08/11/2004: In the first floor of my apartment building....
there's a deli called "Fino's from the Hill". It's an Italian place, and it captured my heart and my steady patronage from the first visit, because the owners are themselves transplanted St. Louisans (like myself) from The Hill (not like myself; I'm more of a Hampton Village product, but like most native St. Louisans I've been to The Hill lots, whenever I needed a fix of Real Italian Cuisine--Italian being the national cuisine of St. Louis). Yesterday afternoon I spent a few minutes chatting with one of the owners (Fino's had closed early for the day because their air conditioning had conked out on them--Not A Good Thing on a typical August day in Memphis), and we chatted briefly about being from St. Louis, and still missing the place (I have a theory that all Real St. Louisans can never be truly happy anywhere else, but that's a subject for another post; though I will cite one data point--anyone who's read this blog regularly can probably contrast how many times I post about St. Louis, and how many times I post about Memphis, and decide for her/himself whether I consider myself a Memphian or a St. Louisan). My parting comment was that here it is, the best year to be a Cardinals fan for a long, long time (1987, at least), and here I am away from Paradise on the Mississippi....
That being said, I've gotten a brief twinge of homesickness reading Lee Jenkins's magnificent article on the 2004 Cardinals, Very Different Birds of a Feather. Especially touching, to me as a loyal St. Louisan, are the passages dealing with what makes St. Louis the quintessential baseball town:
St. Louis seems to soften even the most hardened players. On his way to 70 home runs in 1998, McGwire complained about the attention in almost every city, but soaked it up in St. Louis and now has a local highway named after him. "Every time he came up, the people in the stadium would jump, and he'd be about to burst with adrenaline," LaRussa said. "He was a great player anywhere, but here he was greater."Clap politely when someone goes 0 for 4? Not only that, but where else in America will you actually find the fans cheering a sacrifice fly? I rest my case.
The same goes for his successors. In St. Louis, Edmonds is not just accepted, but admired. Rolen has tapped the potential that Philadelphians always knew he had. And Pujols has exceeded the standards set by the best players ever in his age group. He also invites numerous children with Down syndrome to Busch Stadium and has an knack for hitting home runs on the days they are in attendance.
"I try not to sensationalize anything, but this is a place where you really appreciate what you're doing," Rolen said. "Baseball means a lot to this city, and it better mean a lot to you. It's not just something to do. It's a special thing that's done right here. Everyone cares about what's important."
Even though the stadium is aging and the downtown sleepy, Edmonds, Rolen and Pujols are among a legion of players who signed long-term contracts to stay in St. Louis. Their motives are relatively pure. The fans treat every game like a college football Saturday, present their favorite players canisters of food and clap politely even when someone goes 0 for 4.
The players share a keen sense of club history. When new additions arrive at Busch Stadium, they are often directed across the street, to the St. Louis Baseball Hall of Fame. Then they go back to the ballpark and meet many of the inductees, who roam the clubhouse, passing tradition with their very presence.If the Cardinals make it to the World Series, it's going to be a painful October. Yes, I'll be ecstatic and overjoyed that finally we've made it after such a long drought. But it'll be tough not to be there to share the excitement firsthand.
Red Schoendienst, who started with the team in 1945, still suits up for batting practice. Stan Musial and Lou Brock parade through the stadium in red blazers. Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith pass along advice to young players. "The secret is that we're not just around when the club is doing well," Schoendienst said. "We're here all the time."
The old Redbirds gathered in the concourse of Busch Stadium on Wednesday in 90-degree heat and 99 percent humidity - Red, Lou, Ozzie, Whitey, Gibby and Stan the Man, as they are affectionately known in town - just to check out a giant hole in the ground. They were dressed up in their red finery for the naming of the newest Busch Stadium, scheduled to open in 2006.
Next to the former greats sat the current ones. Pujols and Herzog whispered back and forth. Rolen applauded as Musial showed off his batting stance. Even the construction crew paused to behold the faces of the game.
The heart of the order of Cardinals baseball beats on.
Len on 08.11.04 @ 08:14 AM CST