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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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