A Magical Pilgrimage

    Busch Stadium
    BobLee
    August04/ 2015

    This “here” never changes for you, but the physical “where” of this “here” often shifts unnoticeably. This past weekend Where was on the banks of America’s Great River in the shadow of The Great Arch. A preponderance of “greats” ??

    Blondie and I were on a parental pilgrimage to St Louis to measure the degree of concern we needlessly manifest 24/7 re: Kid’s general well-being. We could cut back considerably on that; but then what would we substitute as a target for our concern? …… The short, medium and long-term fate of America is always an option but quickly leads to acute depression which leads to assorted intestinal disorders.

    ….. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with my magical pilgrimage to a Major League Baseball game on Saturday last.

    With the possible exception of The Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore on a clear day…. there are few sights in this country, IMO, more breath-taking than emerging from a concourse into a major league baseball stadium. OK, maybe one’s first trip to “Augusta”.

    I suppose some hardy souls get a tingle emerging “amid the pines” into Kenan Stadium. My last “Kenan tingle” was before Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia. Those who “tingle” entering Dean’s Dome or the PNC/RBC likely get emotional entering an IKEA or a Costco. Hey, whatever floats your boat…..

    To me there has never been a sight to match a big league ballpark. During the Eisenhower Administration Dad took little BobLee to “ballgames” in Washington’s Griffith Stadium…… “First in war, First in peace and Last in the American League”….. and to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in the Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn era.

    The total sensory overload of a big league ballpark were firmly rooted in me half a century plus ago. They emerge from the depths of my being every time I repeat that emergence from a concourse.

    It’s the greener-than-green manicured grass….. the perfectly groomed infield dirt….. the whiter-than-white bases and home plate and foul lines…. a “diamond” more beautiful than anything mined in South Africa or sold at Jared’s.

    It’s the bustle of the crowd highlighted by the cries of the vendors hawking “Cold Beer Here….. Getcha Cold Beer….” I’ve been to games in Atlanta and Texas but hearing a beer vendor in Boston, New York, Chicago or St Louis is just “more better”. I was mesmerized by the cries of the beer vendors long before I ever sipped their wares.

    It’s even the sponsor advertising throughout the stadium ….. appliance dealers and banks and car dealers and beverage companies competing for my eyes over the 2+ hours I will be gazing about my environs. Hoping I (or my dad) will think of them again where products or services are needed. And today, it’s the JUMBOtrons rising out of the far outfield flashing their colors and messages and more statistics than anyone can comprehend.

    I get the same overwhelming joy from a “big league ballpark” that some get from an English Garden or a Broadway theater. I like those too; but for me the big league ballpark is more special.

    Saturday night at Busch Stadium for Cardinals vs Rockies involved parking three blocks away; under an overpass in a contrived “lot” for $10. Similar lots under other overpasses were as much as $25 for the convenience of one less block to travel. When there is no ballgame, those parking lots are just gravel patches under overpasses.

    Even joining other pilgrims in a pre-game marching toward Major League Mecca has it’s own charm. I do love watching families do pretty much anything where they all seem happy in the moment just being together.  82 times between early April and mid-October a mass migration of Caucasian Midwesterners converge on Busch Stadium with their masses averaging in excess of 40,000 each of those 82 times.

    With “Tulo” having been traded several days earlier, the visiting Rockies were as barren of “name players” as a Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets “Meet The Team” promotion. Whatever happened to Kelly Tripucka? A parsity of notable Rockies was not a concern to my fellow pilgrims this night.   It was Cardinals Baseball and the ghosts of Stan and Dizzy and Ozzie and Gibson would be on-hand CardinalsBaseballto cheer the current wearers of “the birds on the bat”…. “in the shadow of The Arch”.

    Our seats were in the right field corner on the third level. That involved trekking up an endless series of switchback ramps surrounded by the afore-mentioned “Midwestern families” doing the same.

    The final “emergence” was as breathtaking as it as always been for me…. And forever shall be. We “emerged” about 20 minutes before the ump would declare “Play Ball” if indeed an ump still actually says that. I hope one does.

    For me just watching the players stretch and jog and “play catch” pre-game is a joy. Imagine getting to “play catch” 162 times/year in a big league ballpark as a “big leaguer” !!!!!

    The next “moment” is the initial rush from the dugout as the home team “takes the field” with each player heading to his position with the outfielders, of course, having further to run each time.

    I wonder if “taking the field” ever loses its thrill for a “big leaguer”? I would be thrilled to do it just once, wouldn’t you?

    I don’t understand “sound”. How can I be in the 3rd deck in rightfield of Busch Stadium yet hear the pop of the ball in “Yadi’s” mitt way down below? If I can hear the “pop” that well, what must it sound like to the Home Plate umpire? Do they wear earplugs to deafen the sound? They must.

    Watching baseball on HDTV is splendid and offers an intimacy that “being there” cannot. But only “being there” can give you the sense of space of the nine men in uniform spread out in a well-planned geographic strategy. How much greener-than-green grass must be covered by just three men in that vast outfield.

