And after traveling to St. Louis to see the first two Cardinals home games of the year, I’m feeling mighty emotional. As Brad Pitt/Billy Beane said in Moneyball, how you can you not be romantic about baseball?
While all 30 teams obviously have an opening day, the Cardinals really is second to none — even in a normal year. This time, with an unexpectedly amazing 11th World Series championship to celebrate too? As Miranda wrote about yesterday, not even the rain or cold or wind or even a loss to the Cubs could dampen the spirits of the day.
Although Friday’s pre-game ceremony certainly dampened our eyes. We — Miranda, Kelly, Stacy and I — knew it would, and were prepared with Kleenex. While it’s terrific to see the Hall of Famers resplendent in their Cardinal red blazers, especially Red Schoendienst, the tears didn’t start to flow until we saw the red golf cart enter from the right field corner.
The crying was instantaneous, as it always is for me when I see Stan Musial at games — which, until now, had been only on television. But the roar from everyone in the stands, the music from “The Natural” and his waves to the crowd really are that much more incredible to experience in person. He’s a legend, the greatest Cardinal of them all and he’s now 91. Stacy said it best: we know he’s not going to be around forever, unfortunately, which makes the times like this all the more special. Moments to be cherished, indeed.
It’s amazing too to see the respect that all the Cardinals players give to Stan the Man and the Hall of Famers. The recognition of and honoring of the past is much appreciated in St. Louis, especially on Opening Day. The Hall of Famers are introduced first for a reason — that allows the current team to greet them one by one as they’re introduced.
Being there in person also allows a glimpse at details not visible on the television coverage. Such as Chris Carpenter removing his cap after he exited the pickup truck and before he reached Stan. He didn’t put his hat back on until he had greeted his new manager and former catcher Mike Matheny. Such a cool gesture of respect and awareness.
The raising of the World Series champions pennant was another emotional moment. It would have been anyway — it will still be awhile before the incredulity that the Cardinals really did come from 10 1/2 games back to win the World Series wears off, if it ever does. But the story of U.S. Army Specialist Jeffrey L. White Jr., whose family raised the pennant, was incredibly moving.
Specialist White, who was serving his country in Operation Enduring Freedom, died April 3 in the Khost Province of Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was an avid Cardinals fan who was home on leave for Game 7 of the World Series last October and was planning to attend Opening Day with his family before he was killed. The Cardinals and the Cubs all gave heartfelt applause to the family.
After all the festivities, when the game itself actually was played — oh well. Some days are like that.
Besides, there was another celebration the next day. And this time, we as fans received our own keepsake.
It was replica World Series ring day and everyone attending the game received just that — an actual, wearable ring with the same jeweled bird on the bat and gemstone background as what the players received. Different quality, obviously, but still a wonderful giveaway.
The areas right inside the gates were crowded on Saturday morning too, as people were eagerly opening the boxes to see the rings upon receiving them. Amazement was the common reaction, notably because it’s a real ring (albeit large) that can be worn.
There were some Cubs fans there, so I was curious to see if they were taking the rings or not. A did see a woman in a Cubs jersey trying one on. Perhaps the Cub fans are the ones who have the rings up for sale on eBay right now …
Speaking of Cubs and rings, the team was all out in the dugout watching the ceremony just like Dale Sveum said they would be. And they even applauded twice. Once was when Dave McKay, now the Cubs first base coach after 16 years with the Cardinals, received his ring. After he returned to the dugout, they all crowded around him to get a look at the ring. (Insert your own obvious joke here.) Then, at the conclusion of the ceremony, they all clapped when the stadium announcer asked for one more round of applause for the World Champions. Nice job, Cubs.
The 2011 Cardinals were announced one by one to receive their rings and it was interesting to see who received what volume of cheering. The loudest ovation, obviously, went to David Freese. Others receiving big cheers were Yadi, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte and, somewhat perplexingly to me, Adam Wainwright. (Perplexing because he wasn’t a part of the World Series run.)
After the ceremony came a two-hour rain delay until the game actually began. During the delay, an abbreviated version of the World Series film was played on the Jumbotron. Thankfully, our seats for this game were covered so we were able to sit and enjoy the trip back down memory lane. Not everyone around us was so happy to see all those on screen, however. Albert Pujols’ first appearance brought a round of boos.
Oh, yes, Albert. He wasn’t visible much, if at all, in any of the World Series highlights shown throughout the weekend. And I don’t recall seeing anyone wearing a Pujols Cardinals jersey — one that wasn’t modified in some way, that is. We did, however, see several people wearing Angels jerseys or t-shirts with his name and number on the back plus a woman in a shiny new Angels jacket. Still plenty of hurt feelings and bittnerness among fans from the comments I heard, and understandably so.
After the rain let up on Saturday, the sun came out and the temperature warmed up nicely. And that, combined with a four-run fourth inning that even included a Yadi stolen base after driving in the first two runs, made those gold-numbered uniforms seem a little more appealing.
As the final out came on Saturday and a few celebratory fireworks exploded against the daytime sky, it was the satisfactory conclusion to two great days at the ballpark. It had been seven-and-a-half months since I’d last been there — on Aug. 25, the day the 2011 turnaround began — yet it was just like coming home. Especially in the wake of all that transpired in the time between my trips to St. Louis.
And it made me realize one thing: I’ve never been more proud to be a Cardinals fan than I was this weekend.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.