The Cardinals debuted their shiny new stadium on Tuesday night with a game between the Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis affiliates. When propositioned with some tickets to the game, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to check out the new park and cheer on an underdog Double-A team.
It was a comfortable, but cool night at the new stadium. Definitely sweatshirt weather once that sun went down. That meant I just had to wear a blue sweatshirt with a small, but noticeable Cubs logo on it. It attracted some attention, and as a result, I enjoyed some good old-fashioned ribbing with some faithful Cardinal fans. That alone was worth the trip. I think my best line of the night came as I was leaving and was forced by an ornery fan to point out that the Cardinals Triple-A team just lost to it's Double-A team. Yep, 5-3.
Nonetheless, there was a buzz in the air - a feeling of baseball fever. The new Major League Baseball season had already kicked off, and a new ballpark was officially opened to the public.
The minor league game was a brilliant marketing idea by the Cardinals for several reasons. It gave the staff a dry run at having a crowd in the stadium. But more importantly, it gave many fans the opportunity to check out the new park before the home opener, and it offered season ticket holders the chance to see what their new, much more expensive seats would be like. If you didn't get a chance to go, make sure you get to the stadium the day of your first game early. There is a lot to take in, and you won't want to be distracted from the game once it gets going.
Because there was so much to absorb, fans treated Tuesday's game almost like a rain delay. Many just walked around the stadium and didn't spend much time in their seats. And security was lax enough that fans in the cheap seats could even check out the field up close in those super expensive seats, which I assume won't be the case once Monday arrives.
There was a lot to take in. There's a definite upside to the new stadium, but there are some noticeable downsides and areas for improvement.
Here are some of my observations that fell into the good category:
- The open-air view in center field of the downtown skyline and St. Louis Gateway Arch is perfect.
- There are clearly more seats with better views throughout the stadium, including the standing room only areas, which was expected, but it still great for fans. And the setting is far more intimate, much like that of a minor league or spring training stadium.
- The stadium definitely has an airy feeling to it. Time will tell whether the new Busch Stadium will become a hitters or pitchers park, but on Tuesday night it sure felt like the ball was carrying.
- The scoreboard video display is unreal. The glare was pretty rough the first few innings, but once that sun went down, that screen popped. The images were so vivid, it looked like the biggest HDTV around. And for those of you who look forward to Cap Dance like I do, you'll be glad to know they kept the traditional scoreboard game. Hopefully they lost those Cubs versions, though.
And since with anything new, there is a need to be critical. Here are some of those observations I made that fell into the bad or needs improvement category:
- The lines for the concession stands were way too long and slow moving. Hopefully this was just first-day jitters, but 30-45 minutes to get a hot dog and beer is unacceptable. Not all kiosk-like beer and hot dog stands were open, though, so that will help alleviate the long lines. And since so much of the game day revenue comes from concessions sales, don't worry – the Cards' management will find a way to get you and your money through those lines faster.
- The bathrooms weren't all that easy to find. And they clearly tried to be slick by not marking the exits. But because the entrances were so hard to find, people found the disguised exits and used them anyway. When finally finding the bathrooms, many fans complained about how they weren't exactly finished with the construction yet.
- There were no hot dog vendors walking the stadium! At least none that I could spot, and those guys in the yellow kind of stand out. I tried from about the fifth inning until the end of the game to locate one. A few of the beer and soda vendors said they'd send one my way if they found one, but no luck. They wouldn't lie to a guy in a Cubs shirt, would they?
- The prefabricated brick walls looked kind of cheap up close, especially since the seams show up so much. But without those prefab walls, there was probably no chance there would be a stadium ready for Opening Day.
- Personally I didn't care for the orange numbers and letters on the scoreboard. They were a little hard to read and reminded me of some bad Atari graphics. But then again, I'm somewhat colorblind, so what do I know. They could very well have been yellow.
- Keeping with the scoreboard theme, many folks felt it was too busy and cluttered with billboards. I agree.
- Finally, and still keeping with the scoreboard, the shrine of retired numbers was a sad disappointment. I really hope this is the one area of the ballpark that is not finished. The numbers are on baseball-shaped signs just above the Coca-Cola Scoreboard Patio, and they're so small you barely even notice them. I expected more from a franchise with a history it is clearly so proud of.
get me wrong. The ballpark is a huge improvement from the old Busch Stadium, and
fans will grow to love it, if they don't already. I wouldn't rank it up there
Pete Khazen can be reached via email at email@example.com. Sound off and send him an email or post a message on our discussion board.