A Homecoming for Cardinal Nation

Rex Duncan reports from Sunday's Cardinals World Championship Parade in downtown St. Louis.

Having just arrived home from the Cardinals World Championship Parade in downtown St. Louis, I'm still buzzing. For those of you who couldn't attend, I thought I'd try to convey some of the sights, sounds, and pure exhilaration of the event. Though I live about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis, it doesn't matter. This was homecoming for Cardinal Nation, which is immune to mere city limits.

We stood on the south side of Market Street near 15th, about eight city blocks west of newly-built, newly-hallowed Busch Stadium. The entire length of Market Street that was visible to me to the east was a literal sea of Cardinal red many layers deep. Arriving just over an hour before the 2PM start time for the parade, the crowd of a few hundred thousand was buoyant, respectful, but having a ball.

On the north side of Market Street was a kid of ten to twelve years old with his trumpet. Clearly a new instrument to the young man, he began playing something that everyone soon recognized as the Mexican hat dance song. Off key, missing an occasional note, his imperfection was perfect, and the crowd responded by clapping twice at just the right times. His rendition of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" (known to most as the "HEY" song) was played with equal verve and need for further instruction. The sea of red loved him for it, though, shouted "HEY" as appropriate, and loudly applauded him at each ending.

There were ample signs. One memorable placard read "Call Me Mrs. Molina!" Another read "Taguchi Is …." followed by a series of Japanese characters that I trusted were complimentary. Another sign said simply "Thank You." in large white letters on a red background. A giant American flag hung over Market, supported on the north and south by St. Louis Fire Department ladder trucks. No fewer than five helicopters flew about, certainly working as hard not to bash in to one another as to get good news footage.

Scott Spiezio's predilection for bizarre chinwear was a hit. Several fans – male and female alike – sported painted-on or papered-on red faux chin whiskers. As sentient humans, we are free to decide how to decorate ourselves, regardless of how silly we might look. I almost felt sorry for the little white poodle behind us whose chin had been dyed red. Squirming throughout the parade in the arms of its owner, I wasn't sure if the poodle's discomfort was from the roars of the crowd or pure canine embarrassment.

After a police escort, the parade began with the Budweiser Clydesdales, always resplendent and a crowd favorite in the home of Anheuser-Busch. That Tony La Russa and his family were seated on the wagon drew the first huge of roar of what would be many. La Russa smiled, waved, nodded, and genuinely seemed at peace, having finally earned the 10th World Series crown that was intentionally emblematic of the #10 on his jersey.

Then came the players riding in the backs of pick-up trucks. Some, like Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter, Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds rode with their families. Others, like John Rodriguez and Ronnie Belliard, rode together. Yadier Molina, babyface aglow, was clearly a favorite and readily acknowledged the offer-by-sign of marriage. So Taguchi was another immensely popular fan favorite. As his truck approached, So was created by a warm crescendo of racket. Smiling, waving, and finally bowing deeply to the adoring throng from the back of his truck, Taguchi was clearly moved. He, too, saw his sign and with a point and wave seemed to accept the Japanese writing as complimentary.

Edmonds, Carpenter, Pujols, and MVP David Eckstein were all thunderously greeted. Chris Duncan was exuberant, perhaps with as much relief as excitement. The coaching staff, including Dave Duncan, Jim McKay, Marty Mason, and Joe Pettini were there. Majority owner Bill DeWitt and his family were there, too. Walt Jocketty, the most second guessed man in the game, was roundly greeted. The only coach I didn't see was third base coach Jose Oquendo. The only player I don't recall in the parade was Juan Encarnacion. I may have missed them, though, as the parade moved at a fast clip, lasting about 25 minutes.

What a day for the team and their adoring fans. After a week of cold, rainy weather, the skies were blue and crystal clear, with temperatures at or above 70. It's as if the Sunny Jim Bottomley himself intervened from above to grace the day with his smile and nickname. There was no untoward jostling for position along the route. Fans were accommodating and polite. It was the behavior one expects of the best fans in baseball. They even cheered St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa as he drove by ahead of the Clydesdales. If Sam, the best Wal-Mart greeter I know, had driven by the crowd would have cheered and applauded. It was really that kind of day.

Some of this was bittersweet. There went subdued Jason Marquis, certainly our last look at him as a Cardinal. Jeff Suppan, who pitched so well throughout the playoffs, was a favorite with a big question mark in his future. Same with Mark Mulder, Jeff Weaver, Spiezio, Belliard, Gary Bennett, Preston Wilson, and Taguchi. With the season over, now come the difficult business decisions that will shape the appearance of the 2007 Cardinals. The honeymoon will be short, but it sure is sweet.

Rex Duncan

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