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The above-title foreshadows this post – this is an explanation as to why I cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals. And here’s my perhaps unconventional answer: I don’t know. Now, I have a pretty good idea, but I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started. I grew up in the ‘80s in Central Illinois on I-55 about two hours from St. Louis and just under three from Chicago. We didn’t have cable television, and even if we did, 24-hour sports channels which showcase every team far and wide weren’t quite yet a thing.
Those variables left two options: the Cardinals or the Cubs. They had what seemed to be a 50/50 stranglehold in my county, and I’ve remarked before that it wasn’t uncommon to meet someone and immediately after learning their name to ask, “Cards or Cubs?” It was an ice-breaker and an acknowledgement that in certain parts of Central Illinois no other team really mattered.
They were the only teams shown on local television, which immediately separated them from the White Sox, who had remarkably little presence for a professional sports team that was only a few hours away. Perhaps due to the not-yet-rise of the soon-to-be ubiquitous ESPN, Red Sox and Yankees fans didn’t exist, either. Exposure to the American League came from baseball cards, the All-Star Game, and the playoffs. That was pretty much it.
So it was the Cardinals or Cubs, and usually how it worked is you fell in line with your family lineage. Your parents told you whom to root for and that was that. Simple enough, right? Well, my mom grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and didn’t have a favorite baseball team. My dad hailed from Akron, Ohio, and was and remains an Indians fan, but the type of fan who cared much more about whether the lawn needed to be cut than if his kids cheered for his team. (Also, the Indians were so lousy they made a popular movie around then on that very premise.)
But near the age of six, whether it was because I preferred the color red to blue, or if I just wanted to be different from my older brother, who earlier in his life declared himself a Cubs fan (to which he still is), I decided that the Cardinals were my team. I have no memory of this exact moment nor any idea what spurred the decision; I just know it happened. And I know it happened prior to the 1985 Playoffs because my first real baseball memory was being called in from the front yard by my mom because she knew I would want to see what was unfolding on television – Ozzie Smith being mobbed at home plate by his teammates as Jack Buck implored the masses to go crazy. You’ve seen kids with a map of the world in their room and a pin marking every place they’ve visited. If I had the same thing for impressionable Cardinals moments, Ozzie’s home run is where my first pin would be planted. I was a fan before then but after that I was hooked.
The pins kept coming, too. McGwire hits number 62; Wainwright strikes out Beltran; Edmonds’s diving catch in the NLCS; Pujols destroys Brad Lidge; Game 6; and on and on. I’ve been incredibly lucky. We all have, and if you’re reading this it’s likely you can rattle off exactly where you were when these moments occurred just as I can.
That about sums it up. I’m a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals mostly because of geography and because I came out on the right side of 50/50 odds. And every moment that followed, the good and the bad, just solidified it. This narrative though is not that interesting. Most baseball fans have a similar story in spirit no matter which team they cheer for, so I don’t want to imply that my own fandom is inherently special because it’s not. But I do want to take this a bit further in a way that I hope resonates with almost everyone.
I was engaged to my now-wife (she’s a Cubs fan) on Sunday, April 7, 2013, in San Francisco at the bottom of Lombard Street. A few hours later, we trekked over to beautiful AT&T Park to watch the defending champion Giants take on the Cardinals. You might remember that game. The Cardinals tagged Matt Cain for nine runs in the 4th inning by sending a total of 14 players to the plate, en route to a 14-3 victory. Ty Wigginton even got in on the action (he singled and scored). Better, Adam Wainwright pitched a great game (7 IP, 2 ER, 6 K’s, no walks), my first clue that he was finally his old self after missing all of 2011 with Tommy John surgery.
We were married in Chicago the following year on May 10, 2014. Dueling Cardinals and Cubs cookies were served at the reception. I was running around all day and didn’t have time to watch the Cardinals game but caught enough glances at my phone to learn that they lost to the Pirates 4-3, putting them a game under .500 and five games out of first. We know now that season ended up okay but I remember the anxiety that day of wondering if the offense would be good enough to keep the team’s head above water.
Our son (ideally, he will not be a Cubs fan) was born the year after that on July 21, 2015. The entire day was a blur but for about an hour that evening in the hospital when I listened to the Cardinals game on the radio while my wife and son slept, both justifiably exhausted from the day’s events. You might remember this game, too. It was an interleague contest with the White Sox and Matt Holliday cracked a grand slam over the Dan Ryan Expressway (that’s how I’ll one day re-tell it, anyway). The Cardinals won 8-5 to keep a pretty strong grip on first place. I think it was the best day of my life.
And that’s the point where I wanted to eventually arrive. We all have so many memories of knowing exactly where we were when the Cardinals did something truly special. Different pins placed on our maps throughout our respective fandoms. It’s neat, it binds us. But when big moments have happened in my life, I’ve often known exactly where the Cardinals were, too, and I bet a lot of you can say the same.
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