    Every crack of the bat signaling a fly ball brings a gasp from the 40,000+ as the outfielders sprint to the anticipated end of that marvelous parabola created by a “long fly ball” in “a big league ballpark”.

    Not to be outdone….. a sharply hit ground ball generates an acrobatic display of pure athleticism unmatched, IMO, by any other sports. Surely “shortstops and second basemen” are “born” not created in skill camps. Maybe those incredible skills can be refined, but “to be a big league middle infielder” is a very very cool thing to be. Yes, the snap reactions of a big league 3rd baseman defines human understanding too.

    This night, even the whozits wearing Colorado uniforms displayed incredible skills on Busch’s magical stage.

    The confluence of marvelously talented athletes on display in such a breathtaking setting….. it’s like the groundskeepers and the ballplayers feel an obligation to match one another’s special skills.

    I realize this is all somewhat effusive; but it’s my collection of Major League memories that I choose to share with you.

    My dad wasn’t with me in Busch Stadium last Saturday night. Blondie and Kid were. But like Ray Kinsella’s Iowa cornfield…. it was as “magical” as that first time Dad and I walked out into Griffith’s Stadium over 50 years ago.

    ###

    BobLee
    • Joe Reply
      4 years ago

      I love this and remember my first trip to Washington’s Griffith Park. It was my high school trip to Washington my senior year. It looked like the infielders were absolute magicians especially on turning the double play. I have since been in Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium in San Francisco, Angels park in Anaheim, and Durham Bulls park in Durham. My desire to play major league ball died when I could not solve the curve ball. Oh well, BB’s loss was golf’s gain.
      Have a great time!!

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        Boyhood memories that endure 60 years …. 🙂

    • sanfransoxfan Reply
      4 years ago

      You nailed it. A great post transcends its own story and like a smell from long ago, launches a wave of memories. It can be seen in almost all the responses. I’ll try not to set a record (given one of your regulars, I should be safe).
      Fenway. Opening Day 2005. After 86 yrs, the Sox are actually gonna hang another banner (the previous season’s ending is a story for another day). Sox Mom gives up her new dining room furniture so Dad can purchase 2 tix for himself and the boy, who will turn 8 that day (Dad will turn a much higher number that day as well). Fly from San Francisco. Stay in Southie with Uncle Tom and then take the T to the Fens for the first time since forever.

      Walking up the short tunnel and seeing that field explode in green, virtually unchanged, through the eyes of my child, well, anyone reading your post sure gets it. The Banner drops in front of the entire Monster while the Boston Pops plays “2001,” the weeping in the stands to totally unrestrained; strangers hugging like old friends. Yaz, Pesky, Ortiz. Naturally the Yanks are in town as the opponents, because seriously, would the baseball gods have allowed otherwise? Mariano Rivera gets the longest, loudest ovation of the day, more than any Sox player or legend, because of that Charlie Brown tying RBI single he gave up in the ALCS while trying to close Game 4 (up 3 games to none you may recall); Jeter cracking up and punching Mo on the shoulder during the cheers, while they both grin in that way only real baseball gods grin.

      Fans hear the birthday boy is 8; ice cream flows all game (and Dad finds out afterwards a lot of $5 and $10 bills as well). That game, and the years agonizing and rejoicing together before and beyond it, got us through his puberty mostly unscathed. Likely had something to do with him finishing HS this year as a four-time all League SS and leadoff hitter as well. Next week we’re taking him to college (so your posts regarding “the Kid” always get my attention), to that school in Durham (a D1 school he chose over the D3’s, whose body his parents gave him).
      Baseball is life. There is no truer metaphor. We must pity those who never had the chance to “get it.”

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        I still tear up watching Field of Dreams …. 🙂

        • sanfransoxfan Reply
          4 years ago

          Once a year. Whether I need to or not. 🙂

          • BobLee Reply
            4 years ago

            I’m more an every other year “big league game”.

            • sanfransoxfan
              4 years ago

              The Giants are my Big League fix. A few times a Summer via the muni train to “Phone” Park and the scalpers. I’ve gotten increasingly less leverage as the kids have grown older.

            • BobLee
              4 years ago

              MadBum is a good ol’ Hickory boy! And ya gotta love Buster! Buster and Mike Trout are “BobLee kinda guys”!

            • sanfransoxfan
              4 years ago

              Agreed to all three. Ability and character in spades. And the Giants landed two of ’em! Any coincidence to how well they’ve done since 2010? I think not. And while I despise the Yanks (its in my DNA), I always thought highly of Mo Rivera and Jeter for the same reasons (though what do you call a ball hit to Jeter’s left?
              A: a single).

            • BobLee
              4 years ago

              Cards 2B Koltan Wong is rising rapidly on my list.
              .
              Yes on Mo and Jeter plus Texiera (GaTech) has always seemed to be a quality guy.

