DAY SEVEN: Busch Stadium in St. Louis

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Thursday, June 7: CARDINALS 4, MARLINS 1

Cardinals’ legend Red Schoendienst died last night at 95. He’s often called ‘Mr. Cardinal,’ and wore the jersey, all told, for more than six decades. He was also the oldest living member of the baseball Hall of Fame (a distinction now held by Tommy LaSorda, I believe). Red started his playing career the same year World War II ended. He was a 10-time all star and managed the team to their 1967 World Series (and ’68 Series loss to the Tigers). No one embodies the franchise quite like him.

Except maybe Gladys.

IMG_9435When Schoendienst broke in with the Cards in the spring of 1945, Gladys had already been going to games for five years. She doesn’t remember who the Cards played that first day in Sportsman’s Park, but she remembers thinking that the game of baseball was different, somehow. Bigger. “I used to go to some of the softball games around town before that,” she told me. “But this was the real deal!”

Sportsman’s Park closed in 1966, having hosted ball games on that particular site for 100 years. Gladys and the Cards moved on to Busch Memorial Stadium (“the cookie-cutter one,” Jan says), and then the newer park in 2006. She’s still regularly going to games these days, about 10 each year plus an annual church-organized bus trip to the team’s spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida. She keeps score at every game, while her good friend Jan is content to simply watch the action and cheer on her team. The two met years ago as co-workers and became fast-friends and game-buddies. Her scorecard is immaculately kept; I’ve done it a few times and mine is inevitably an eraser-smudged mess. She keeps each team’s score on a separate sheet; those pages and her previous game sheets are secure in her trusty clipboard. At the end of each inning she dutifully switches the pages from Cards to Marlins. The routine and ritual of it all hold a certain appeal to her, as they do to many other amateur scorekeepers.

Click here for a portion of my conversation with the one-and-only Gladys. 

Gladys couldn’t name just one all-time favorite Cardinal; there are too many of them, she IMG_9445said. Jan was decisive, though: Ozzie Smith was her guy. As a foul ball dropped in front of our seats in the left field corner, I asked if Gladys had ever caught a ball.

“Well, I caught one off the shin during spring training one year,” she said. “They let me keep the ball.”

The spring training trip is a highlight for both women, who go every year and soak up every moment of baseball they can.

As a tribute to Schoendienst played on the scoreboard between innings, she told me that her son had a photo taken with the Cardinal legend when he was managing the team, about 40 years ago. You could tell that today was a solemn and special day for many Cardinal fans, who left flowers at Schoendienst’s statue outside the stadium and stood for his pre-game tribute.

After meeting five-year-old Lilianna the day before, having a chance to chat with 90-year-old Gladys felt just as special, in a different way. I smiled as I lingered in my seat, watching her and Jan slowly make their way down the aisle after the Cards (and Gladys) recorded the team’s final out. It was a 1-3 groundout, for those of you keeping score.

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Kind of less in the realm of Cardinals royalty  but still fun was this guy, Chris. After I asked his buddy to take a photo me, Chris insisted on actually being in the shot himself. Good to meet you, Chris.

In the second inning I went in search of food. I was about to order the Killer Pastrami Sandwich from this Killer Pastrami Stand, But the guy in front of me in line convinced me that what I really wanted was the Killer Pastrami Dog. He was right. It was killer.

There really is a hot dog hiding under there somewhere. I started to devour it at a nearby table but then got to talking to a couple of local Cardinal fans and soon realized that it pretty much HAS to be eaten immediately or it devolves into a soggy, sauerkraut-y mess.

 

Before the game, the Cardinals P.A announcer quite seriously refers to Busch Stadium as ‘Baseball Heaven.’ I’d add “YEAH, IF HEAVEN WERE FULL OF MOTHS” to their slogan because, man, there were a million moths flying around in every direction, occasionally directly at fans who would have to panic and swat and duck all at once. I don’t know what’s going on here, and I even Googled “What’s with all the moths at Busch Stadium?” Even though Google results quickly appeared, almost as if they were drawn to the light of my computer screen, they were all from past moth-related incidents in St. Louis. I did find this fun story about a 2011 moth that flew into Cards outfielder Matt Holliday’s ear and had to be extracted with tweezers by the team’s trainer.

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Turns out fluttering moths are really difficult to photograph, particularly when all you have is an iPhone. But I was able to capture an image of this one. I think he’s just sleeping.

The stadium is spectacularly red, of course, with that iconic view of the arch in the background. You can’t see it from every seat, but there was enough room to roam around that you can find some good views of it.

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This struck me as a nice offer. Eating too many donuts and then getting behind the wheel is dangerous.

One final note: as I was writing this I was sitting in front of the baggage claim in Cincinnati, next to a young mom and her 8-month-old daughter Charlotte, who is cute as a button. They were waiting for Charlotte’s grandpa to arrive from D.C. We got to talking about my travels and her impressions of Great American Ballpark, which I visit tonight.

“So do you just wait around in the airport until the game starts?” she asked.

I laughed. “Only when they have good Wi-Fi.”

PREVIOUS GAME: @Houston Astros vs. Seattle Mariners

NEXT GAME: @Cincinnati Reds vs. St. Louis Cardinals

MILES TRAVELED TO GET HERE: 904

MILES TRAVELED TO THIS POINT: 6679

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carla Blair says:

    It was so good to meet you !!
    Have a blast on this journey and safe travels

    Like

    1. bwilson3560 says:

      Thanks! Great to meet you as well!

      Like

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