Hello again, fine populous of VEB. Back towards the end of April, I swung by and bombarded St. Louis locals with questions of food suggestions, activities, and general questions about Busch Stadium for a road trip I have recently completed. And many of you magnificently came through with lots of great suggestions, ideas and comments for me, to which I am grateful for. My trip wouldn't have been as fulfilling without your contributions. Thank you.
As promised, I return to VEB with a post full of pictures, stories, snarky remarks, lame attempts at humor, but in all, a visitor's perspective of Busch Stadium III, and my experience in the city of St. Louis, which encompassed June 5-6.
My journey began in Kingdom City, MO, where I stayed at a truly frightening roach motel, after spending the day prior, touring Kansas City, and having visited KC's Kauffman Stadium for a Royals game. I was convinced that I had been gnawed at throughout the night by bed bugs or something, based on some unsightly red spots on my skin I noticed in the shower that made me feel like I needed to take another shower. Considering my sheets had blood stains from the previous renters' probable murder, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised.
Finishing my journey into St. Louis, I pulled off in Wentzville, MO, where I had a truly delicious breakfast of some massive pancakes. At my table, I caught a hint of just how great Cardinal Nation is, based on the little postcard at the table, creating awareness of the Albert Pujols Family Foundation, way out in Wentzville. Despite my allegiance to the Braves, I'm still a great admirer and admittedly, a fan of Albert Pujols; partially for the gaudy numbers that satiate even the most cynical of stat geeks, partially for the freakish stories of playing with a bum elbow and still hitting 51 homers or the 100% on the U.S. Citizenship test, but mostly for the simple fact that the guy's a saint. I still put a lot of weight into character, and if it were a tangible statistic, Pujols would be among baseball's all-time leaders at like 1.879 *still active, or something like that
After dumping rental car #1, and picking up rental car #2 (financial reasons), I headed over to the Loop, and went to Cicero's. There, I decided to not waste any time in getting into St. Louis flavors, so I ordered a STL-style pizza, and a pitcher of Schlafly (Weiss). Both were satisfying and tasty. But I didn't want to stay that long, because as had been the story of my trip, time was truly flying, and a Sunday day game wasn't making it any easier for my schedule.
I arrived to the vicinity of Busch, and parked somewhere near this bar. A year ago, I went to Wrigley Field for one of the Cards/Cubs series. Maybe it's the eclectic nature of Chicago, or simply the fact that red is simply a more vibrant color than the more muted blue is, but walking around, it's impossible to not take not of just how, well, red everything is surrounding Busch. Whereas last year, I couldn't help but notice how well Cards fans represented in rival territory, I couldn't say as much the same on the other side of the coin. There certainly were Cubs fans present in STL, but not nearly en masse as the Cards fans were in CHI. Maybe it was the two prior losses that chased them all away, not sure?
I like how outside of Busch are all the statues of like Ozzie Smith, and of course, Stan Musial. This says to me that even on days when there are no games, people can simply walk down the street and soak in a little bit of Cardinal history, free of charge.
Not going to lie, but I'm very much an admirer of just how pretty Busch is on the outside. Classic brick exterior, everything's clean, and despite being one of the newer parks in baseball, it doesn't feel like it's trying to be all new, hip, and modern. It still feels and looks classy, while seemingly having taken consideration to the little things that constitute a fan-friendly modern ballpark.
St. Louis' team store is one of the most bustling, busiest team stores that I've encountered in my travels. It's kind of cramped, especially for the type of demand they have, but they do manage to pack it full of all sorts of things baseball fans may or may not actually need, but hey it seems like a great idea at that time. Bonus points for the store not having any Cubs merch that I could see, because I discovered the day prior that Kansas City's team store was selling Minnesota Twins merch, which I found to be a disheartening.
This cardinal-man hybrid made me think of the old Sega Genesis game, Altered Beast, and I just wanted to share that thought with you guys.
Through friends of friends, I managed to score some sweet suite tickets for this game against the Cubs. Which was truly great, since it was pretty brutally warm on this particular afternoon, and it was nice to be able to simply retreat inside the suite and grab some suds, or just cool off a little bit.
I certainly do love me pretty skylines in ballparks, and if it were up to me, St. Louis's skyline is amongst the best. In fact, the NL Central seems to be the home of some of the best ones I've seen to this point, as I'm particular to both Pittsburgh's and Cincinnati's skylines. But St. Louis's is as marvelous as theirs are, with the incorporation of the iconic arch visible from pretty much all angles. Always been a fan of how pretty Busch has looked on television whenever the Braves were visiting, but it's even better in person.
When I found out that Carlos Zambrano was pitching, I pretty much said to my friends, that it's either implosion, or dominance. There is no middle ground with Carlos Zambrano. Unfortunately, he was pretty dominant on this day, but due to the outcome regardless, the implosion still happened in the locker room instead.
