The Cardinals are home, the sun is shining, and the town is painted red. There’s a street festival going on around the Busch Stadium, turning the downtown asphalt and concrete into a baseball Woodstock.
We gather again for celebration of tradition, family, friends, community and a baseball franchise that thankfully can unite us during a roiling time for our city. The Cardinals, the players, 81 home games, our fellow fans, the shared experiences and forever memories are the ties that bind.
The ballpark will be a living history museum, with a procession of Hall of Famers, icons, immortals, legends. Some are old now, moving slowly, but this doesn’t matter … they make you feel young, and you make them feel young. They’re so familiar — having been such a big part of our lives through the decades — you can reference them by their first names, or a nickname, and the recognition is instantaneous.
Lou … or Loooooooou
Tony … or TLR
And as we honor the baseball heroes, we welcome the newest members of the family … turn up the volume on the cheers for Marcell Ozuna, Jordan Hicks, Miles Mikolas, Dominic Leone, and former nemesis Bud Norris.
This is a civic holiday.
We get to come back home.
And for Cardinals’ enthusiasts, Busch Stadium is their summer home.
So sample the cold beer, the hot dogs, the peanuts, and nachos. Wave to the Dalmatian, as the Clydesdales clomp on by. Maybe buy a new baseball cap. Make sure to talk some baseball with a total stranger, and you will make a friend. Keep score, and it doesn’t have to be about writing in the 6-4-3 double-play. Keep score by taking in the entire scene and noting every moment that provides pleasure, joy, happiness, and unexpected delight. Pass some baseball knowledge on to a kid. If you are there with family, or very close friends, don’t forget to pose for a photo so you can look back on the day and immediately feel the rush of warmth and wonder all over again. And make sure there’s a few hugs in there from the first inning through the end of the game.
Please take time to think about those who can’t be with you today. The people –so dear to you — that were with you on so many days and nights in this same ballpark space to enjoy watching baseball … but really it was more about being the together. Maybe it’s a grandparent, or your mom or dad or both, or a sibling, or a cousin, or your best pal from college or high school. They may not be with you on this earth, but they will be with you today, in that same ballpark space you once shared. And if you think of them, you will know it … you will feel it… you will fill them with you.
No other game does this.
Any day at any ballpark is special … but this opening day at this ballpark is as good as it gets, as meaningful as it gets.
Breathe it all in … it’s life.
First pitch, 6:15 p.m.
And for the 249th time — which includes the postseason — pitcher Adam Wainwright will make a start and be be guided by catcher Yadier Molina. This will be their fifth home-opener as the Cardinals’ pitcher-catcher combination. Perfect.
@ “Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.” — the late Ernie Harwell, Hall of fame broadcaster.
@ “Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.” — the late Babe Ruth the Yankees’ Sultan of Swat
@ “These old ballparks are like cathedrals in America. We don’t have big old Gothic cathedrals like they do in Europe. But we got baseball parks.” — Jimmy Buffett, musician and raconteur.
@ “I guess my thermometer for my baseball fever is still a goose bump,” — Vin Scully, the legendary Dodgers broadcaster.
@ “There are certainly times when baseball is much more than bread and circus, times when baseball resonates deeply and meaningfully with many, many people, and times when a game that is built around overcoming failure can teach us all a few important lessons.” — Theo Epstein, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations.
@ “Back in my day, we didn’t think about money as much. We enjoyed playing the game. We loved baseball. I didn’t think about anybody else but the Cardinal.” The late Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal of them all.
@ “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — the late Rogers Hornsby, one of the all-time greatest Cardinals.
@ “It’s a beautiful thing, baseball.” — Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Because so many Cardinals fans — all fans? — will put on the red gear today, I wanted to know if there’s a connection between a color and things like mood, health, motivation, success.
My research findings:
A) Increases enthusiasm
B) Stimulates energy and can increase the blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, and pulse rate
C) Encourages action and confidence
D) Provides a sense of protection from fears and anxiety
I’m updating something I wrote a few years ago.
1. The wonder of it all: I’ve probably attended home openers in about 10 or 12 MLB ballparks. And though the other places do a nice job of bringing in baseball’s new year, none really match the all-encompassing nature of the event at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals understand the significance of what this day means to their fans, and they do it up right.
2. The Hall of Famers in the red jackets. Something about seeing them all standing there, looking proud and distinguished, beaming with pride … well, it gets to me every time.
3. The Clydesdales … The beer wagon … the Dalmatian … the motorcade of players. Is it corny and hokey and all of that. OF COURSE. But that’s why it’s great. Just why walking through the parking lot at Lambeau Field in Green Bay is great on Sunday, game day, when the Packers are playing … the smoke billowing from the grills, the bratwurst soaked in beer and grilled to perfection, the gregarious Cheeseheads wearing those foam Cheeseheads, offering everyone who passes by a plate of sausage and a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy or maybe a Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. The Cardinals baseball experience is uniquely St. Louis … so make it as hokey as possible … pile it up, make it extra sappy. Because if you can’t do that on a day like this … well, good luck paying the medical bills from your deep psychological disorders.
4. The ceremonial first pitch. Today: Bob Gibson throws to Tim McCarver, and it’s pretty much impossible to top that.
5. It really has become a holiday, though not officially. I personally rank the annual home opener at No. 3, behind Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the 4th of July coming in at No. 4.
Tom “Flash: Gordon pitched for eight MLB teams over 21 seasons before retiring at the end of 2009. He was never a Cardinal but obviously had a chance to pitch at the previous version of Busch Stadium, and the new Busch, which opened in 2006. When asked by USA Today about the best baseball town in the majors, Gordon could have been mistaken for the Mayor of St. Louis.
“That’s the mountaintop right there,” Gordon said. “No one can compare to Cardinals fans. Don’t even think of anywhere else. That’s the height of professionalism, right there. The others can talk all they want, but only St. Louis can walk the walk.”
Johnson, the future Hall of Famer, was startled when the crowd at Busch Stadium began cheering wildly for him … as he departed the mound, getting knocked out of his start in the sixth inning. With his head down, Johnson heard the cheering intensify and wasn’t sure why … he finally looked up and realized it was a gesture to salute him for winning for the 300th time in his career. And 300 wins is a very big deal. The thing is, Johnson had notched No. 300 in a game at Washington more than three weeks before the start in St. Louis. But Cardinals fans didn’t forget No. 300 … 24 days later … they were standing and applauding … an opponent.
“That was great,” Johnson said later that day. “They really appreciate their baseball here, good baseball, even when it’s not by their own players. That shows just how much they appreciate and respect the game. I was surprised, but knowing these fans, I shouldn’t have been.”
“They know the game,” Stan Musial told author Rob Rains. “They understand the game, but most important, they love the game. And they love the Cardinals. You can’t teach that. It has to come from the heart.”
Enjoy the day …