A Weekend Pilgrimage Without a St. Louis Cardinals Win

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 12: Fans wait outside Busch Stadium prior to the St. Louis Cardinals playing against the Houston Astros in the home opener at Busch Stadium on April 12, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Whenever I see a big-league ballpark I always think of Crash Davis sitting on the bus in Bull Durham, holding court before the youngsters, telling them what it's like in "The Show," where the "ballparks are like cathedrals." Whenever I see Busch Stadium I think of Annie Savoy's "Church of Baseball." For the Cards are a religion of sorts to me and that makes Busch Stadium the cathedral. This weekend I made a pilgrimage to the promised land of what has been marketed "Baseball Heaven" to bask in the Church of Baseball.

Going to a Cardinals game has never been easy for those of us in the outposts of Cardinal Nation. While fortunate enough to be within driving distance of St. Louis, going to a Cards game requires a bit of planning, expense, and the watching of the weather forecast and praying. My particular pilgrimage is nearly 400 miles one-way and takes about five and a half hours, the bulk of which is spent zipping southward on the "Avenue of the Saints," so named for the cities that bookend the string of state highways that make up the "Avenue." Leaving work early in the day on Friday, I reached downtown St. Louis at about half past four Friday afternoon. There were tanks, helicopters, and the terrifying Osprey parked on the once and future site of Ballpark Village, but these novel sights did little to distract from the drinking in of Busch Stadium, my ultimate destination on this picturesque Midwestern summer day.

It's the dress of your fellow fans that creates a bit of an expectation. Over the years, my collection of Cardinals apparel has ballooned, from a handful of faded relics of the glory days of Whiteyball that my dad once owned and some early-Aughts t-shirts--including a Jim Edmonds t-jersey--to a collection that contains a handful of jerseys* and dozens t-shirts today. The question of what to wear for me becomes far more involved than it ever should. I put more thought into it than in what I'm going to wear for church. On Friday, I went with my Bob Gibson t-jersey and the 1944 Cardinals cap that bears the "STL" of my avatar.

*I generally decide against even bringing the jerseys to St. Louis, let along wearing one of them, because I'm petrified of spilling nacho cheese or ketchup on one of them.

While making my way around Busch on Friday night, I wound up in Ford Plaza, which is the open area out behind the all-inclusive center field seating. On this night, Kerry Robinson was signing autographs and, after forgetting which club was visiting for the weekend, the Cardinals yardbarker assured me and those around me that we would get Robinson's autograph if we got in line. Now, I don't know how often Robinson signs autographs in Ford Plaza. I suspect fairly regularly. However often, being an out-of-towner, this was the first time I'd ever had to get Robinson's autograph and I'd be lying if I said that a plan didn't develop in mind:  buy an authentic baseball and get Robinson to sign it, "Kerry Robinson, PH, '01 NLDS Game 5." Be sure to get him to sign it No. 13, too, because he wore No. 13 in 2001...Being somewhat self-aware of my age quickly got the better of me and I bought a hot dog instead, which seemed a better thing to overpay for at that particular point in time and I left Ford Plaza to go walk around the rest of Busch III. After all, I was wearing a red t-shirt, so I didn't have to worry about ketchup stains.

Amongst the so-called Best Fans In Baseball© this weekend, I drank up the atmosphere, the cracks of a round ball being struck by a round bat, he green of the outfield, and Ernie Hays on the organ. There is no replacement for attending a ballgame in-person and there never can be. For all of the incredible technological advances, from cable television to high-definition picture quality, the atmosphere on a picturesque night in late June as the sun sets and baseball is played cannot be recreated. As cameramen zoom in on baserunners or individual fielders pursuing batted balls, they inevitably miss the greater context of all nine fielders in motion, a baserunner sneaking a peak over his shoulder as he starts his round of second, and the third base coach imploring him for third. The cameras miss Skip Schumaker jogging a shinguard over to the opposition's first base coach. No video has yet shown just how theribaux Ryan Theriot's throws from shortstop to first base really truly are, either. And Fox Sports Midwest may never properly capture Lance Berkman strolling to the batter's box as Johnny Cash croons as the crowd cheers him.

This weekend, for the first time in my years as a Cardinals fan, the club lost the two games that I attended. The club is scuffling right now, struggling to piece together nine innings of effective pitching and to generate runs without Pujols, Freese, and Craig. And that was apparent this weekend as Westbrook struggled on Friday before Bautista hit a game-winning homer off of Fernando Salas in the top of the ninth. Then, Garcia looked sharp on Saturday but for one inning and the offense couldn't sustain a rally. The weekend games' results were undeniably disappointing. But, as I made my way home on Sunday, with Shannon and Rooney fading into static as I drove out of the range of one Cardinals radio affiliate and into the static-tinged outer reaches of the range of another, I couldn't help but think about what an enjoyable weekend I just had, even if the Cards didn't win a game.

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