“It doesn’t matter what happens tonight, the Cardinals are the best team in baseball and Cardinal fans are the best in baseball. Period. End of story. That’s just the way I was raised.”
Eyegal went on: “I actually feel sorry for the Rangers because they’re not us.”
She said all that even as Chris Carpenter struggled to locate his fastball and breaking pitch, giving up two quick 1st-inning runs in the process. She would not be deterred.
It wasn’t because she was still high on the fumes of the previous night’s wild and zany late-inning heroics in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. It was because the girl was born and raised in St. Louis, and since the day she first opened her eyes, the only color she saw was Cardinal red.
I think it’s hard for those outside of St. Louis to understand just how wide and deep is the river of red that runs in the veins of the natives. I did not grow up a Cardinals fan (I was weaned on Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine), but I did marry into the club. Over the years, I’ve come to understand it a bit more.
Perhaps I can explain.
When you’re born in St. Louis, one of the first gifts that you receive is some type of Cardinals clothing, a t-shirt or perhaps a onesie. Your parents take your picture in it and it remains in the family album forever. When you are old enough to have your own kids, you rinse and repeat.
Before long, usually before you can walk, you go to your first game. Your parents hold you up and present you, like Mufasa did Simba in The Lion King, and they say to you, “This is your stadium. This is your team.” Even though you are not old enough to understand the words, they take. The roar of the crowd, the crack of the bat, the thump-thump of the Budweiser song (“Here comes the King, here comes the Big Number One!”), the sea of red, it’s all imprinted in your mind. Like a well-worn base path, your course is set until the day you die.
You start school, and your teachers say, “If you work hard and make straight As, you will go.” And you do. Rather than dreading your report card, you look forward to it. You receive a pair of tickets, one for you, and one for a parent. The lesson is learned, and you do this over and over as many times as possible. You become very smart.
An important part of the Cardinal Catechism is learning the pantheon of Cardinal greats: Hornsby, Red, Leo, Enos, Dizzy, Stan “The Man,” Sweet Lou, Gibby, Torre, “The Wizard of Oz,” and the latest, “Sir Albert.” You do this by collecting baseball cards, doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl. If you’re a girl and you have brothers, you watch your back because they’re always trying to steal your good ones. Later in life, you’re thankful for the ones you still have, but you still grouse about the ones you lost.
Even if you move away, you go out into the world and make converts because you are zealous for your cause. No matter where you live, you never forget your roots. From time to time, you pilgrimage back home, back to Busch, in the shadow of The Arch where it all began, dragging your neophytes with you. You hold up your own Cardinal babies and present them just like your parents did you. You teach them the Cardinal Catechism all over again.
I want you to understand this: My wife is a cool, ambivalent skeptic who rarely buys into the hype. She distances herself from absolute claims, from people and organizations who are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they, alone, are the only game in town.
But when it comes to St. Louis Cardinals baseball, she’s all in, a True Believer. Her team, her city, her people, are the best in baseball. Period. End of story.
We saw the Cards play–and lose–twice in mid-July just before they hit the skids. They looked awful. I turned to her and said, “This team doesn’t have it in them.”
Although she agreed, that didn’t stop her from picking up a cheap, old school blue Cardinals t-shirt with “Pujols” on the back as we passed through a local Wal-Mart. She didn’t need it, and she almost talked herself out of it, but I encouraged her to live a little. She slept in it, and when the Cards started turning things around in September, she slept in it even more.
As St. Louis was closing things down last night, she turned to me and said, “You know, I think it all started when I bought this shirt.”
No, my dear, I beg to differ. I think it all started long before that.