This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 10, 2011 - They gather in a flock along the road, tied to the old hog wire fence with bits of string or twine or yellow bread bag ties. On both sides of the drive leading to Tom and Fran Horace's three acres in Dardenne Prairie, the wooden painted cardinals hang in frozen poses. Running. Batting. Catching.
More live here, too. Bigger ones that rested in the rafters of the old garage until this morning, when they're brought out again. The hand-made birds are not for sale.
Their creator couldn't part with them, despite many offers. Tom Horace spent too long making them, and they've decorated his yard every season for decades.
A hot cup of coffee waits for him on the kitchen table Thursday morning when he walks in, filling the length of the doorway in his white Cardinals' jersey and navy cap.
There's a story to how these birds got here, of course. There are a lot of stories, actually, though they're all tied together over time with one simple thing - baseball.
And somewhere, in the backyard or the neighborhood or down the street, a real cardinal hops and flies around here, too.
Anything You Can Do
Years and years and years ago, Horace sat on his grandma's tile porch, watching the lights at Sportsman's Park, watching the street cars pull out of their garages all at once to retrieve fans.
Like any boy from St. Louis, he loves the Cardinals.
Horace and his wife, both retired high school teachers, moved to their three acres in 1976, when the now-busy road was just gravel.
Down the street and around the corner lived a couple with kids the same age as theirs. They all played baseball.
"When we first moved out here, the only entertainment for people was watching the hometown team and watching your kids play," he says.
Robyn Faye, the couple's daughter, remembers afternoons spent in the front yard playing softball and baseball. She and her two brothers all played, eventually earning themselves scholarships to college.
Back then, that house around the corner was always festive, with decorations for every holiday. Horace started decorating, too.
"It just sort of grew out of friendly competition," he says.
After a few years, he noticed stacks of plywood and flooring wood just sitting around on his property. It seemed a waste.
So, with three sheets of wood, he made his first cardinals. The Herzog birds, he calls them, stand three feet tall and mirror the image that former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog always wore on his jacket. Horace lined the birds up along his fence and got compliments on them at church and the market.
He'd been collecting scorecards from Cardinals games, and as he looked through old ones sometime in the late '80s, he noticed the team put a cardinal on them in a different pose each season.
So he made those, too, with nearly seven hours of work each, requiring intricate cutting and sawing, painting and sealing.
"We got to a point where people were offering to buy them," he says. "I said, I've got too many hours in there to put a price on them."
Show Me A Sign
In February, Horace's mother died. She was 99, and she loved the Cardinals. Though her sight failed her toward the end and she couldn't find the channel for the news most of the time, she always found the game.
At mass three times a week, she wore a windbreaker with a huge, latch hooked cardinal on the back. Her son buried her in an Adam Wainwright jersey.
Horace isn't sure if that has anything to do with it, some people believe in signs, but come spring, a tapping at their window began waking them up.
It was a young male cardinal. He continued for several weeks, and then two nests appeared with more cardinals. Nine babies hatched, and the couple watched from their back window as they learned to fly.
"We watched them fly away," Fran Horace says. "It was so much fun."
The summer passed, frustrating to fans as it can be.
Then: "First day of the playoffs, he's back, pecking at the window," Horace says.
They don't know what it wants.
Is it a sign? Is the lovely red bird, perhaps, at home around so many images of his likeness?
This morning as she combed her hair, Fran Horace saw him through her bathroom mirror, hopping around like he was crazy.
She laughs. The feeder is full.
The wooden cardinals are still up.
"I really don't know what he's trying to tell us," Horace says. "I can only think it's a good omen for the St. Louis Cardinals." (Note: It was good omen.)
He didn't plan on having this flock of his own. He didn't plan for his kids to all play baseball, or for it to be so important to them all, either.
But along the kitchen window sill, there's a row of names carved in wood: Andrew, Tyler, Justin.
They're three of the couple's seven grandchildren.
They all play ball.