Friday, October 20, 2006

Baseball Heaven

Okay, I lied. I lied about not getting excited about the Cardinals until they won a game in the World Series. Fact is, I'm so thrilled today I can hardly see straight.

I always worry about talking about this kind of stuff, because I can only imagine how trivial it sounds to the many non-sports fans. It couldn't possibly make sense to you. But I'm sitting here realizing that you only get a relative handful of days in life when you feel like I feel right now. I can't work. I can't concentrate. Coworkers have been lining up at my office door all day to congratulate me. I just keep sitting here thinking "The Cardinals won the pennant!" When you've grown up a baseball fan, there's a lot of memories (and future memories) tied up in something like this. Watching these games (and this sometimes-frustrating, always-exciting Cardinal team) over the last few years with my rabid Redbird-fan son only heightens that meaningfulness.

I grew up watching Cardinals baseball. I earned my stripes as a fan. I was born about 6 weeks after their 1968 World Series loss, and they didn't reach another post-season until I was almost 14. I watched a few brilliant players during that span, like Lou Brock, Keith Hernandez, and Ted Simmons (Bob Gibson was nearly finished when I started watching). I also watched a lot of guys like Kenny Reitz, Mike Tyson (the chubby second baseman, not the cannibalistic boxer), Bake McBride, Jerry Mumphrey, and Tony Scott. I went to games where there were only 5000 people in the park. I watched Whitey Herzog yank Garry Templeton into the dugout and take a punch at him after Templeton flipped off the crowd--on Ladies' Day, no less. There was a lot of ignominy at Busch Stadium in those days. But I didn't care. I loved walking into that monstrous stadium with all the arches around the top. I loved the look of clean, white, new bases and freshly raked infield dirt. I loved the treat of eating a ballpark hotdog. And I loved those birds on the bat.

In the first decade of the 21st century, those Cardinals are now a perennial contender. They've won two pennants in three seasons. They have the best player in baseball (whom I like to call A-Poo, though ESPN's Bill Simmons steals it from me today). They have a beautiful new stadium. I've told my son, "Enjoy this. You may go through decades later in life when your team doesn't even sniff a post-season. You're getting to be a Cardinal fan at one of the great times ever to be a Cardinal fan."

Do I get too wrapped up in it? No doubt. Is it silly to put such stock in mere entertainment? Most likely. Often I find myself wondering, "Why do I put myself through this?" During the late innings of last night's game, as my stomach felt like I had eaten nails and chased them with a shot of acid, I wished for a moment that I could be one of those millions of people who couldn't care less. The vast majority of the nation was going about it's business last night as if baseball didn't even exist. Is this worth it? Is there any point to this?

Today I know the answer. You just don't get many days to feel like this. The sure agony of the World Series hasn't started yet, and everything's even. Today, for this day, it's only joy and optimism. Whatever happens in the World Series, my son's team--the St. Louis Cardinals--are winners of the National League pennant after one of the most thrilling and gut-wrenching games in postseason history. Yadier Molina has taken his place next to Ozzie Smith, Jack Clark, and Albert Pujols with a heroic, game-winning NLCS homer. Our voices are hoarse from screaming after it went over the wall. We're tired from staying up until 2am watching postgame interviews over and over again. It's not just entertainment. This is about my history. My grandparents and parents. My children. My city. My home.

Earlier this morning, I got the stunning word that two tickets to Game 4 of the World Series at the new downtown home of the Redbirds are available for my son and me. I booked the flight a couple of hours ago.

Does it get any better than this?

[P.S. I've just realized that today is the 24th anniversary of the the night Bruce Sutter blew one past Gorman Thomas to win last Cardinals World Championship. Which reminds me that it can get even a little better than this.]

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