After 161 days, baseball returns to Busch Stadium Monday, with the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Cincinnati Reds. And that means across the city, thousands of bosses have approved vacation days with a knowing smile. Some may have even said, “I’ll see you there.”
Cardinal baseball is probably the closest thing you can get to a government-sanctioned religion without running afoul of the First Amendment. It is a passion that unites a city from April to September and beyond.
What It Means To Root For the Cardinals
Ruth Kim was attending a board meeting for the Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis at Busch Stadium on Jan. 26, 2013 — the day of Cardinals great Stan Musial's funeral.
During a break in the meeting, the board went out onto the walkway above the main entrance to the stadium, and watched the crowd gather to salute Musial's funeral procession.
"We saw the flag raised, the great Clydesdale standing at attention, the funeral cortège drive up, the family members walk to the statue, the wreath laying," Kim said. "And as the family walked by the crowd in their sadness, the crowd started to sing."
Kim's phone was running out of battery, so she did not capture the entire scene. But she said her reaction to the chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was "surprisingly emotional."
"It struck me as spontaneous, heartfelt, and a lovely, 'everyman' tribute — without pretense, just simple and sincere. It was somehow fitting for Mr. Musial, for the Cardinals, and it seemed so St. Louis," she said.
Brian Musial Schwarze, a grandson of Stan's, says he doesn't think such a tribute would have happened in any other city.
"But that's also who Stan was," Schwarze said. "It's amazing how many people he really touched, and he made it a point to really have a minute or two with any one of his fans. It really stays with people for their whole lives."
Kim has lived in St. Louis since grade school, with a few years away for college in Massachusetts. She attended her first games at Busch Stadium courtesy of straight-A tickets, a newspaper promotion. Students received two tickets a piece for three games, Kim said. She remembered her parents — university professors from Korea — encouraging her and her three siblings to get straight A's so the entire family could go to games together.
Kim has followed the Cardinals ever since. She's even camped out for World Series tickets. She has had season tickets in some form or another for 30 years.
"I still can visualize players like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, Bruce Sutter, Darrell Porter, John Tudor, Bob Forsch, Jack Clark, Ozzie Smith, Tim McCarver, Willie McGee, and countless others frozen in my mind's eye, making a memorable play or standing in some iconic position. Of course, the recent players like Pujols, Molina, Carpenter, Edmonds, Schumacher, and so many others are fresh in our minds, and have been great fun to watch. But, I was there when Mike Laga hit a foul ball OVER the roof of the old Busch Stadium into the right field parking lot. I was there during the -inning game where even Jose Oquendo was rotated in as a pitcher! I was there for the rise, the wild euphoria and the crushing let down after the meteoric arc of the McGwire saga. In all those years, I have only ONCE had a drunken fool say something rude/racially hostile to me. Truly the ballpark has been a fun and welcoming place where people put down their differences, except for a friendly team rivalry. I hope that never changes."
When asked, Candice Kearns will tell you she "lives and breathes baseball."
"Cardinal blood runs through my veins as well as my entire family's and it brings us closer together," said Kearns, who makes the trip from Curryville, Mo., to Busch Stadium frequently, including for Opening Day whenever she can.
"It means I get to go downtown and show my love and appreciation to the Redbirds with all the other crazy fans," she said.
Those "other crazy fans" include Tom Lange, who also lives and breathes baseball, although he hasn't made it to an Opening Day game in a few years because "online ticket sales cut out those with no internet or dial-up."
You might recognize Tom and his wife of 42 years, Ann, because of their hats.
"I had an idea in 2006 to make a hat to catch attention at an Opening Day pep rally to see if someone would give us tickets," he said. "So I put a bird's nest on a hat and called it 'Birds in the New Nest.' " (2006 was the first season at the new Busch Stadium.)
"I made the hat, went to the game, and WOW. Just out of the parking garage, a newspaper took so many pictures, and the MLB interviewed me. The fans loved it as well, but I never got into the game. I have made an Opening Day hat ever since."
The Cardinals remain one of the few teams that has live organ music at the ballpark. For 40 years, one man was synonymous with that sound: Ernie Hays. Hays retired in 2010, and died two years later at the age of 77.
Hays was the first to play the Budweiser theme song "Here Comes the King" at the end of the 7th inning, a tradition that continues to this day. Here is Ernie's version from a Sept. 28, 2010 game against the Pirates.
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Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann