St. Louis Baseball – America’s Heartland at its Best

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St. Louis Baseball

America’s Heartland at its Best

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When the baseball season begins anew in April most Americans living in the Midwest will once again turn their attention, at least for six months, to the St. Louis Cardinals, a team whose culture and tradition equals that of the New York Yankees. From North Texas up through the plains states into the Dakotas and down through Illinois “Cardinals Nation” emerges with a fervor that’s almost evangelical. The midweek games will take place in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, a beautifully retro ballpark next to the city’s Gateway Arch.

In the days before cable and satellites brought baseball into American homes, the Cardinals were the rulers of radio. From the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains down through North Texas and across to the Gulf generations of youngsters grew up listening to Harry Carey describe the exploits of Red Schiendist, Ken Boyer and Stan Musial on KMOX radio. These players are long retired, but the Cardinal fan base continues to grow.

image002Like Muslims, who have the Hajj to Mecca, the main ritual for Cardinal fans is the annual pilgrimage to Busch Stadium to pay homage to Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Fortunately for the faithful, the $365 million stadium, which opened in 2006 in the heart of St. Louis, is a wonderful place to watch a game and become a part of the city’s summer sports scene

The entertainment begins an hour before the game as thousands of people dressed in red file into the brick-clad stadium. St. Louisians call it the “Red Sea on the Mississippi” and the best place to photograph the phenomenon is from the pedestrian bridge across Stadium Way that looks down on the Cardinal Walk of Fame and the bronze statue of Stan Musial.

The party really begins inside where beneath a center field sign reading “Welcome to Baseball Heaven” stand picnic tables, a playground and virtual reality batting cages where Little Leaguers can take some swings against virtual major league pitching.

Having wholesome family fun is the main goal. But making money for the Cardinals runs a close second. Parents beware when entering the “Making of the Game” pavilion run by Rawlings Sporting Goods. Baseball bats branded with your child’s name are sold straight off the lathe. Personalized baseball gloves cost $190. Baseballs used in previous games sell for $60; even bases are available – if you’re willing to spend $500. If you see a scuffed ball from the last Cubs–Cards game and your son says, “I’ve gotta have that,” make sure you’re carrying plastic.

image003The Cardinals offer four daily tours of the new stadium ($10 for adults, $6 for kids) and they are worth the time and money since they range from the press box to the Cardinals dugout. You’ll also see the special boxes available for parties and the field level Red Bird Club where people probably richer than you take their meals before taking their seats behind home plate.

Families on a budget should resist the Rawlings pavilion and the outrageously overpriced souvenir stands around Busch Stadium. Instead visit the Cardinals Clubhouse at  St. Louis Union Station, the rail depot that served the Cardinals and St. Louis Browns (today’s Baltimore Orioles) in the days when ballplayers traveled by train. A National Historic Landmark within walking distance of Busch Stadium, Union Station now contains a luxury hotel and shopping center where the Cardinals store will sell you a third base identical to the $500 on offer at Busch Stadium for $110. More moderately priced apparel also is available, but note the sign above the cash register: “No Discount to Cubs Fans.”

Cardinal players tend to fall in love with St. Louis and never leave. Enough retired Cardinals still live in St. Louis to make up two baseball teams. Former center fielder Jim Edmonds operates a gourmet restaurant called   Space 15 in the heart of St. Louis just two blocks north of Union Station. Until recently, Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith and former Cardinal relief pitcher Al Hrabosky had baseball-themed establishments.

image005The next best thing to attending a Cardinals game is to dine at Mike Shannon’s Steak & Seafood. Located four blocks from Busch Stadium, the restaurant, owned by the former third baseman who now broadcasts Cardinal games, is packed with baseball memorabilia. Shannon’s post-game recap and talk show takes place at one of the restaurant’s corner tables.

If you’re hungry for Italian food head for The Hill, a working class neighborhood just beyond downtown where Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up. The Hill has bocce ball courts and fireplugs painted the Italian colors of red, white and green. Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda says Charlie Gittos restaurant just off Marconi Street serves the best Italian food in the U.S.

Before returning home, check the Internet to see if the St. Louis Perfectos have a game at Lafayette Park. The Perfectos are a 19th century baseball club that plays teams like the Rock Springs Ground Squirrels and the Shoal Creek Farmers. This is baseball circa 1860: no bunting, sliding or uncivil language. Good plays by either side merit a hearty “Huzzah.”

Before You Go

To order regular season Cardinals tickets go to  www.stlcardinals.com or call (314) 345-9000. Game day tickets also can be purchased at the Cardinals store inside St. Louis’ Union Station or the Busch Stadium ticket office.

Reserve space on a guided tour of Busch Stadium that includes visits to the dugout and press box by e-mailing stadiumtours@stlcardinals.com. Then make sure you visit the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame across the street at 700 Clark Avenue.

St. Louis’ Union Station is a national landmark. It’s also a great place to shop, have lunch and buy Cardinals memorabilia. Contact www.stlouisunionstation.com before you go and ask for a “Ticket to Savings” coupon booklet.

The Busch Brewery at 12th and Lynch Streets offers tours throughout the year. Reserve ahead for  Beer School and don’t miss the Clydesdale barn and post-tour hospitality room.

If you’re planning a trip to The Hill contact  The Hill Business Association first for a free map showing restaurants, shops and other locations.

image007If you’re in St. Louis on a weekend you may be lucky enough to see the St. Louis Perfectos. It’s not Cardinal baseball but the games are free and you can talk to the players.

The St. Louis Walk of Fame along Delmar Blvd. features sidewalk plaques commemorating Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and other famous St. Louisians like Josephine Baker, Dred Scott and Maya Angelou. Stop for a drink at the Blueberry Hill pub or the Rock ‘n Roll restaurant.

For maps, brochures and dozens of discounts, go to www.explorestlouis.com.

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East-West News Service editor David DeVoss listened to Cardinals games while growing up in Dallas.

 

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