An open letter to the St. Louis Cardinals and fellow members of Cardinal Nation:
Tonight is Game Seven. In sports, in baseball, it’s one of the most exciting and intense moments there is. Just two years ago, we were down 3 games to 2 to the Astros and forced a game 7. The emotion and grandeur that surrounded that night at the old Busch is one of my great sports memories in recent years.
Two and a half weeks ago, we thought we might be watching those Astros take our spot in the playoffs, but the boys with the birds on the bat pulled it out and won the NL Central. The magic of the past weeks is the result of the tenacity and wearwithall that just got them into the playoffs. For me, all I really wanted was for them to make it to October. Seriously. Anything after that would be icing on the cake. Getting through San Diego in the fine fashion they did was special. The pitching of Chris Carpenter, Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, and our amazing bullpen, along with the offense of unsung heroes So Taguchi, Scott Speizio, and Chris Duncan, along with the willingness of the MV3s Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, and Scott Rolen to play through pain and make big plays have been magical and incredibly memorable. This season cannot be defined by what happens tonight. It should be defined by the courage and tenacity the Cardinals have shown throughout the last 11 games. Many people didn’t even think we’d take the Mets to five games, much less be here in Game 7, but here we are. Given that, all of us should enjoy this special moment regardless of its outcome and believe that every member of the 2006 NL Central Championship team went down swinging, crashed the walls, and left it all on the field.
Go Cards!…Here’s hoping that tonight, after the lights go out at Shea, Jack Buck will be sitting among the Cardinal greats in Heaven, saying “That’s a Winner!” Something tells me he’ll be saying that about this 2006 club regardless.
The journey of Jeff Weaver has been an interesting one for him, I’m sure. From what I’ve seen of his career, he’s been knocked around a little bit. I’m sure there were a lot of groans when he became a Cardinal this summer, and from what his first few outings indicated, those groans were justified. I found it almost sad to watch him some times, because I know he’s bounced around the league. I can’t imagine anything more deflating than getting released by a team to make room for your younger brother. Cool for your brother, but not so cool for you.
I admit I’ve always had a soft spot for Weaver. I actually saw him pitch for the Yankees the spring of 2002. I was living in San Diego and my friend and I wanted to drive up to Anaheim to see the Yankees play the Angels. I was excited to get to see one of the Yankees’ great pitchers, Clemens or Petite or Mussina. But starting for the Yankees was a guy named Jeff Weaver, a guy I had never heard of. The Yankees won that game, but I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed. Even so, I’ve always been partial to him, I suppose because he’s part of my journey as a baseball fan. Now as a Cardinal fan this October, Weaver is once again part of that journey.
So today I thank you to Jeff Weaver. I hope that you’ve forgiven the fans of St. Louis for any early utterances of negativity when you arrived here. And I hope you know how grateful we are to have you with us this October.
Tonight we are minutes away from the start of Game 5 of the NLCS. Weaver is back to take on Glavine in a game that I hope ends differently than their earlier encounter last week. The rain stopped the game from even happening last night, which was disappointing to a degree, but I think it was better that they didn’t play. And as a good friend said last night, this way baseball goes on indefinitely. I certainly hope tonight’s game turns out to be worth the wait.
Such a long season and it all comes down to this month every year. Four months from now, the 2007 campaign will begin. Two-thirds of the year is spent watching this game and the other third is spent talking about it, trying to figure out what moves will be made. It is a marathon, not a sprint, but now it feels like a sprint. It’s marathon where the top eight at the end of the race get to take off on a 400 meter run around the track. So much time is spent just trying to get to October and then when you get here, all you want to do is get to teh end of it and come out on top. But this is the best time of the year, the most exciting part of the race.
As passionate as I am about baseball in general, nothing comes to the love I have for my hometown heroes, the boys who wear the birds on the bat, the St. Louis Cardinals. I grew up watching them here and saw them be great when I was a little kid in the late 1980s, saw them go through rough times into the early 1990s and have been fortunate enough to witness their consistent annual playoff run every October.
