People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. ~ Rogers Hornsby
He won’t be a boy forever, and winter is coming. ~ Ned Stark
May 2024, St. Louis
It’s always cold now. For as long as I can remember people talked of "global warming," but what the experts really meant was climate change. The climate is fundamentally changed. In fact, everything is.
The jet stream, which for years predictably delivered warm westerly weather and occasional chaotic storms to the Midwest and Southern states, has bifurcated. The only states that are regularly even somewhat warm are in the North. Heat waves no longer exist in North America. This climate shift has devastated every kind of industrial farming, wreaking utter havoc on the nation’s food supply. Here in St. Louis, fresh fruit and vegetables are nigh impossible to find. We eat mostly processed foods, like Red Hot Riplets and Vess soda. Whistler is the only variety of orange I’ve seen in years. There are a few heated greenhouses, but the prices for a hot-house tomato… It’s definitely a seller’s market.
Two major professional sports have gravely suffered as well, but I hope you’ll excuse me when I say: who the hell cares about golf?
Oh, baseball. Our national pastime. Its sporadic action made such great use of summer’s warm, muggy days—even the impossibly hot, muggy days. What I wouldn’t do for a disgusting heat wave, to feel sweat pool betwixt my toes and bead behind my knees.
Nobody wants to play or watch baseball in the cold. Spring Training sites have shimmied up both coasts to Oregon and Maine. Almost all of the major college baseball programs have shuttered, while an alarming number of minor league franchises became insolvent. Baseball academies have dissolved or moved to countries with warmer climes. The minor leagues are down to three levels, and talk is that they might soon reduce to two. Kids don’t play much baseball anymore, and the leagues that still exist are travel leagues; only wealthy kids can participate. The Boys of Summer are now the Boys of Perpetual Winter. Except, of course, in Chicago.
We first noticed the jet stream shifting during that terrible 2013 winter. Somehow—perhaps some magic in Lake Michigan, perhaps someone finally put right that ancient goat curse—the change left Chicago a bastion of all that is good and holy about baseball. As if Chicago wasn’t already a premier American city, as if their baseball tradition—even in the face of perennial futility—wasn’t already otherworldly.
Today, many families spend their summer vacations in Chicago. Standing-room only tickets at Wrigley start in the one-hundreds for the cheap games, and otherwise are in the thousands. Don’t even consider going to a playoff game. The Cubs release only a couple thousand tickets to the general public for each game, and they’re assigned by lottery. Then, of course, you still have to buy them. The rest of the tickets are sold to companies or people who are connected.
When it became apparent the climate wasn't going back, MLB had no choice but to contract. The Marlins and the Rays were the first to be parted out. Then the Astros and Rangers. In one fell swoop the Orioles, Nationals, Braves, Royals, Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers, A’s, Angels and Padres were eliminated. MLB didn't even hold an amateur draft that year. The climate didn’t change in Colorado, so the Rockies remain. So, too, does Seattle. The leagues have been realigned, and there are no longer divisions.
Theo Epstein reshaped the Cubs system so quickly and so thoroughly that people say the Cubs may never lose again. And then Epstein became MLB commissioner in a wild ousting of Rob Manfred. But people don’t talk about that.
You’ll notice the White Sox are gone. The Cubs so dominated the market that the White Sox couldn’t give their tickets away. Their only choice at financial survival was to rent their stadium for Cardinals "home" games. After a few years, the White Sox brand became synonymous with "forgettable losers" and the Cubs—outbidding the DeWitts by millions, and with Theo conveniently running MLB—bought the White Sox territory rights. The Cubs converted the old White Sox stadium into an outdoor concert venue.
Huzzah and alack, the "St. Louis" Cardinals live on as a traveling team. The Cards now play their home games at Wrigley when the Cubs are away. When the Cubs and Cardinals play games with the Cubs at home, they play at Wrigley. When the Cubs are the away team against the Cardinals, they still play at Wrigley. But the Cubs perversely wear their road grays. The Cubs, ever stocked with supremely talented players, have won every World Series since 2017*, usually in dramatic fashion. It seems that luck is always on their side.
*except for 2020 when the Series was snowed out and had to be canceled
Cardinals players still come to St. Louis for Winter Warm-Up. For most of us, it’s the only chance to see them in the flesh. There’s talk of building a dome atop Busch III. The traditionalists don’t want to hear it. They feel that baseball is meant to be played outdoors, not in a gymnasium. At any rate, there’s a lack of political will to save baseball; many refer to it as an antiquated game. Perhaps they’re not wrong. The next generation is already growing up without the local nine.
It’s a good thing Ballpark Village opened when it did. We hardcores spend a lot of time in the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum. Some of us watch games on that gaudy 40-foot screen, hoping and praying our admission fees and overpriced Bud heavies keep the doors open just one more year. Perhaps more time is all that is needed.
But for now, for baseball fans and for Cardinals fans, winter is here.
Do not be alarmed! It’s still 2014 and the Cardinals are still better than the Cubs. For now, anyway.
And! The Cards have made the playoffs again, so that’s nice. To Be Determined whether they’ll be the Central Division champs.
Adam Wainwright vs. Travis Wood, tonight at 7:05pm (all times Central)
Shelby Miller vs. Kyle Hendricks, Tuesday at 7:05pm
John Lackey vs. Jake Arrieta, Wednesday at 7:05pm
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