The 2016 baseball season finally starts HERE on Monday.
There’ll be a sea of red in the stands at Busch Stadium and Clydesdales circling the warning track, as Cardinals fans put a rocky week of on-the-road baseball behind them and welcome home their 2015 National League Central Division champs.
Scroll down for info on opening day ceremonies -- a highlight will be the first pitch by beloved Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock -- and changes fans can expect at the ball yard this season.
And, because it’s the 10th anniversary of the stadium, we begin with a little quiz.
Then: April 10, 2006, Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Were you one of the 41,936 in attendance at the first game played at Busch Stadium on April 10, 2006? The Cards beat the Milwaukee Brewers on that sunny Monday afternoon, 6-4, and would go on to win the World Series. How many firsts do you remember about that inaugural day? (Answers are at the end of this story.)
1. Who was the winning pitcher? Who got the save?
2. Can you name the first Redbird to bat at the new stadium?
3. In the second inning, Brewers third baseman Bill Hall made the record books for hitting the first home at the new stadium. Who hit the first home run for the Cards that day?
4. Two members of the 2006 team, who won top honors in the 2005 season, threw out ceremonial pitches to two former Redbird greats, who’d won those honors during their playing days. Can you name them?
5. Who sang the National Anthem on the first opening day at Busch Stadium?
Now: April 11, 2016: Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers and Loooooooou!
Ten years later, the Brewers are back for the home opener at Busch. Cards right-fielder Michael Wacha is scheduled to pitch.
Game time: 3:15 p.m.
11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.: Opening Day pep rally at Ballpark Village, rain or shine. Free admission.
12:45 p.m.: Stadium gates open.
2:30 p.m.: Pre-game ceremonies begin with the Budweiser Clydesdales, followed by the traditional motorcades featuring Cards Hall-of-Famers and current team members.
There will be a moment of silence for Joe Garagiola, the St. Louis-born major leaguer and broadcaster who died in March, and Joe Strauss, sports writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who died in December.
The Color Guard will be provided by personnel from Fort Leonard Wood, and a U.S. Air Force flyover is scheduled.
The ceremonial first pitch will be thrown by No. 20 -- Lou Brock -- who’s been battling serious health issues. Brock’s left leg was amputated below the knee last fall due to a diabetes-related infection. Brock, 76, was known as the “Base Burglar’’ for stealing 938 bases during his career. He is also remembered fondly by fans for helping the Cardinals win the 1964 World Series (after the Cubs traded him that June). Brock recently discussed his recovery with Cardinals Magazine.
Getting through security
Stadium security procedures are the same as last season, but fans should allow plenty of time to get through the gates, says Joe Abernathy, vice president of stadium operations.
He expects things to go more smoothly this year because fans and stadium staff have had a year to get used to Major League Baseball’s enhanced security measures, including the walk-through metal detectors that caused massive lines when they were introduced.
“Hopefully, it’ll be better,’’ Abernathy said. “We’ll get people through in a more efficient manner this year. Just don’t bring anything more to the park than you absolutely need. We’ll certainly inspect all bags. Everybody will have to walk through a metal detector.”
He says fans can speed up the process by leaving prohibited items at home. Food and clear plastic bottles of water and soda are allowed. But no alcoholic beverages, glass bottles, cans, thermoses or hard-sided coolers.
Stadium gates will open 1½ hours before Monday-Thursday games and 2 hours before Friday-Sunday games.
Updates: A bigger net and a flashier scoreboard
After 10 years, even baseball heaven needs updating, and fans will notice two major changes this year: the new high-definition video display on the main scoreboard and the larger safety net behind home plate.
The new video board fills a space of 120 feet by 40 feet on the main scoreboard, with twice the resolution and brightness.
“The size is still relatively the same in terms of the structure, but what’s different is the display capability,’’ said Tony Simokaitis, who directs scoreboard operations at the stadium. “We’re about three times bigger than what we were in terms of getting a picture up on the board. And so I think that’s what the fans will recognize pretty quick. It’s just a lot bigger. It’s a lot brighter. The resolution’s a lot better.’’
Simokaitis says the updates, which include all 11 scoreboards scattered about the stadium, cost more than $8 million, including “back-of-the-house” equipment fans don’t see.
The new backstop net at Busch is 30 feet tall and stretches from dugout to dugout.
Abernathy says the new net is made of thinner material -- and no knots -- making it easier to see through than the old one.
“So, there will be some fans who come to the game this year who will have to look through the net who hadn’t had to look through it in past years,’’ Abernathy said. “But the good news is the visibility through the net is, they claim, to be 95 percent.”
Last fall, the MLB issued new recommendations for larger backstop nets to protect fans from balls and bats that carom into the stands.
Meatball cones and apples to go
And the award for this year’s “gee-whiz” ballpark food goes to … the meatball cone.
Delaware North, the stadium’s concessionaire, is billing it as a meal you can hold in your hand: a six-inch cone formed of Italian bread that holds four meatballs topped with parmesan cheeses. The cones are available in Section 152 and sell for $15.
New for folks with special dietary needs: Gluten-free chicken tenders, coated with cornmeal, in sections 135 and 458.
And there’s a “grab-and-go” concession area behind home plate, a self-serve market where fans can pick up beverages and snacks and pay at four registers. Also available: premade sandwiches, salads and fresh fruit. (Expect to pay ballpark prices: about $2 each for apples and oranges and $4 for yogurt.)
Coming soon: Stadium WiFi
Efforts are still under way to equip Busch Stadium with WiFi, part of a $300 million initiative by the MLB to improve connectivity at its 30 ballparks.
More than 700 WiFi access points are being installed to accommodate fans throughout the stadium and in Ballpark Village, says Perry Yee, the stadium’s director of information technology.
If you’re into numbers, here are a few: the WiFi installation includes nearly 30 miles of Cat 6a ethernet cabling, 11 miles of six-strand optic cabling and 2 miles of conduit.
The bottom line: Fans will have free access to Cardinals WiFi so they can experience fast connections to social media and apps. (And Facebook and Twitter feeds will be clogged with even more selfies of fans-not-watching-baseball-but-wishing-you-were-here.)
Yee expects the WiFi to be up and running later this month.
The answers to those “firsts” at Busch Stadium
1. Cards lefty Mark Mulder was the winning pitcher for the first game at Busch Stadium. He also hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning, becoming the first Cardinals pitcher to homer at Busch.
Jason Isringhausen got the save.
2. Short stop David Eckstein, the first Cardinals batter, grounded out. (Eckstein would be named the World Series MVP that season).
3. First baseman Albert Pujols (Remember him?) led off the bottom of the third inning with a home run.
4. 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter threw to two-time Cy Young winner Bob Gibson, and 2005 National League MVP-er Pujols tossed to 1985 National League MVP Willie McGee.
5. The best fans in baseball.