Monday, April 21, 2008

Deathtour~!: Busch Stadium, St. Louis

With the hometown portion of the Deathtour halfway completed (Oakland yet to come) the long road trip got started this weekend, fittingly, with a Giants themed 3 game leg. It’s of course impossible to see the Giants in every city, the schedule just doesn’t work out for me and they don’t play in 12 of the 15 American League parks, but I thought it would be fun to follow the team for a short road trip through St. Louis, Phoenix and San Diego to start the tour.

The first destination was St. Louis. I’m well traveled, having covered half the states in the union, but St. Louis, Missouri and the Midwest in general are foreign to me (I didn’t even realize St. Louis and Chicago were of a similar distance to San Francisco and Los Angeles). Aside from Chicago, my only experience in the Midwest involves looking down on it from 30,000 feet. Naturally I was looking forward to coming here, not just for the game, but to experience a new region of the country.

For cost purposes I chose to take the red-eye from San Francisco with a layover in Chicago which may not have been my best decision. I can’t sleep on planes as it is and with my work schedule my internal clock is ready for bed at 8pm. By the time we were in the air at 11:45 it was already well over 3 hours past my bedtime and between home and Chicago I may have managed an hour of sleep with another hour between Chicago and St. Louis which accounted for my lethargy the rest of the day and the minimal amount of conversation I was able to hold with my buddy Shane (sorry dude) and his lovely wife Michelle. I was even fighting off the Sandman during the later half of the baseball game.

I arrived after 9am and shortly thereafter we sat down to eat breakfast at White Castle, of all places. I’d seen a sign for White Castle and mentioned that I’d never eaten there before, although I’m well familiar with their miniature burgers. I downed 4 cheeseburgers along with a coke and realized that perhaps this wasn’t the healthiest way to start the week, considering I’d be attending 3 baseball games, spending a considerable amount of time at airports and have very little opportunity to workout. Already I’m dreading my Friday session with my personal trainer.

Before the game Shane gave me the nickel tour of the St. Louis area stopping to point out and provide the history of every third building we passed. Coming from California there are a few geographical differences that really stand out. Firstly, this entire third of the country is obscenely flat. When you’re used to walking steps hills on a daily basis and view great mountains in the distance it’s jarring to look around not see more than a small mound for miles and miles. Secondly, the Bay Area is green all year round. Evergreens line the sidewalks and fill the parks. Forest Park, St. Louis’ version of Golden Gate Park, and the surrounding landscape in general, is sparsely covered with leaves this time of year, making it appear more barren than it probably is.

After the game we walked down Delmar Avenue, visited The Star Clipper and a hip little used record store, which was reminiscent of the much larger and more expansive Amoeba Records back home, and finished with dinner at a local microbrewery.

New Busch Stadium

The Cardinals new home, which opened last season, was built partially on the site of the old stadium. There are even markers outside the stadium to indicate the foul line and a plaque depicting the overlap of the two parks. From the exterior Busch reminds me a bit of home with its brick finish, which is all the rage in new ballparks, and attention to history. A bust of Jack Buck, accompanied with a photo collage and audio clips of his famous calls, sits outside left-center field. It’s a fantastic tribute to the man who is arguably the best sports (not just baseball) announcer and unarguably one of the most important of the past 50 years. Just a bit further down from the bust is a group of statues of some of the Cardinals and St. Louis Browns greats from Dizzy Dean and Rogers Hornsby to Stan Musial. Another Musial statue stands just outside the main gate but the less spoken about that one the better. Inside the stadium is another tribute to the old ballpark, the hand operated scoreboard, which has been permanently frozen in time at the moment the old stadium finished its last ballgame. Sadly, the scoreboard at the new yard is a step back from the classic look and given the retro design of the new stadium, the electronic setup doesn’t mesh with the rest of the stadium, which looks great.

Coming into the game the Giants were 7-11 and the Cardinals were 12-6 and atop the central division and despite the Gigantes moderate success against St. Louis this year I wasn’t keen on our chances of winning with Jonathon Sanchez on the mound. What I didn’t count on was Braden Looper pitching for the Cards as he gave up 6 straight hits allowing the Giants 6 runs in the third inning. Sanchez himself provided 5 workmanlike innings of shutout baseball. I was as stunned as anybody in that crowd, even Shane who spent most of the game with his face in his palm. “You’re not allowed back here,” he declared, not even halfway through the game. The Giants scored two more in the 4th to make it 8-0. I gleefully looked around the sea of red and white for another orange and black fan to share my excitement with as I polished off a Bratzel, a Bratwurst wrapped in a pretzel (again with the diet). In total I counted 3 Giants hats among the 41,000 plus. Even though I’ve been down on my team this season it was hard not to walk out of Busch with a smug smile on my face as Shane muttered violent expletives to himself.

The Great Jack Buck.

Old Busch Scoreboard. Giants were winning 2-0 over Arizona. Hopefully a similar outcome awaits my visit to Phoenix today.

The view from our seats. The centerfield scoreboard looks fine but the out of town scoreboard in right center just doesn't seem right to me.

The St. Louis Legends.

Proof I was here. You can see the modern looking out of town scoreboard in the background.

Shane has been immortalized as the self appointed Czar of Cardinal Nation.

But the Czar was not to happy with the outcome of Sunday's game.

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