Category Archives: st. louis cardinals

Of Baseball, Nostalgia, and Stan

I often say that I don’t remember being taught the basic rules of baseball — balls and strikes, relief pitchers vs. starters, why first base is the position where you “hide” your defensive liability — because in my family this was all such common knowledge that it seemed like we learned it by osmosis. My knowledge of Cardinals history is not quite as hazy in origin; I remember my father regaling us around the dinner table with stories about Bob Gibson and Stan Musial, imprinting a love for the Cardinals on his children even as the current team descended into its post-1987 mediocrity. But consider, for a moment, that my father was born in 1957.  The Gibby stories were of a player he had watched through his teens, had embraced and celebrated the way we were learning to cherish Ozzie Smith.  The Stan stories were of a player who retired when my father was only six; most of the best stories were not my father’s memories, but his father’s.  And yet, if you watched a game on the right day, you could actually see Stan, sitting in the stands, waving to the crowd, occasionally venturing into the broadcast booth.

Albert Pujols, a player the St. Louis fans long thought would be the person to take up and carry on Stan’s mantle, refused the nickname “El Hombre” because it infringed on Stan’s “The Man” nickname (and continued to reject it even after going to Anaheim). When he left last offseason, I wrote:

[this] is what makes sports fandom so hard, so frustratingly stupid at times: the rational part of your brain knows the player isn’t trying to hurt you — he doesn’t even know you.

Stan was different.  It wasn’t just that we felt like Stan knew us; there are reams of fan anecdotes to verify that Stan treated everyone who approached him like they were a good friend. If you were not lucky enough to have such a story (I am not), you always entertained the possibility that someday maybe you’d be in the right place at the right time and get to shake his hand. He was ours, and he remained so for so long, it seemed like we might never have to give him up.  Last spring, he came out for Opening Day looking noticeably frail.  His wife of over half a century passed away during the season.  We didn’t want to add up these signs. We weren’t ready to let him go.

Someday, I will tell my own children about Stan, just like I’ll tell them about Ozzie, and about what it was like when Albert came out of nowhere. But it won’t be quite the same as when my dad told us. Stan’s a true legend now, just out of reach in the history books, not on the TV waving and rooting on the Cardinals. The next great Cardinal won’t have a picture like this in his Google image search.

Goodbye, Stan.  The world will miss you, and baseball will miss you, but Cardinals fans will miss you most of all.

 

On Albert

After I got over the sudden sinking feeling in my gut when the link first appeared in my RSS feed, I was doing fine for about an hour.  We had plenty of work crises and meetings this morning to distract me, I was rationally discussing it online with SB and Lady Bee, I was going to be fine.  Then it occurred to me that I was just typing all these words, that I hadn’t actually said out loud to anyone, even myself, “Albert Pujols is going to be an Angel.”

That’s when I needed a moment.

Though I’m pretty much in agreement with Will Leitch’s gut reaction (I’ve never actually met Leitch but we were both commenting on a now defunct Cardinals blog back before Deadspin launched; as non-St Louis native Cardinals fans who now live in New York, it sometimes feels like we’re living oddly parallel lives), it was actually a piece I read this morning before the news broke that best captured my feelings. Posted on a White Sox blog after their home-grown star player, Mark Buerhle, signed with the Marlins, I read it thinking “this is how I will feel if Albert signs somewhere else.”  Thirty minutes later, the news broke that he had.

For those of us Cardinals fans who aren’t quite old enough to remember the team’s run of success in the early 1980s, who clung to McGwire’s home run chase only to see it soiled by the steroids accusations, who fell for Rick Ankiel’s early promise as a pitcher only to watch him implode in horribly public fashion, Albert Pujols was the first real sign that the Cardinals were finally returning to prominence, to playing October baseball that actually mattered instead of being sacrificial lambs to the Braves every year (if we made it at all).  Moreover, we were going to do it with a player found in our farm system, who seemed destined to become not only a Cardinals legend, but an all-time baseball legend.  When he signed that first big contract 10 years ago, I still remember that now defunct Cardinal blog enthusing, “Can you believe he’s ours?  That we have him?”

And now we don’t.  And yes, “we” never did, which is what makes sports fandom so hard, so frustratingly stupid at times: the rational part of your brain knows the player isn’t trying to hurt you — he doesn’t even know you.  The emotional part can’t help feeling like 10 years of adulation ought to be worth something.

I’m glad that the Cardinals won two World Series with Albert on the team — it feels less like he’s abandoning us for greener pastures, then that he’s a 31 year old who has worked for the same company his entire adult life and wants to try something new.  I’m glad that he’s going to the Angels — a team I have such fondness for, I wrote a short story in grad school organized around their first World Series win — and not the Marlins, who not only have ugly uniforms and construct their teams in a way that feels like they are gaming the system, but are covered frequently in the New York media as a divisional rival of the Mets.  Still, Opening Day 2012 — a day that should have been about watching the Cardinals get their championship rings — is now going to be about enduring the spectacle of Albert in his new uniform in Yankee Stadium.  For the first time in a long time, I welcome the long months of the offseason.

About that Very Big Baseball Game That is Happening Tonight

These are the opening lines of the email my friend Sarah sent me at 11:43 PM Thursday:

Hey sorry about the cardinals! The only good thing is it won’t conflict with Stevie Wonder.

At 12:51 AM Friday I wrote her back:

I think you reverse jinxed us.

So, thanks to the weather postponement on Wednesday, and whatever the hell happened last night to save the Cardinals from their final strike not once, but twice, the first Game 7 in almost a decade is being played in St. Louis after the craziest World Series game I have ever seen and I HAVE PLANS.

Not, “oh I can reschedule because I can do this some other time” kind of plans, either.  Once in a lifetime, seeing-Stevie-Wonder-in-semi-private-concert-at-the-Waldorf-Astoria-for-free plans.

Stupid Mother Nature.

So here’s what’s going to happen:  I’m going to SB’s for the first hour of the game, then running to the Waldorf Astoria (it’s a short walk) for the concert, while SB DVRs the innings I’m missing, then coming back and trying to catch up.  You are probably better off not texting or emailing me until the wee hours of Saturday morning, but I’m going to turn my phone off just in case.

Also I may be wearing a Halloween costume.  I bought it for a party a few years ago, a party that was also scheduled on the day a Game 7 might have been played, had one been necessary.  In 2006.

They’re So Cute At That Age

I went over to the old blog to post the official moving notice, and flipped through some of my very first posts. This one really brought home how long ago I started blogging (please bear in mind that I was 20 and suffering from new-toy-overeagerness and about a week from graduating from OU before you laugh at my enthusiasm and clumsy writing)

This is Albert Pujols, my new favorite Cardinal (although I love them all, of course). He is only 20 years old, but you woudn’t know it from the way he’s played so far this season. It’s been great to have his offense since Mac’s knee is still so shaky. Pujols and Rick Ankiel are the first Cardinals that seem more like my peers than my father’s


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