A Magical Pilgrimage

Busch Stadium
August04/ 2015

This “here” never changes for you, but the physical “where” of this “here” often shifts unnoticeably. This past weekend Where was on the banks of America’s Great River in the shadow of The Great Arch. A preponderance of “greats” ??

Blondie and I were on a parental pilgrimage to St Louis to measure the degree of concern we needlessly manifest 24/7 re: Kid’s general well-being. We could cut back considerably on that; but then what would we substitute as a target for our concern? …… The short, medium and long-term fate of America is always an option but quickly leads to acute depression which leads to assorted intestinal disorders.

….. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with my magical pilgrimage to a Major League Baseball game on Saturday last.

With the possible exception of The Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore on a clear day…. there are few sights in this country, IMO, more breath-taking than emerging from a concourse into a major league baseball stadium. OK, maybe one’s first trip to “Augusta”.

I suppose some hardy souls get a tingle emerging “amid the pines” into Kenan Stadium. My last “Kenan tingle” was before Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia. Those who “tingle” entering Dean’s Dome or the PNC/RBC likely get emotional entering an IKEA or a Costco. Hey, whatever floats your boat…..

To me there has never been a sight to match a big league ballpark. During the Eisenhower Administration Dad took little BobLee to “ballgames” in Washington’s Griffith Stadium…… “First in war, First in peace and Last in the American League”….. and to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in the Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn era.

The total sensory overload of a big league ballpark were firmly rooted in me half a century plus ago. They emerge from the depths of my being every time I repeat that emergence from a concourse.

It’s the greener-than-green manicured grass….. the perfectly groomed infield dirt….. the whiter-than-white bases and home plate and foul lines…. a “diamond” more beautiful than anything mined in South Africa or sold at Jared’s.

It’s the bustle of the crowd highlighted by the cries of the vendors hawking “Cold Beer Here….. Getcha Cold Beer….” I’ve been to games in Atlanta and Texas but hearing a beer vendor in Boston, New York, Chicago or St Louis is just “more better”. I was mesmerized by the cries of the beer vendors long before I ever sipped their wares.

It’s even the sponsor advertising throughout the stadium ….. appliance dealers and banks and car dealers and beverage companies competing for my eyes over the 2+ hours I will be gazing about my environs. Hoping I (or my dad) will think of them again where products or services are needed. And today, it’s the JUMBOtrons rising out of the far outfield flashing their colors and messages and more statistics than anyone can comprehend.

I get the same overwhelming joy from a “big league ballpark” that some get from an English Garden or a Broadway theater. I like those too; but for me the big league ballpark is more special.

Saturday night at Busch Stadium for Cardinals vs Rockies involved parking three blocks away; under an overpass in a contrived “lot” for $10. Similar lots under other overpasses were as much as $25 for the convenience of one less block to travel. When there is no ballgame, those parking lots are just gravel patches under overpasses.

Even joining other pilgrims in a pre-game marching toward Major League Mecca has it’s own charm. I do love watching families do pretty much anything where they all seem happy in the moment just being together.  82 times between early April and mid-October a mass migration of Caucasian Midwesterners converge on Busch Stadium with their masses averaging in excess of 40,000 each of those 82 times.

With “Tulo” having been traded several days earlier, the visiting Rockies were as barren of “name players” as a Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets “Meet The Team” promotion. Whatever happened to Kelly Tripucka? A parsity of notable Rockies was not a concern to my fellow pilgrims this night.   It was Cardinals Baseball and the ghosts of Stan and Dizzy and Ozzie and Gibson would be on-hand CardinalsBaseballto cheer the current wearers of “the birds on the bat”…. “in the shadow of The Arch”.

Our seats were in the right field corner on the third level. That involved trekking up an endless series of switchback ramps surrounded by the afore-mentioned “Midwestern families” doing the same.

The final “emergence” was as breathtaking as it as always been for me…. And forever shall be. We “emerged” about 20 minutes before the ump would declare “Play Ball” if indeed an ump still actually says that. I hope one does.

For me just watching the players stretch and jog and “play catch” pre-game is a joy. Imagine getting to “play catch” 162 times/year in a big league ballpark as a “big leaguer” !!!!!

The next “moment” is the initial rush from the dugout as the home team “takes the field” with each player heading to his position with the outfielders, of course, having further to run each time.

I wonder if “taking the field” ever loses its thrill for a “big leaguer”? I would be thrilled to do it just once, wouldn’t you?

I don’t understand “sound”. How can I be in the 3rd deck in rightfield of Busch Stadium yet hear the pop of the ball in “Yadi’s” mitt way down below? If I can hear the “pop” that well, what must it sound like to the Home Plate umpire? Do they wear earplugs to deafen the sound? They must.

Watching baseball on HDTV is splendid and offers an intimacy that “being there” cannot. But only “being there” can give you the sense of space of the nine men in uniform spread out in a well-planned geographic strategy. How much greener-than-green grass must be covered by just three men in that vast outfield.

Every crack of the bat signaling a fly ball brings a gasp from the 40,000+ as the outfielders sprint to the anticipated end of that marvelous parabola created by a “long fly ball” in “a big league ballpark”.

Not to be outdone….. a sharply hit ground ball generates an acrobatic display of pure athleticism unmatched, IMO, by any other sports. Surely “shortstops and second basemen” are “born” not created in skill camps. Maybe those incredible skills can be refined, but “to be a big league middle infielder” is a very very cool thing to be. Yes, the snap reactions of a big league 3rd baseman defines human understanding too.

This night, even the whozits wearing Colorado uniforms displayed incredible skills on Busch’s magical stage.

The confluence of marvelously talented athletes on display in such a breathtaking setting….. it’s like the groundskeepers and the ballplayers feel an obligation to match one another’s special skills.

I realize this is all somewhat effusive; but it’s my collection of Major League memories that I choose to share with you.

My dad wasn’t with me in Busch Stadium last Saturday night. Blondie and Kid were. But like Ray Kinsella’s Iowa cornfield…. it was as “magical” as that first time Dad and I walked out into Griffith’s Stadium over 50 years ago.


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