there used to be a ballpark . . . .

i saw my first game at busch stadium in 1968, at the age of five; i saw my last game there yesterday. sat with my dad in section 158, where our family sat throughout my childhood --- dad and seven other docs split four season tickets there, and we went to about 10 games a year. dad dropped out of the group long ago, but the current ticketholders (still docs) weren't hard to track down, and the game was available --- among these busy people weekday afternoon games are not in high demand. the seats have migrated about seven rows closer to the field, but the view is the same --- right down he right-field foul line, batter catcher and ump clustered at center stage, the oval sweeping open to the left. incredible seats; we were lucky kids. that's the perspective of busch i'll always have in my mind's eye.

in addition to the 10 games a year in 158, i saw dozens of others --- invited by friends, or in GA, and all throughout high school out in the right-field bleachers. my junior and senior years in high school i worked at busch as an usher. i got invited into the press box once as a kid, met ernie hays and stan the man; got down onto the field for camera day, and once saw a game from one of those luxury boxes on the press level. between the ages of 6 and 26 i bet i was there 20 times a year; 400 days and nights. i came to know the place as intimately as i knew my own home; and indeed busch was a home to me growing up, a safe haven from the pressures and fears and portents of youth. i was a fearful kid, extremely unsure of myself and terrified of anybody finding that out; but at the ballpark my inhibitions melted away. i knew how to act and what to say, needed neither approval nor validation. diff'nt world, diff'nt set of rules --- ones that made some sense to me, that i understood and seemed able to live by naturally.

how do you say goodbye to that, and how do you say thanks? i didn't even try; just walked out of there after the last out like i would after any other game, as if the stadium weren't going away and would always be there. it always was there for me, at a time when i needed a place to go; and in my imagination so it always will be.

the game itself? strictly exhibition season. jason marquis' short, happy life as an ace came to an end; his pitches were up, and he got just four groundball outs in six innings of work. albert twice came up with two men on base and nobody out; he hit the ball hard once and made three "productive outs" but did nothing to advance his mvp candidacy. cal eldred got brad eldred out; einar diaz hit the ball hard; and jason bay inflicted his last injuries upon the cardinals for 2005. we'll pop the corks in wrigley --- hopefully friday, for Brock20's sake.

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