Get Up, Baby! Get Up!
I have always been romantic about the great game of baseball. It's a heady sport, a live game of chess that requires physical prowess, cunning and intangible instinct. Of course, it's not only about the game being played on the field. Not even close. A big thing that separates baseball from other major sports is the way it's woven into the fabric of American life. Baseball has been here for something like 130 years and the atmosphere surrounding the game has as much to do with why people love it as the game itself does. The smell of freshly buttered popcorn and hot dogs on the rotisserie, the lo-fi sound of Mike Shannon meandering through an inning on the radio, telling stories about the good ol days as much as he calls balls and strikes. The charge you get when age defying Yadier Molina throws out a would-be base stealer, and when Kolten Wong gets to a ball no mortal should be able to get to. When Goldie sends one over the left field fence.
It's a whole vibe, and it's passed down through generations. My grandfather took my mom to games at Sportsman's Park, my parents took me to games at Busch Stadium II, my siblings take their kids to games at Busch III (I don't have kids, so...). We take our allegiances with us wherever we go. I moved to LA, but there is no way in seven hells I'll ever root for the Dodgers or Angels. Gross. Absolutely not. I'll be out here with Jon Hamm rocking a Cardinals dad hat and actively wishing for another post season Clayton Kershaw meltdown. With pro football and basketball, people pick teams based on players they like as much as they pick teams based on geography. Not with baseball. You root for the team you grew up rooting for. If you grew up in Atlanta and you love the Cardinals, it's probably because one of your parents is from St. Louis. I keep the STL Today app on my iPhone's home screen so I can read about the Birds from afar and maintain my stature in the hive. If I run into another STLien, I'll be able to drop science on the latest developments without skipping a beat.
That brings me to the elephant in the ballpark. Quarantine. No baseball. No nothing. The grand experiment of the Cardinals front office doing next to nothing to improve the club in the off season never got to begin. What is likely Adam Wainwright's final season is on indefinite pause. Yadi is missing out on one of his last seasons in a hall of fame career. Matt Carpenter was going to show everyone why he should still be a key piece of the line up. Kolten Wong was primed to defend his gold glove. Goldie was going to bounce back and at least one of these young outfielders was going to establish himself as a viable and important starter. All of the story lines, all of the intrigue, none of the beautiful game we love like it's a part of our family. Because it is. To those of us who grew up with baseball card collections, bringing our gloves to the ballpark hoping to snag that elusive foul ball sent into the stands - and with the timeless comfort of Jack Buck's voice paired with Ernie Hayes' organ doodles coming through the A.M. radio set to KMOX - this is a hard pill to swallow. The world is constantly, unrelentingly sad right now and we can't even have baseball to help guide us through the fog. I haven't even been reading the sports page online lately, when usually I feast upon the writings of Derrick Goold, Rick Hummel and Bernie Miklasz. This just adds to the lack of balance in my universe, and the overall malaise I work every day to combat.
Say what you will about baseball and every major American sport as a commodity, or as a partner to a community vs being more of a leach that sucks the blood straight from a city's jugular. You might not be incorrect. The billionaire team owners are not the kind of people a great majority of working class fans could relate to, and most of them are probably staunch Republicans whose only interest is their respective bottom lines. You can't get past that, and that's fine and fair. But you also probably didn't grow up with dreams of being the next Ozzie Smith, or in my peculiar case - Darrell Porter (even though I HATED playing Catcher). Perhaps Jack Buck didn't remind you of your grandfather. Maybe your mother wasn't the only female manager in your baseball league. Maybe you didn't get to meet Stan Musial on the field at Busch Stadium right before John Ulett said your name on the loud speaker, or watch the final game of the 2005 season with Lou Brock and his wife in the owner's box. Maybe you can't remember the pure joy of your father jumping up and down at first base when you hit your first home run way over the center field fence. Perhaps your band never got to play a set in Ford Plaza before the Cardinals trounced the Diamondbacks, and perhaps you don't live in Soulard where you can slide on down to your corner bar and catch a shuttle to any game you want to go to. And maybe The Natural, The Cardinals Movie, Long Gone, Field of Dreams and Bull Durham weren't in regular rotation on your VHS player at home when you were a kid.
One of the things I was looking forward to after this enormous, life changing move I made was signing up for mlb.tv so I could watch games this season and almost taste the $9 Bud Lights through the TV screen. Hopefully they'll find a way to get some games in, but it's really not looking good from where I sit. There is talk of a temporary realignment where all games would be played in Arizona and Florida, but the issue of social distancing comes into play. How could ballplayers be put in a position that the entire country is being asked to avoid? It's weird enough watching John Oliver and Jimmy Fallon do shows without an audience, how fucking strange would it be to watch a ballgame without fans? The answer is hella strange. We'll see I guess.
I'll leave you with a timely quote from the great Jack Buck. "Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out."
Goodnight from Los Angeles, we will see you tomorrow night.
Terry Cashman - "Baseball in St. Lou"
Terry Cashman - "Baseball in St. Lou"