I’m having a mild case of guilt over this year’s world series. Sports by nature are competitive, and a side effect of competition is that we often unknowingly demonize our opponent. That’s difficult for me to rationalize right now.
I work in Boston sports television and I’ve spent countless hours watching locker room interviews with this Boston team. I’ve probably seen more Red Sox baseball this season than any season of St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
I’ve grown to like these Red Sox players. They seem to have an appreciation for the game and don’t take themselves too seriously. They work hard. They are human. These Red Sox players are, without a doubt, deserving of a world series. Yet, for all things they are, there’s one thing they are not. They are not St. Louis Cardinals.
It’s vogue to be a Cardinal hater these days. I can understand that. Winning can make even the most satisfied person greedy. Winning can make the blessed turn spoiled and the humbled turn arrogant. Though I’m hardly a historian when it comes to New England culture and sports, I think I’ve seen it happen.
New Englanders are a hard-working bunch. Salty as the sea their state borders, they care about their teams. Working men and women who can barely afford the high cost of living will plunk down hard-earned dough to support all of their championship caliber teams. New England demands winners, and roasts those who can’t perform, don’t work as hard as they do, and don’t win.
After years of disappointment, Red Sox fans (and in many ways most Boston sports fans) developed a chip on their collective shoulders that would make even Atlas sigh. Once they were able to win, they wanted nothing more than to keep winning. Payroll bloated. Expectations became exponential. Patience and the past were forgotten. The city ran one of the best managers in the game out of town after a terrible collapse in 2011. The club made an even bigger mistake in 2012 and fans flocked elsewhere. Pundits and fans alike wanted the organization to know that they’d have to earn their way back into hearts and wallets of the people, as if the once downtrodden fan base, now arrogant, was somehow owed a winner every year. Empty seats dotted the park in April and May. This run has energized the city and reinvigorated a proud baseball town, but even today, many fans will tell you they prefer the Patriots or Bruins. Is that a true baseball town?
I can’t imagine that ever happening in St. Louis, and I hope winning does not spoil the hearts and minds of Cardinal Nation – a fan base so nice, they have been known to applaud the opposing team. Can you imagine that happening in Boston?
Boston is where I lay my head. It’s where my wife and I have decided to raise our young daughter and where we’ve both been blessed to find jobs we enjoy in a tough economy. We moved to Boston in 2011 and the city has welcomed us in. Boston’s warmth has sheltered us from the cold New England winters. Boston’s roads have challenged us as drivers. Boston’s cuisine and culture has enlightened us. Boston’s law enforcement protected us when the Boston bombing suspects staged a shootout in our neighborhood, and we watched the city rise in the wake of the terrible tragedy that occurred at the marathon. We are truly blessed to be here, and while I feel at home here, Boston is not my home.
I grew up in Cardinal country; along I-55 in Central Illinois; a Cardinals-Cubs battle ground. My career may be in Boston, but I was educated in Missouri at the finest Journalism school in the land, and my home will always be under the Arch. I’m from the place where Imo’s Pizza or toasted ravioli are best followed by Ted Drewes frozen custard in the summer, the Redbirds are always on the radio, and the first question anyone asks you, is “Where did you go to high school?”
My home is a place where names like Musial, Buck, Herzog and La Russa mean something. It’s the birthplace of the real Don Draper, the best Italian food you’ll ever eat on a Hill, and the only place where Clydesdales circling a baseball diamond is a time-honored tradition. Where the slicing sound of the crack of the bat can cut through any muggy summer night just off the Mississippi River, and Cardinal red is the only acceptable fashion choice for game day apparel. Home to truly the greatest fans in all of sports and 11 World Series titles.
This one is for my grandmother, who grew up poor in Central Illinois, one of ten children and the only one who decided to become a Cardinal fan; Her choice spawned a family of four generations and counting to follow in her footsteps. The woman is so dedicated to the Redbirds she answers the phone “Go Cardinals” seemingly every October, and she used to keep score for every game from her home. When the games weren’t on TV, she sat by the radio, paper scorecard in hand.
This series is for my grandfather, who balled like a baby when Albert Pujols signed with the Angels and cheered when the Cardinals signed Mike Matheny to manage the club with no prior experience. The man feels such a close connection to the players from his recliner chair, that for the past decade he’s invented his own set of cryptic nicknames for Cardinal players, which only he understands; I’m sure Tim McCarver would be proud.
Each run into October fuels my octogenarian grandparents through another harsh Midwestern winter, until the promise of a new season awakens them in the spring. These wins keep them alive.
This series is for my Dad, too. He’s the man who spent many fruitless hours trying to mold me into the next great left-hander in our backyard. I wish he had had a better batch of clay to mold and shape. He’s taught me everything I know about baseball and quite a bit more about life. I can vaguely remember his outburst after Game 6 in 1985 while I was still in the womb. He sat next to me in a sports bar in Columbia, Mo., when Jeff Weaver mowed down the Tigers in Game 5, on Oct. 27, 2006. I woke him up four times on Oct. 27, 2011, when the Cardinals refused to lose against the Rangers and battled into the wee hours of the morning to win Game 6.
Being a Cardinal fan is about remembering David Freese’s heroics in Game 6, David Eckstein in 2006 and Ozzie Smith’s “Go Crazy” in 1985. It’s for Yadi’s NLCS homer in 2006, Gibby’s Game 7 in ‘64 and ‘67 and Albert’s 3-homer performance in the 2011 Fall Classic. For the Gashouse Gang in ’34, the Suds Series in ’82 and for World Series wins in ’46, ’44, ’42, ’31 and ’26. It’s for 11 titles, 19 pennants and eight NLCS appearances in 13 years. This is for the sweep in 2004.
This is for all of that and for Cardinal Nation – a footprint that stretches as far west as California, as far north as the Dakotas and deep into the heart of Texas. Cardinal baseball flows in the river veins that replenish Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and spills out into the gulf. Cardinal fans are the torchbearers for a game that time has forgotten; a dying game, fading in popularity for a culture that lacks patience and demands speed and self-gratification. Cardinal fans are the keepers of the flame in baseball’s dark age. Cardinal baseball is who we are. We are proud of the team’s success. Someone has to win in October, and if your team can beat ours between the lines, we’ll be willing to share the stage.