September 5, 2005: St. Louis, Missouri
Mike and I had not planned on visiting Busch Stadium during the 2005 season. It was a 1960’s cookie-cutter stadium entering its final season. We had originally hoped to visit St. Louis in 2006 when the new Busch Stadium, which was being built adjacent to the old, opened. After discussing this, it was clear that we would be better off waiting a year to visit a ballpark with modern amenities. This plan remained until Mike spoke to veteran Ballpark Tourists and friends Jay and Dan. They shared their experiences of a sold-out Busch Stadium with its great history and atmosphere. That night Mike called me and within minutes our plans would change; we were headed to St. Louis.What sets Busch Stadium and Cardinals Baseball apart are the fans that flock to the ballpark year-in and year-out. Red Bird fans are famous for wearing red Cardinals shirts to each game. I have never seen more team paraphernalia in the 38 ballparks I’ve visited and doubt that I ever will. As usual, Mike and I arrived early, via the Metrolink train, to walk around Busch; however, unlike most stadiums, the concourse was packed two hours before first pitch. Some of the traffic can be attributed to the Labor Day Holiday, but most of it had to do with the Cardinals’ opponent and chief rival: the Chicago Cubs. Baseball rivalries transcend the game. Out west, baseball fans have Dodgers/Giants; back east, we have Yanks/Sox. But in the Midwest, Cardinals/Cubs is the only rivalry that matters.
Mike and I purchased Standing Room Only tickets for the 1:15 game. To our benefit, the holiday weekend drew numerous ticket holders to their summer getaways. This enabled Mike and me to enjoy the game from four different sections. Cardinals starting pitcher Jeff Suppan matched Cubs starter Mark Prior for six innings, allowing only four hits, but an Abraham Nunez error in the sixth led to two unearned runs. The 2-2 tie proved to be short-lived as the Cardinals gave the 49,646 in attendance something to cheer about. With 2-1 and no outs, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols blasted a three-run home run into the Cubs bullpen. It was the highlight of the 2005 Ballpark Tour, one of those “How awesome would it be if he hit a home run right here” moments. What a way to end the Midwestern Ballpark Tour! Cardinals 6, Cubs 4.
Although the Cardinals have played their final game in Busch Stadium (a Game 6 loss to the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series), the memories and history will remain. The Cardinals have been the most successful team in National League history, winning 19 pennants and 11 World Series. Their organization breeds success, as proven by Albert Pujols, a 13th-round draft pick out of Maple Woods (MO) Community College by way of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His first five seasons have put him on the fast track to Cooperstown. Pujols’ average season from 2001-2005 was .332, 41-127, a ridiculous feat even in the steroid era. His professionalism and leadership have made him one of the greatest players in the game. Hopefully he can save another memorable home run for my next visit to St. Louis.
Mike and I had a great time in St. Louis. I Pricelined a three-star hotel and was upgraded to the four-star Hyatt Regency Union Station hotel for only $60 a night. Union Station is one of the many landmarks in St. Louis. It was at one time the busiest rail yard in the country, enabling westward expansion. The Gateway Arch symbolizes St. Louis’ role in the expansion of the United States. Mike and I headed to the top of the 630-foot Arch after the Cardinals game and were amazed by the view. Another must-see while in St. Louis is the Anheuser Busch Brewery Tour, where the free tour of the brewery commences with two free samples from the fine people at InBev Anheuser Busch. Free beer at 10AM, how can you go wrong?
I am already planning my trip to the new Busch Stadium, which will be an open outfield ballpark with a view of the Gateway Arch. Like most modern ballparks, the new Busch will accommodate fewer fans, but provide them with improved sight lines and a wider array of activities. My only hope is that the new Busch is as classy and magnificent as the old.