    • Doug Reply
      4 years ago

      It’s mysterious to me where baseball took hold outside of the USA. From Latin America to the far east but not in other areas. From 1997-2000 I lived in southern Africa and started trying to figure out cricket because it, “football” and rugby were the only games in town. Enjoyed rugby a lot. After a few tries with cricket both sipping lemonade only and a few times with several G&T’s I gave up trying to understand and just attended for social reasons. The grounds are beautiful and rival some of the best ballparks. England and Australia are playing a test match now. Reading this passage from the BBC of the match has me scratching my head and doesn’t help my understanding of what going on any better but that’s alright my cricket friends don’t understand baseball either.
      ” Stuart Broad took 8-15 as Australia were bowled out for 60 and Joe Root hit a century as England put themselves in a strong position to win the Ashes on the first day of the fourth Test.

      Broad passed 300 wickets and equalled the fastest Test five-wicket haul – 19 deliveries – as the tourists were dismissed in 111 balls at Trent Bridge.

      Ashes 2015: England display perfect – Stuart Broad

      It was the shortest first innings in Test history.

      Root’s unbeaten 124 helped England to 274-4 at the close, a lead of 214.

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        Never figured out cricket.

    • ultraviolet Reply
      4 years ago

      I despise baseball on TV. You just can’t appreciate it without being there. Greensboro has a great minor league park and it gives me a similar feeling to what you described. A well done description I might add.

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        Normally I am a staunch traditionalist in such things… BUT I do enjoy TV Baseball in HD on a large screen.

    • Porgie Reply
      4 years ago

      Enjoyed BL’s write up of baseball in St. Louis. Last August, my wife and I were traveling to St. Louis for the start of a riverboat trip to Minneapolis. When I saw were staying at The Hilton at the Ballpark, I checked the Cardinals schedule, saw they were coming back into town. So we went a day early and took in a ball game. Our seats were behind 1st base in the lower level. We also toured around the shops, ate at places across from the ballpark. Great experience. See who ended up with a foul ball (after it stopped rolling and landed next to her foot).

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        I’ve always found St Louis to be “a very friendly city”. Ferguson is NOT St Louis.
        .
        The staff at Busch Stadium is VERY fan-friendly. They do love their Cardinals.

    • Charlotte Wuffie Reply
      4 years ago

      Superb job painting the picture BL! I feel like I was there with you. Brings back memories for me. I’ve only attended a few MLB games, but recall my Dad taking us to see the Braves vs. Dodgers in the summer of 1966 and saw Sandy Koufax pitch in his final year. Willie Davis gave me a splintered bat.
      Also went to a random summer game at Fenway in the early 1970s and Ted Williams returned for a home run contest. He hit them in the right field seats all around us. Great memories BL!

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        See how long baseball memories last. ?

    • 58 Wolf Kennel Reply
      4 years ago

      Great melding of the sights, sound, smells, and meanings of baseball. My highest joy was coming down from DC to take my father at age 83 in 1993 to spring training in Florida because he said “he had never been” and wanted to go to Vero Beach one time before he “kicked off”. As a child he had sold peanuts at Ebbetts Field near where he had been born in Brooklyn. We went down on a train overnight, then spent two weeks riding around Florida in a rented convertible just deciding which game we wanted to see that day and where we would eat and sleep.

      Getting back on the train to Raleigh, I commented it might have been the most continuous time we had ever spent together, and that he was a lot “sharper” than I thought he would be. Without blinking, he said he had been thinking the same thing but I had not been nearly as sharp as he would have thought. :+))

      Ten years ago during the Dodgers’ last year at Vero Beach my son and “recreated” the previous trip flying down for a week. You can believe I didn’t bring up the “sharpness” question.

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        Fathers – Sons & Baseball …. a most perfect Trifecta!

    • Doug Reply
      4 years ago

      Too many quotable sayings in one post to mention. Saying you hit it out of the park will not do your piece the justice it deserves. There just aren’t enough tingles to be had these days are there? I’ve been on a Little League binge the past two weeks at one of the best little ball parks in America. Elm Street Park in Greenville oozes Americana. Witnessing two meaningful grand slams didn’t hurt either. Last week the 9-10 year old’s from NC, Va, Ga, Fla, SC, Ala, Tenn, and WV competed. The champion was the NC team from little ole Pilot Mt. East Surry Little League going through the tournament undefeated. The teams manager played FB at UNC. Jay Boaz punted for the Heels around 94-95ish. His son is a pretty good BB player. This week the 10-11’s from the same states compete. NC, represented by big city Charlotte Meyers Park LL didn’t fare so well, winning only once. Thanks for sharing your baseball memories. This is long enough for now. Maybe I’ll say more later.

      I’ve been to one World Series game in Baltimore at the old Memorial Stadium. The Brooks Robinson MVP series when the O’s played the Reds. Pete Rose was playing right field and would give the bleacher bums the middle finger between almost every pitch. Apparently a class act then and now.

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        To NOT appreciate Baseball is to dwell in a dreary world in which I choose not to inhabit. 🙂

    • Tom Southern Reply
      4 years ago

      Nice write up. Remember going to see the Asheville Tourists in the 60’s. McCormick field was an old wooden stadium, but a great place to watch baseball with all the smells that go along with the game.

      • BobLee Reply
        4 years ago

        Sounds and smells …. Baseball is a total sensory experience.

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