The countdown is on. I impatiently wait all winter for this countdown. The countdown to hot dogs and cloudless afternoons under the hot summer sun. The countdown to renewed hope for the new season. The countdown to singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch in a stadium filled with a sea of red t-shirts and ball caps. The countdown to grand slams and “Go crazy, folks!” The countdown to Mike Shannon and John Rooney calling play-by-play on the radio and John Ulett at the stadium. The countdown to a majestic team of Clydesdales making their opening day lap around the stadium, and “meeting at Musial.” The countdown to America’s pastime with a team that doesn’t always win, but never goes down without a fight. The countdown to opening day with the birds on the bat. The countdown to St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
I was raised in St. Louis, where baseball is not just a sport but a way of life. Opening day at Busch Stadium might as well be a holiday in St. Louis because everybody plays hooky from work and floods downtown hoping to see “That’s a winner!” on the scoreboard with a big red “W” at the end of the game. Every April Cardinal Nation knows that fall ball is waiting for our beloved team at the end of the 162 game rollercoaster of a season. “Playoffs” becomes our mantra as we stay devoted through streaks of wins and losses today, because with our Cardinals tomorrow’s game could change everything.
We honor those that made Cardinal history so great: Stan The Man, Whitey Herzog, Dizzy Dean, Ozzie Smith, Tony LaRussa, the Gashouse Gang, Jack Buck (I know he technically wasn’t a Cardinal, but he was the greatest announcer the Cardinals have ever had), Ernie Hays (again, technically not a Cardinal, but he was the greatest organ player to ever grace Busch Stadium) and so many others. Without the foundation that those players laid for the team there would be no future to strive for. And while honoring the storied history of the Cardinals we cheer for those players that bring great hope for the future of the team.
Cardinal pitchers and catchers reported to Jupiter, Florida on Monday and started workouts on Tuesday. It is official . . . spring training has started!!! In March my husband will lose me to the other men in my life. Yadier Molina, Jason Motte, Mike Matheny, David Freese and the rest of the team. Yes, my poor husband will become a baseball widow. He’ll watch the games with me on tv (though I honestly prefer listening to them on the radio), and he’ll question my sanity as I yell at a bad call. The look on his face as he watched me during game 6 of the 2011 World Series was priceless. Then we won game 7. I was screaming, yelling and crying with pride and joy. He looked at me like I had serious issues, but I was so proud to be a member of the fan base that had just cheered our boys to a World Series victory. The Cardinals didn’t win the trophy that year. All of Cardinal Nation won it, and brought it home on the shoulders of an amazing team that just wouldn’t quit.
In 2012, when our season ended in the playoffs, Cardinal Nation didn’t join together in a collective red-clad pout. We knew that our Cardinals played their hardest and that 2013 would bring a clean slate to tally the wins on.
So now it’s time to bring my number 4 Molina shirt out of storage and dust off the bright red baseball cap. It’s time for me to practice “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and change my ringtone to “Here Comes The King.” It’s time for my co-workers to get tired of hearing me talk about one of my greatest loves in life . . . the St. Louis Cardinals, because I am a proud member of Cardinal Nation.
We are old. We are young. We are children with big dreams. We are the parents and grandparents wanting to share our love for a team that is not always the best in the league but is the best in our hearts. We are friends spending an evening together under the lights of Busch Stadium on a warm summer night. We are fathers and sons discussing favorite players while playing catch. We are the couple who gets married at home plate. We are the school teacher who will forego lessons so her students can watch the daytime playoff game on tv in class (my 3rd grade teacher). We are the ones who camp out at the stadium for tickets to opening day. We are the ones who lay flowers in front of the stadium when part of our history passes away. We are wins and losses and cheering through it all. We are the birds on the bat. We are Cardinal Nation!