down to its last strike–twice–and fought back both times to earn that championship.

They call Busch Stadium "Baseball Heaven." Cardinals fans gather outside Busch stadium for the 2011 World Series victory parade. Photo by Jason Van Hoven.

Yadier Molina and other members of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after getting the final out to win the 2011 World Series. Photo by Matt Slocum of the Associated Press.

The Cardinals entered the postseason in 2011 as serious underdogs, and yet they used their grit and mental toughness to get to the World Series and win it, in a dramatic seven-game fashion. I was, and am, so proud of my team and my city. By some coincidence or act of fate, I happened to be in St. Louis for my Mom’s birthday during the end of the World Series. I got to watch game seven with my Dad at a bar in downtown St. Louis, right by the stadium, so that we could experience the victory in person. It was a moment I will never forget. The Cardinals crowned St. Louis champions and put the city on top of the baseball world.

Lance Berkman,Rafael Furcal, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, and the Cardinals team (plus family) pose by the 2011 World Series championship trophy immediately following their game 7 victory. Photo from CNN.com.

Cardinals fans celebrate at a rally after the Cardinals win their 11th World Series championship. Photo by Barbara Moore via http://stlouis.sbnation.com

And we should have stayed on top of the world. But the 2011 season turned out to be bitter sweet for Cardinal Nation. Days after our great victory, Tony LaRussa, the Hall-of-Fame caliber manager of the Cardinals and a St. Louis icon, retired. A couple months later, we lost our superstar first baseman (and arguably the best baseball player today), Albert Pujols, to free agency, after he repeatedly reassured fans that he wanted to remain a Cardinal for life. I will not say much about “Albert” here, other than that he was the face of the team and of St. Louis for eleven years and that I feel lucky to have seen him play, because it is a very sore subject among Cardinals fans. Because of these huge changes, 2012 will be a season of transition.

I witnessed part of this new beginning over Spring Break, when my Dad, my brother Ben, and I made the “pilgrimage” to Jupiter, Florida, along with thousands of other hard-core Cardinals fans, to see the Cardinals play baseball in Spring Training. It was the second time I had been there. As you might expect, I had the time of my life. We went to two games, and I got up at the crack of dawn each day to watch practice and attempt to get autographs. I got to see many of my favorite players, including Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and David Freese, and got a few players to sign my program.

Cardinals minor league players practice before a Spring training game in Jupiter, Florida. Photo by Ben Weisel (my brother).

A highlight of the trip was getting to watch Wainwright, one of our ace pitchers, warm-up just ten feet away from me. It was one of the first times he pitched since having elbow surgery that sidelined him for all of last season. I literally almost fainted from excitement. Ask my brother if you don’t believe me.

Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright warms up before pitching in a Spring Training game.

Walking around the sold out crowds at the Cardinals’ spring training facility, Roger Dean Stadium, I listened to families discuss how they had been traveling to Spring Training for the past 17 years, or how they had driven more than 20 hours to get to Jupiter. I learned a lot of from the fans around me and was reminded of just how great Cardinals fans are. As I said in an earlier post, they are routinely listed among the best fans in all of baseball. I know the Cardinals will be okay, and the tradition of baseball greatness in St. Louis will live on. Like the inspirational 2011 Cardinals team, Cardinals fans never give up. They are fiercely loyal until the last strike, and always believe.

Ben and I at Roger Dean Stadium after a Spring training game. Photo by Larry Weisel (my Dad).

I left Jupiter with more Cardinals gear than I had come with, including Cardinal-red skin from too much sun and too much excitement to take a break to put on sunscreen. It was more than worth it. Hopefully one day I’ll be a regular at Spring Training too.

To be continued: I clearly have a lot to say about the Cardinals. In fact, I could really devote an entire blog just to Cardinals baseball–a goal I hope to accomplish one day. In order to do the topic justice, I will be making the team the focus of my final project for this class, which will be complete by May 11th.

**Post edited March 28, 2012

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Frozen Tradition

Somehow it’s almost 70 degrees today in Washington–in early March. In the spirit of the warm weather and with Spring Break just around the corner, I decided to dedicate this blog post to frozen yogurt–one of my favorite desserts. “Fro-yo” has become trendy over the past couple of years all across the country. We have a frozen yogurt place on what seems like every corner in downtown DC. St. Louis has its share of frozen yogurt too, but is much better known for its frozen custard.

Ted Drewe's concrete. Photo by aemcbride.

If you’ve ever experienced a DC summer then you also know what it feels like in the summertime in St. Louis – unbearably hot and humid. There are really only a few things you can do: go to the pool, stay indoors, or go out for a cold dessert. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is, without a doubt, the best place to go. It is a landmark spot in St. Louis, and has been a fixture in the city since 1930. It’s also located on Historic Route 66, another reason it’s worth checking out. Ted Drewes is family-0wned, and Ted Drewes Jr. himself is often spotted at Cardinals games and around St. Louis.

Ted Drewes is open almost all year round, but the most popular time to go is on weekend nights during the summer. It is ALWAYS crowded, with people of all ages, but the lines move quickly.

Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard is a simple custard stand but is a landmark destination in St. Louis. Photo from http://exploringroute66.com

I like to go with my friends or family either after a night at the ballpark or just for fun. The building itself is a simple “ice cream” stand; there’s nowhere to go inside and no chairs or tables outside. So people usually stand around and talk/eat in the parking lot or sit on the curb or on top of their cars. It’s a very social dessert experience. Ted Drewes is also located a bit out of the way, which makes going there more fun and a special occasion.

A typical night at Ted Drewe's. Photo by David Simmer II.

The custard itself, though, is what draws the crowds. Frozen custard, when done right, is extremely thick. Ted Drewes is most famous for its concretes, which come in signature yellow cups and are so thick that they literally resemble the consistency of concrete.

The true test of a concrete is to see if any falls out when you turn it upside down. Photo by Gabrielle Esperdy.

The ultimate Ted Drewes “thing” is to turn your concrete upside down with the spoon inside. The custard is so thick and packed in that it doesn’t even budge. I’ve tried it myself countless times, and it really works. Plus, if you ever go there, now you’ll know why everyone is randomly turning their cups upside down. I recommend either the cookies and cream or the chocolate concrete. I like mine plain, but you can mix in all sorts of toppings.

Ted Drewes is one of the most “St. Louis” places there is, and no visit to the city is complete without stopping there. I’m getting hungry just writing about it.

Thanks for reading…I’ll “see you” after Spring break! Until then, I’m going home to St. Louis! Can’t wait🙂

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