I often enjoy seeing how other parks do an out of town scoreboard, and I'm pleased to see just how much attention Busch gives to the other games in MLB. Throughout the afternoon, it was easy to monitor the Phillies and Marlins losing their respective games, much to my approval, in between innings of Zambrano and Carpenter doing good jobs of quickly mowing through the opposition.
I think this photograph I took of catching the Big Mac on the screen warrants a free Big Mac or something, but I had no idea of where I needed to go redeem for it, so it never happened. Regardless I would like to brag about how I accomplished it like it's some great feat.
Maybe I caught them on a good day, but it's good to see that St. Louis' token "don't call us cheerleaders" Team Redbirds cheer squad still employees the illusion of the girl next door that likes our favorite baseball team, as opposed to snobby, make-up caked, wanna-be America's Next Top Models like the Braves' Tomahawk Team has unfortunately become. Seriously, chatting to two of them while wandering about, I was amazed that they reciprocated conversation, instead of acting like getting to the next section of the ballpark in time was the fate of the planet. Refreshing, in fact.
As awesome as my suite seats were, I'm really not meant for exclusivity. Kind of like the Miller High Life guy, I want to be out among the people. That, and I found that Cardinal Nation comprises of probably the highest ratio of attractive women in baseball fandom, but the fact remains that after about the third or fourth inning, I spent the next few innings doing a good bit of walking around. Behold the obligatory field shot from the outfield.
Due to the two levels of luxury suites at Busch III, the park simply feels like one of the largest in the majors. I go all the way up to the upper decks, and then there are stairs to go even higher, which I did, to sample the view and the glorious breeze up top. Granted, it's obviously harder to see the higher you guy, but I'm hard pressed to believe that there isn't a bad seat available at Busch. It was a real treat to go around and see the park from the variety of angles.
I arrived to this part of the lower bowl, and I asked the usher if I could stop here and snap a few pictures of what appeared to be the game getting interesting. She told me that I could, but to not move until between outs.
Pujols slides home on an Allen Craig single, and suddenly the usher is forbidding me to leave. The Cards got on the board as soon as I arrived. I smiled and stayed the rest of the inning. It's wonderful to see that Busch has some ushers that actually like the Cardinals, and take some pride and may actually enjoy their jobs, as opposed to some other ushers I've seen in various parks who treat the duty like a job, and are obtuse enough to enforce approximate seating even in the most empty of venues.
Afterward, I made my way back to the suite, because I had pretty much walked around the entire park, and seen everything I pretty much wanted to see, and hey, there was an exciting game taking place. Not to mention that it was the seventh inning, and I really wanted to partake in at least two more Anheuser Busch products before the cut-off.
And sure enough, rarely do games on my travels truly end to any routine finish, and if there ever were a pitcher tailor-made to make games interesting, it's none other than Carlos Marmol. My favorite Marmol memory was a game in which he faced the Braves and then went walk, strikeout, walk, strikeout, walk, before giving up a bases-clearing, save-blowing, go-ahead triple to Rick Ankiel. Well, he didn't get as many walks as I would have hoped to have seen, but he did deliver the strikeouts. But he made up for the bore-fest by giving up the big double to Ryan Theriot which ended up being yet another blown save, and giving an adrenaline shot back into Cardinal Nation.
This is Rodrigo Lopez. I am very familiar with Rodrigo Lopez, because he was picked up by the Braves at the start of the 2011 season, and was sent to AAA. In all fairness, Rodrigo dominated the AAA competition, but my biggest gripe was that I made three efforts to see the Braves' AAA team, and on each time, I hoped I would get to see top-prospect Julio Teheran, but instead was a day too early, and ended up getting Rodrigo Lopez. He won all three of those starts, so as a fan, it was great to see some minor league wins, but come on, I went to see the future, not purgatory. A clause in his contract led to the Braves trading him to the Cubs, to where he stood on this day.
This is Rodrigo Lopez vs. Albert Pujols. Popular strategy for extra-inning games dictate taking the best of your remaining relievers, and using them in order of your best until you're left with Felipe Lopez or Wilson Valdez to take the mound, if the game is actually still going on. Considering Kerry Wood was still available, I was a bit puzzled as to why Rodrigo Lopez came out first.
This is Albert Pujols clobbering a 2-1 pitch into the left-center seats, and hitting his second walk-off home run in as many days. I honestly was not surprised.
And these are some jubilant walk-off celebration shots, as people all around me, as well as myself were going ballistic and giving high fives and screaming and cheering at the instantaneous, 0-to-100, cranked-up to 11 joy that a walk-off home run brings to the fans. The fact that it was Albert Pujols who hit the walk-off home run, in this magnificent ball park, brought a perfect end to what I look back at, was one of the greatest afternoons of watching baseball in my life.
