If any of you remember sitting in Busch II in 1987 and watching a young couple carry an infant, stroller, and all the other accessories that go with a baby to the very top row of the stadium to take in the baby’s very first Cardinal game, you witnessed the beginning of my life as a Cardinals fan. I’ve never known a life without baseball in it, and I honestly never even considered liking a different team. My parents both grew up in and around the St. Louis area, but moved to the west side of the state about 4 months before I was born. That’s right, I grew up about an hour north of Kansas City, but probably didn’t know who those blue-clad guys called ‘the Royals’ were until I was far too interested in the Cardinals to even consider changing allegiances.
Now, let’s be honest here, the Cardinals were absolutely terrible in the early ‘90’s. Until about 1996, the only player I really could tell you anything about was Ozzie Smith. A lot of this was due to the fact that there weren’t Cardinal games on tv back then, so the only way I could take in a game (besides traveling the 5 hours to St. Louis and back) was to listen on the radio to the smooth sounds of Jack Buck and Mike Shannon.
However, in 1996 that all changed when the Cardinals made the playoffs for only the second time in my short life and the first time that I was old enough to know what was going on (1987 shouldn’t be held against my infant brain after all). Suddenly the Cardinals were coming to life for me on the TV and I fell in love. By the end of the playoffs I knew the starting lineup, the difference between a starting pitcher (Andy Benes was the best one, but I was a fan of Todd Stottlemyre for his weird name), and our closer with crazy hair was Dennis Eckersley. I knew that our new manager was probably a jerk for not letting my Ozzie play very much anymore. I also knew that the Braves were the team to hate for making the Cardinals look bad in something called the NLCS, which didn’t mean anything other than ‘the playoffs’ to me back then.
Things started escalating quickly for me following the 1996 season. Suddenly I was reading the sports section and checking all the box scores, learning how scorecards work and what each little mark and letter meant, and spending as much time as possible listening to and talking about the games with my dad. In 1997, we traded for some guy named Mark McGwire, who I didn’t know at the time but was told he was going to be a big deal for us. I knew he would hit home runs, and hit them he did.
The 1998 season was magical for me. Thanks to the ‘great home run chase’ I was able to watch my Cardinals on an almost regular basis. By then I had the system worked: I could watch them play the Cubs on WGN, the Braves on TBS, the Royals on FSN, and anything that came up on FOX or ESPN was like Christmas morning. There were a lot of Christmas mornings in 1998, because no one in the Central time zone wanted to miss one single home run from Mark or Sammy. I spent the night of September 8, 1998, in the living room with my two sisters, glued to the TV and waiting for ‘the moment.’ When I saw that ball squeak over the wall, I went absolutely crazy, about how I thought it would feel to see the Cardinals win a World Series in my mind. You can say whatever you want about the 1998 season, Mark McGwire, or the state of baseball in general during the ‘steroid era,’ but you will never change how I felt about that season. That was pure joy, and my 11 year old self wanted to stay in that moment forever.
Let’s face it Cardinal fans, we have been utterly spoiled the past 10 years. Even through the frustrating years of 2003, 2007, and 2008, you can’t deny that going to the post season 7 times in 10 years is a pretty good run. For me, I found myself wanting to connect with other Cardinal fans. Considering I could count on 1 hand the number of friends in my life who were die-hard Royals fans, much less Cardinals fans or even baseball fans, I turned to the internet. MLB Gameday’s chat feature was great for a few years, and I found myself in a community of people who could share stories (there was a guy named tewksblurry that told some great ones) and follow the ups and downs of the season together.
The highlights of the past 10 years for me are the ’04-’06 seasons. In 2004, I was a senior in high school who was wrapped up in finishing out a strong volleyball season and spending every other waking moment following the Cardinals all the way to the World Series. October 26th was my last high school volleyball game, losing in the semi-finals in a heartbreaking match. The heartbreak was far from over, however, as I watched my boys fall to the Red Sox on the very next day. October 27th, 2004 – I turned 18 and the Cardinals watched the Red Sox party it up on the grass of Busch. Not my favorite birthday.
2005’s postseason was entertaining, if for no other reason than because my best baseball friends in my first year of college were all Astro fans! Going to a small college in Nebraska where 70% of the campus is from out of state, you’re going to make weird connections, and make them I did. We camped out in the lounge of my dorm for a week, trying to out-cheer each other and knowing that at the end of the game we would probably still be friends. Game 5 found me sitting next to a girl from St. Louis and in a room with upwards of 15 kids from Texas. In the top of the 9th, with Lidge in for the save, this St. Louis chick and I were holding on for dear life, willing our boys to pull out the win. Our Texas friends were shaking hands and sharing high fives, assuming the Cardinals were finished. When Albert Pujols hit that ball, I found myself jumping up and down and screaming with a girl I barely knew, and saw all my Texas friends looking like they had just been shot. Baseball does funny things to people.
2006 was a laugher. We squeaked into the playoffs, and I had to get more and more creative in trying to find ways to stake out a lounge to watch the games in because of people wanting to watch, among other things, One Tree Hill (I’ll never forgive those girls). Game 7 of the NLCS I spent ‘studying’ for the worst mid-term of my entire college career with another Cardinals fan (this time from Iowa). To this day, I have no idea how we both did as well as we did on that mid-term, because we were absolute disasters the night before from that game.
October 27th, 2006, was a much better birthday for me – I watched the Cardinals win the World Series! I have no idea what I did the rest of that birthday (or, for that matter, the rest of that semester), but that Series was the greatest thing I had ever seen.
Now I find myself in Wisconsin. How I got here is a ridiculous story, since I spent most of my senior year of college looking for jobs in the Missouri/St. Louis area, but here I am. I find myself in yet another unfriendly city towards my Cardinals, but that just makes my life that much more entertaining. I’m blessed to have found friends like Erika, Cadence, Courtney and Emily on Twitter (along with many, many more of you!) that support and help me expand on my Cardinals knowledge. I teach math in real life, but in my spare time I’m constantly reading up on Cardinals history, and all of you in Cardinal nation, no matter where you are, have added to that enjoyment tremendously.
Thanks for reading. Hope to see you around the ballpark (whatever ballpark the Cardinals are in, that is) sometime!