I Bleed Cardinals Red

The Kansas City Star ran a fine essay this morning by Justin Heckert about how he feels about being a Cardinals fan. I thought he did a fine job of conveying a bond between fan and team that has deeper roots than normal:

Cardinals fans. We have a great habit of filling the stadium, 3 million plus each year, for good teams and bad, a strange miracle for a city of no more than 380,000. With the numbers you cannot argue: we come from the city, from the bootheel of Southeast Missouri,from Southern Illinois, from Iowa, and Indiana, and Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee, and Oklahoma, from the banks and shores and mountains, where KMOX is still the radio voice of the team that can be heard across the country. We are not fans pinned to the heavy cross of a curse. We are not fickle with our undying passion, as are, say, countless other fans in sport; and we have a past of winning that is usurped by only that of the omnipotent New York Yankees. We bring to the stadium, regular season and especially playoffs,a home-field advantage unrivaled in baseball. But, that said, we have not been to the Series in a long time.

I am what you would call a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. I was during last week’s NLDS, I am during the National League Championship Series against Houston, and I have been since I could fit atop my father’s shoulders and stare out at the green turf and the deep fences, in that gilded age of Whitey Ball and Willie and the Wizard. I do not remember our last championship; I was 2 that year.

I, too, am a diehard Cardinals fan.

I’ve lived in Kansas City for the past 19 years, and I have come to enjoy the Royals. I like it when the win; I don’t like it when they lose, but it doesn’t change my mood the way the Cardinals can.

The Cardinals are a part of me the way that no other team can ever be. Many of my earliest memories have a soundtrack of Jack Buck and Harry Caray. I can still see my father,late at night, sitting at the kitchen table sipping a 9-0-5 beer and listening to a late game played on the west coast – it chokes me up to think how much I wish I could sit with him one more time, lit only by the stovelight and hanging on every pitch.

I remember the first time I went to a Cardinals game – at least I remember walking through the concourse and then seeing the shocking green of the field – green so green it almost hurt your eyes.

Iremember the “El Birdos”, and the 1967 World Series – the joy of defeating the Red Sox, behind a lineup that included Julian Javier, Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Dal Maxvill, Tim McCarver, Roger Maris, and Mike Shannon- and the pitching of Bob Gibson, Nellie Briles and Steve Carlton. Even hearing those names these days brings a wash of deep – I don’t know – nostalgia? Longing? Security?

The 1968 Series – I’ll never forget Bob Gibson on the mound in game one, sweat literally streaming off his face, as he struckout 14, 15, 16 and 17 Detroit Tigers, breaking a record set by Cardinal great Sandy Koufax in the 1963 Series, just outside of my conscious Cardinals memory. I wasn’t at the game – the nuns at Ascension School brought TVs into the classrooms and watched with the same passion as everyone else. We lost the Series, but it was 7 games and full of excitement. I was 8 years old and everyone loved the Cardinals.

Even during the years after 1968, when the team did not make it into the World Series, I loved the Cardinals. Vada Pinson, the sparkling play of Garry Templeton (I am the ONLY Cardinals fan who wishes we had never done the Templeton-Ozzie Smith trade), Al Hrabosky, Lou Brock dominating the base paths and signing my glove at Stix, Baer and Fuller, Ted Simmons and Keith Hernandez. Augie Busch and the Budweiser jingles. These were the Astro-turf years, and, at the time, it seemed like the coolest and most exciting thing ever. They laid a new carpet the year I graduatedfrom the U. High. Whitey Herzog came in 1980.

The year I got married and returned to Missouri, the Cardinals defeated the Brewers in the World Series, led by Lonnie Smith on the basepaths and Bruce Sutter on the mound in the late innings.

The year I graduated from Law School and moved to Kansas City was 1985. The less said about Don Denkinger the better.

The last words of my father were to tell my mother she was crazy after she said it was good that Willie McGee was traded.

Eventhough I rarely get to see Cardinals games, and only occasionally get to listen to them on the radio, they still evoke deeper emotions than can be thought to be rational. They bring me back to so much. In a family that eschewed sexuality and scandal, it was acknowledged with a wink and a nudge that a member of the previous generation had a fling with Dizzie Dean.

I know, I know they’re only a baseball team, and that the players are hired guns. I know that baseball is big business, and that I shouldn’t care as much as I do. But I do, and the Cardinals may well be on the way to the World Series. I understand that may not be important to you, but it means more to me than I can say.

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