As for the rest of my trip, I did a lot of exploring around St. Louis and the surrounding area. At the advice of many of you, I kept a rental car instead of relying on public transportation, which was probably the best piece of advice given, and as a result, I did a lot of driving around. St. Louis is a beautiful city, and a lot of aspects reminds me of Atlanta in some ways. There seems to be an obvious line in which the city becomes not quite so friendly, and there are areas that are pretty hipster, and areas that are kind of rustic and old-money-ish.
After the Cards game, I enjoyed a nice scotch and some iced coffee near Forest Park, and then I crossed the bridge into Illinois, and caught a Gateway Grizzlies game. At first, I thought it was silly to be going to an indy-league game, but the more I thought about it while watching, the more I realized that it was pretty special seeing guys grinding it out at the level lower than the minor leagues, hoping for a shot to catch on with an MLB affiliate.
It was also Star Wars night in Sauget, so there was a little bit of nerdy satisfaction in seeing park staffers dressed as various Star Wars characters that seemed all so gratifying.
But the biggest draw to Sauget was the supposed "Baseball's Best Nachos." Philly Cheese Steak Nachos, actually, and they were quite good. Would I call them the best nachos in baseball? I can't say I would. The best nachos I've had in my ballpark experiences have still been the nachos available from Hard Times Café in Nationals Park.
This isn't my rental car, but it was the car parked two spots away from me. Looks very much like one of the pop fly balls hit out during the game by lesser quality hitters. I couldn't imagine trying to explain to Alamo, that a foul ball hit my car, and if my premium covered it or not.
Leaving Sauget, GPS took me down some quite scary routes through East St. Louis. Needless to say, it's probably the last place on earth I'd want my car to ever break down.
As for the rest of my trip, I spent an extra day in STL, to one, sleep in, and two, do touristy crap, since I didn't really want to come out all the way and not see some touristy crap. That, and there was a lot of food yet to be eaten. Firstly was Pappy's Smokehouse, to where I arrived at 10:40 a.m. and there were already a few people waiting ahead of me. But I beat the rush, and had some truly delicious ribs and brisket.
Because it would have felt un-American to not do it while out at St. Louis, I went up the Arch. I didn't have the slightest clue how the ferrying of people up into the top would actually happen, and was a little surprised when it turned out to be some sci-fi escape space pods elevatored up to the top. I made sure to include Busch Stadium in this shot.
I figured there would be some dispute to whether how authentic Cicero's pizza would be, so I made sure to hit up an oft-suggested Imo's for a pie. Certainly gooier than what I had eaten prior, given the fact that many had heeded "it's an acquired taste," I sure ate it without any prejudice. Prior to this trip, I didn't really know that there was such a thing as St. Louis style, but if Imo's is kind of what they're all like, I suppose I'm a fan of St. Louis style pizza too
Later in the evening, I dined at Blueberry Hill. To be honest, if there was ever a mistake I made while out in STL, it was having Blueberry Hill as the last meal of the trip, because it's not what I would have called ending on a high note. The food was fine, the burger good. I got amusement out of the numerous toy cases of Mr. Fuji and old WWF wrestling collectibles, classic Wurlitzers, and the dart room. But 40 minutes for a hamburger and onion rings is pretty absurd, and the hipster staff must have deemed me not cool enough to attempt to make remotely satisfied.
The rest of my night was spent losing money at an insanely rapid pace at Harrah's, because apparently out in the Midwest, blackjack dealers play 4.5 decks deep, and are allowed to keep hitting past five cards, and never, ever, ever bust.
But overall, my experience at Busch Stadium, and my experience in the city of St. Louis were absolutely phenomenal. I watched a terrific baseball game at a wonderful ball park, ate a ton of good food, and enjoyed the sights and exploration of a historic city. Busch III makes #20 out of the 30 MLB parks for this traveler, and I've had a week to think about it, but it still holds true; out of all National League parks, I would have to say that Busch Stadium III is my favorite. Take bonus pride in the fact that it pushes Wrigley Field to #2.
The kind of trip and experience I had probably could have made a neutral, undecided-allegiance baseball fan into a legitimate Cardinals fan. For what it's worth, I can't really refute the claims that Cardinals fans are the best in baseball, and I can say it's been an honor to have been in the house of Cardinal Nation for a game. The fans are all knowledgeable and polite, the girls are pretty, the staff friendly and genuine, and the park itself is charming, convenient, and full of pleasant sights.
And on that note, I conclude this long and winded visitor's perspective. Thanks again to everyone who fed me suggestions and ideas of where to go, what to see, and places to eat. And thanks also to everyone who stuck it out and read through my ramblings and enjoyed my pictures. All comments, critiques, discussion and flames welcome. Thanks again.