Quad Cities River Bandits Notebook: Week 8

Jon Popham shares his experiences as the River Bandits played at Busch Stadium last Thursday.

This week's report is going to look a little different from what you normally see here for the Quad Cities report. As I write this, it is Memorial Day weekend, and the guys are at the beginning of the longest road trip of the summer. Today it finally FEELS like summer outside - hot and humid on the Mississippi River.

This week was a first for most of the players and for me so I want to write a little about our experience at Busch Stadium. At 7:00 Wednesday evening I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to make the trip. After a few phone calls I had re-arranged transportation and was honored to become "chauffeur" for my friend Shirley. She's the youngest 83-year-old I'll ever be around!

A major storm stretched all the way from St. Louis to Davenport and beyond lasted all night Wednesday so, even as we left town, we still weren't sure that we'd see a ball game, but we did know that we would have a good day. Water stood in the fields all the way to Missouri.

We arrived at the stadium with the help of the GPS - perfect directions from On-Star! Since neither of us had been there before, we weren't sure where to park but we found a place not far from the stadium. I'm sure that on a day when the Cardinals were in town it would have been much more daunting a task to park. A short walk got us to the home base gate but it was closed so we walked on up the hill toward the third base gate - the one that Stan the Man watches over. What a great introduction to the stadium!

I've been a Cardinals fan for more than 45 years but this was my first trip to a game at any of the Busch Stadiums. Even though this version of Busch is only five years old, the tradition of the game permeates every corner of the park. I kind of felt like a kid wanting to try everything while I was at the game. It is almost brand new but it has the feel of old-time baseball. That's what makes any stadium a great place to watch a game.

A short walk on up to the team store took us through the statue garden. Shirley has been around baseball long enough to remember most of those players - I guess I have, too! The team store was just as I expected. It was lots and lots of stuff that I couldn't afford! I did find a Cards hat with a "colors of cancer" ribbon on the side. I bought it because it was only $22.00 and because the Cards are donating $10.00 of every purchase to cancer research. It's only available at the stadium so if you want to support the cause, make a trip to Busch this year.

St. Louis is as friendly as any Midwest city. Lots of fans saw our River Bandits gear and greeted us very warmly. We ended up in line with the parents of one of the catchers from Kane County and they were also given a lot of respect. The wait at the gate was fairly short, even though they only opened one gate on Thursday.

Upon entering the stadium, there was a little confusion as to where we would be sitting. Shirley was kind enough to include me with her ticket and as a season ticket holder, she had access to the green seats right behind home plate. We chuckled as we sat down, knowing that we would never again have a chance to sit in Bill DeWitt's seats! We were right at the end of the dugout behind the on deck circle. What a treat!

Since the Cards were kind enough to make all of the concessions half price for the night, we were able to enjoy minor league pricing for brats and hot chocolate. I had to have a Bud, too, since we were so close to the brewery.

Once we were settled into our seats, it was time to watch the players as they took their first steps onto the big field. It looked like Christmas morning! The excitement was electric even though they tried to maintain a professional composure. They were a lot closer to their dreams than they had been 24 hours earlier. It was a series of smiles and nods between players. I suspect that some of them pinched themselves just to be sure it was real. It was an honor to be there and to get to share this experience with the team.

I know that several players' parents were in attendance that night. Because the team went straight to Burlington for Friday's game I didn't really get to take a roll call of parents. I was blessed to meet Virgil Hill's mom before the game and I know she was just as excited as Virgil was. I was surprised and disappointed that so few fans came out for the night. I believe the official attendance was around 2,800 but a better count would be 1,600.

The game reports have been written and published so I won't repeat the stats or try to outdo others who have written articles. I did notice that major league fans aren't used to the on-field promotions that were part of the festivities on Thursday. It was a night of mixed cultures going both directions.

Just a few observations on a personal note:

Robert Stock flipped the switch Thursday. It was his best showing since his return to the Bandits. Two hits in Busch Stadium will make it a memorable night for him, too.

Cody Stanley has the easiest smile on the team anyway, but he couldn't stop grinning all night. His two hits certainly helped keep him smiling. He tossed a t-shirt to a fan right behind me. She wasn't sure if she should keep it!

The only word to describe Carlos Martinez is "giddy." It took a few innings for him to settle into the game. It took a lot longer for him to stop grinning, too!

The other starters, Seth Blair, Anthony Ferrara, Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, and Zack Russell knew that they only got to sit in the dugout, but I could tell that they wouldn't have traded that for anything other than being on the mound.

Greg Garcia carries himself like a major league player. That's something I had never noticed before, even though I think it's true when we play at Modern Woodmen Park, too.

I could write a little about each and every player, but there are only so many ways to say it was an incredible experience for everyone. I hope that the Cardinals and the Bandits are able to work out a game like this every year but I think it will be more like a bi-annual event. If you were there, I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you. If you didn't go, you should have. You should never miss a chance to see the future of baseball, especially when they are playing in our home park.

Next week I'll be back to a more "normal" article with an interview with Seth Blair.


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