Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals begin their final regular season home stand at Busch Stadium today. With the best record in the National League, the Cardinals will treat fans to a few bonus games before the stadium meets its inevitable date with the swinging iron ball. But before the playoffs begin, the Cardinals have a handful of seemingly meaningless games to finish the season. Meaningless? Well, in actuality, these aren't meaningless games – they offer fans one last chance to flock to the stadium to take in one last game, one last glimpse, one last memory. And as they do, I wanted to offer up a different perspective… what Busch Stadium has meant to this displaced Cubs fan in St. Louis.
Living in St. Louis for my entire adult life, I should let you know that despite being the die-hard Cubs fan I am, I have seen far more games in Busch Stadium than in Wrigley Field. In fact, I've probably seen more Cubs games in Busch Stadium than in Wrigley Field. Does this mean that Busch Stadium means more to me than Wrigley Field, or that I like the St. Louis stadium better? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the stadium holds a special place in my heart. I might not be a Cardinals fan, but I am a fan of Busch Stadium, and I cherish all the memories I've collected in the short ten years I've been attending games there.
So just what memories will I be taking with me when that wrecking ball swings away to reveal the new Busch Stadium being constructed in the current one's shadow?
Busch Stadium has been a perfect place for me to gather with friends and family… in the cold, in the rain, in the scorching St. Louis heat, and even in a swarm of moths. It has been the place where I've enjoyed witty, as well as not so witty, ribbing with Cardinal fans time and time again. It has been the place where I've hugged and high-fived fellow Cubs fans sitting nearby or walking past, without even knowing who they were. It has been the place where I have come to know and love "Cap Dance" – even the Cubs versions, both the fast and the slow. And it has been the place I have come to know and love Jack Buck – with every replay of his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during which he fondly remembered Harry Caray and spoke of "the greatest rivalry in the history of baseball" and with the goose bumps I get each time I remember his awe-inspiring speech following the events of 9/11.
Busch Stadium has been the place where I've been lucky enough to enjoy a game from virtually all angles and lifestyles. I've spent the majority of my days in cheap seats, down the line where I couldn't see the scoreboard or the play in the corner. But I've also been able to catch a game on occasion from an outfield party box or even down in the green seats behind home plate. I've enjoyed games from Power Alley where you could talk with the players in the bullpen, and I even remember a time when I could buy a bleacher ticket and sit wherever I wanted in the outfield.
Busch Stadium has been the place where I got to witness the great Home Run Race of 1998. Though I wasn't in the stands for numbers 61 and 62, I did get to see and cheer for Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire throughout that memorable season filled with flash bulbs that could have illuminated the stadium by themselves. And nobody can deny that it was the rebirth of baseball that year, and Busch Stadium was its place of delivery.
Busch Stadium was also the venue where I got to see my first playoff baseball game. Though I quietly cheered for the eventual World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks amongst the roar of the Thunder Sticks, I was taken aback by the noise and excitement of not just a Major League Baseball playoff game, but a Cardinals playoff game.
I've been to enjoy odd events at Busch Stadium as well. Events that are easily forgotten, but will always be fond memories because I was there when they took place. Events like Bobby Bonilla pitching in the late innings of a ball game. And even Cody McKay taking the hill. Events like Larry Walker hitting a broken bat home run – not when he played for the Cardinals, but when he played for the visiting Colorado Rockies. Events like the tragic moments of Bill Mueller crashing into the advertising sign by third base and Nomar Garciaparra collapsing near home plate.
And then there are events that could never be forgotten. Like the pitching duel between Chris Carpenter and Carlos Zambrano earlier this season that ended in that famous David Eckstein suicide squeeze. Or the game just two nights later when Neifi Perez hit a silencing grand slam down the right field line for a Cubs victory in ten innings.
My fondest memory, without a doubt, was a game in June 2001 between the Cubs and Cards. It was a typical hot, humid night in St. Louis, and the two clubs were fighting it out. The score was 3-2 in favor of the Cubs, but the Cardinals were threatening with the tying run in scoring position and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. A little known player named Stubby Clapp came to bat for the Cardinals. Following a strikeout in his first MLB at-bat just two nights before, Clapp received an odd, but admirable, standing ovation from excited fans. They welcomed him to the plate again with a standing ovation and hopes of his first MLB hit and a game-tying RBI. As Clapp launched a line drive into right center field, Cubs fans gasped while Cardinals fans screamed in anticipation of a tie ball game. But Sammy Sosa reversed the emotions by making a diving catch to rob Clapp from his first hit and RBI. And then he followed it up with a grand slam in the bottom half of the inning and another two-run dinger in the ninth. The Cubs would go on to win the game 9-4, and I was a very happy camper.
It was these experiences that made it necessary for me to attend the last Cubs game at Busch Stadium. Walking around the park that night a few weeks ago, I stopped to join a number of fans taking in the tranquility of the partial new stadium softly lit from the overglow of its big brother. It was a nostalgic evening for me, and one filled with even more great memories from the many ups and downs throughout the thrilling 2-1 Cubs victory.
We all have fond memories from our experiences attending games at Busch Stadium, or even just watching them on television. And there are definitely many more yet to be collected this year. But the end of an era is approaching, and even though my experience is limited to the days of natural grass, I will always cherish the experiences I have had the past ten years at Busch Stadium. I thank you, the fans, for the games I've been able to share with you at the ballpark. Though I look forward to the adventures that await us in the new Busch Stadium, I'm definitely going to miss the old park.
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