As a rule, I hate October. I hated it in high school because classes starting getting harder in October and worst of all, homecoming was always the major focus of the month and I had to deal with going stag each and every year. Then in college and grad school, I hated October because, again, it was midterms and I always did worse in my fall classes than I ever did in spring classes, for whatever reason. So, I hate October. But it is the month in which the MLB playoffs take place. And as a baseball fan, it’s my “duty” as Tommy Lasorda says, to watch. And usually the boys wbo wear the birds on the bat are playing. And every year, watching them during this month feels like coming home.
And I am very seldom home, living in St. Louis. It’s always been my homebase, but this is the first full baseball season that I have lived in the St. Louis area since the 1998 season, the year Mark McGwire hit 70 homeruns, but Sammy Sosa’s Cubs made the playoffs. Since that year, the year that was the end of my junior year of high school and the beginning of my senior year, I have spent four falls and three springs in southwest Missouri doing my undergrad work, one spring and summer in San Diego and New York City doing internships, two summers and two falls and one spring in Milwaukee in grad school, and one summer and fall in San Jose working at my first job. Seven years away. And since I left San Jose just before Opening Day 2006, I have been home for the entire inaugural season at the new Busch Stadium. It was something that maybe I didn’t think was going to happen, but I’m glad that it hss. There’s really nothing like baseball season in St. Louis. Nothing. It’s the greatest baseball town in the country, probably even in the world. And to live here is to the love the Cards. But it’s nice to be able to watch every game on televsion and not have to wait for the few times they’re on national tv each summer and fall. And it’s nice to wake uip every morning and pull the St. Louis Post-Dispatch out of the yellow cellaphane, and flip to the sports page to see beautiful pictures of the boys taken by Chris Lee, the Post’s amazing photographer who has been covering events in St. Louis as long as I can remember. It’s so much nicer to see it every day, to flip through the pages and get black on my figners and smelll the fresh newsprint, instead of just realding the early or late editions on line when I have time. I never get to see the pictures then and when I do, they’re always smaller any way.
So tonight, as a St. Louisan in her home, just 30 or so minutes from the ballpark, I say way to go, Redbirds. Thanks for getting us that big win tonight in the Big Apple. We’ll see you at home tomorrow.
Baseball is a passion. If you are a true fan, you bleed your team’s colors and you live and die by every pitch, every ground ball, every puff of dirt that flies off of home plate when a player crosses it during it a game. As true fans, we don’t understand those who call the sport boring or accuse every player of being a steroid junkie. How can the anticipation that comes with every pitch allow it to be classified as boring? As a self-proclaimed, boistorous, opinionated, passionate Cardinal fan, I believe that true exhuberance and love for this game comes from really understanding it. There is beauty in it, but not everyone sees it. And though I sometimes wish that more people saw it, I secretly believe that we who see and understand it are special. It’s kinda hard to really be a bandwagon baseball fan. The rules are complex, the pitches are hard to read, and the jargon can be hard to understand. To really love this game, you have to understand it. And to understand it, is to love it.
Oftentimes, baseball has been used as a metaphor for life. “When life throws you a curve, hit it out of the park.” How many times have you heard that expression? “It’s time to step up to the plate and blah blah blah.” Another cliche. I love the way it trancends time and culture and economic status. How many movies can you think of that feature baseball as the main character? And how many of those movies give you chills when you watch them? How many people can quote more baseball players than U.S. presidents? It is a passion.
The title of this blog may be perplexing, but it’s based on one of my favorite sayings. About three years ago, when Oakland A’s pitcher Barry Zito was on his way to winning the 2002 Cy Young, I heard it said that he throws a curve ball that drops like a broken heart. I loved the metaphor, the image I got in my head when I thought about it and when I looked at the faces of players he struck out with that curve. Curve balls, like baesball, can break your heart.
Chris Carpenter (from http://www.mlb.com)