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The Brothers Trip: An Annual Cardinals Tradition

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Brotherhood and Cardinals baseball are a hell of a way to see the country

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St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves
That miiiiight be my brother in the background of this photo from Atlanta in October 2015
Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

The sheer craziness of trade deadline week has finally dissipated after a barrage of moves by the Cardinals over the last week- or in the parlance of John Mozeliak, a lot of roster churn. I wrote a quick analysis article about the Tommy Pham deal the day of the trade and there are also great pieces from Ben Godar, A.E. Schafer, and Lance Brozdowski recapping the week that was. With this week’s moves thoroughly covered, today I’d like to spend some time talking about something a little different. This week marks an annual event in my family. Each summer, my brothers and I choose a location to go see the St. Louis Cardinals play. The only rule is that it has to be a new ballpark for one of us- a ballpark that at least one of us has not visited. Our 2018 trip is this weekend in Pittsburgh. On the precipice of another trip, I thought it might be fun to recount tales from Brothers Weekend Past.

I’d be lying if I told you I know why we started these trips. I simply don’t recall. But it didn’t take long for us to realize how great it would be to use the Cardinals as our excuse to see other ballparks and other parts of the country.

July 28, 2012, Wrigley Field

The Ballpark and Game
I know we’re not supposed to say this, but Wrigley is a gem. And I say this as someone who hasn’t visited since the major renovations happened. Even the urinal troughs, as disgusting as they are, are charming, much like a gaseous, one-eyed, three-legged dog. It wasn’t my first trip to Wrigley but it’s always fun to visit. It’s easy to canonize the exact same location where Babe Ruth, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, and countless other legends once plied their craft.

As for the game, it’s notable in retrospect for the presence of a lot of young guys who provided the backbone for the 2013-2015 stretch (and beyond). Matt Carpenter was pre-salsa and beardless, a rookie starting to announce his presence. That day’s starter, a rookie Joe Kelly, was young and electric. On the other side of the field, Anthony Rizzo was in his first season in Chicago.

Kelly was great, but ultimately lost the game after turning it over to the bullpen in the 7th inning. Something called Brian Fuentes (apparently once a Cardinal?) allowed Kelly’s baserunner to score, giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead. A highlight montage of 2011 post-season heroes (Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso, and Skip Schumaker) came to the plate in the 9th but couldn’t break through. Fun fact: this is the most anyone has ever written about any of Brian Fuentes’ six appearances in a Cardinal uniform.

The City and Memories
Chicago is a blast, and we took in as much as we could. Immediately following the game, we sat down for a beer on a patio in Wrigleyville. The conversation was mostly peppered with my two brothers, both fathers, sharing what can only be described as light-hearted war stories from fatherhood. It all led to Mark, the middle brother, lamenting a tragic loss of a stuffed toy whale when he was a child.

After polishing off our beers, we took the L down to the Billy Goat Tavern for another beer, checking off an iconic location for both baseball and classic SNL fans. Eventually, we ended up at Giordano’s, where we feasted on a Chicago-style meatball pizza at the end of a long day. Despite what my New Yorker wife says, it is not a casserole.

May 4, 2013, Miller Park

The Ballpark and Game
If you go to Milwaukee, be prepared to tailgate. Two solid hours before the game, sitting in the parking lot grilling bratwursts and marinating in some New Glarus Spotted Cow should do the trick. That’s exactly what we did. At one point or another in all three of our lives, we had lived in Wisconsin, so the Brewer experience wasn’t really anything new. However, this was meant to be the first trip for all three of us together at Miller Park (and the first ever trip for Mark). Brian unfortunately couldn’t make it, so his 16-year-old son went in his place.

Mark and I will always know this simply as The Jon Jay Game. The Chief Justice blasted a three-run homerun in the second inning, walked and scored on Daniel Descalso’s 7th inning homerun, and drove home the winning run in the top of the 9th when his single brought home Sugar Shane Robinson. We’ve all seen better individual games from players. What makes it so memorable for Mark and me is that I remarked very early in the game that “Jon Jay is just good enough to make you look like an idiot when you say bad things about him.”

The City and Memories
We didn’t visit the city, as Brian was living in Madison at the time. For us, it was simply a drive back to Madison rather than staying at a hotel in Milwaukee. Most of our memories are rooted in the parking lot and the marathon tailgate. Fearing that rain might tarnish our tailgate, Mark and I created makeshift ponchos out of white garbage bags. Foreshadowing my future role writing at VEB, we used markers to write “El Birdos” across the front of the garbage bags and assigned a name and number of a 1967 Cardinal to the back. Orlando Cepeda and Mike Shannon were the players of choice.

August 3, 2013, Great American Ballpark (GABP)

The Ballpark and Game
To put it as succinctly as possible, the game sucked. Jake Westbrook spun a fist full of fives- 5 innings, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 5 runs. The Cardinals half of the ledger included Pete Kozma starting at shortstop, Rob Johnson at catcher, a pinch hit appearance from Brock Peterson, and bullpen appearances from Michael Blazek and Keith Butler. It was 5-1 in the sixth when the Cardinals inched forward with a few runs, pulling to 5-3. Then, Blazek buried any hope for a late inning rally in the eighth by yielding a solo shot to Devin Mesoraco, a walk to Todd Frazier, and another homerun to Shin-Soo Choo. Throughout the game, a group of Reds fans heckled us to no end, and they were especially boisterous after Blazek’s final inning of work. It was not a good experience.

The ballpark itself was fine, and I enjoyed seeing the nods to Cincinnati’s baseball history- particularly the Big Red Machine. The 70s juggernaut is immortalized at GABP with a large tile mural at one of the entrances.

The City and Memories
Our Cincinnati trip was memorable for three reasons. The first is the aforementioned jerks heckling us. The second was the presence of our father on the trip. He lives in southern Indiana, approximately halfway between St. Louis and Cincinnati. It was particularly special to have him there with his three sons. And finally, of course, the chili. I count myself as a fan of Skyline Chili. Your mileage may vary. It’s the only part of Cincinnati I would recommend.

June 7, 2014, Rogers Centre

The Ballpark and Game
If Milwaukee was the Jon Jay Game, Toronto was the Shelby Miller Game. Miller tossed a three-hit complete game shutout in one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen in person. Everything after Randal Grichuk’s solo shot in the fifth inning was academic. It remained 1-0 until the Cardinals cobbled together four runs off of the Jays’ pen in the eighth.

Rogers Centre was a fairly comfortable, innocuous place to watch a baseball game. It was surely cutting edge in 1990. We saw it in 2014. It was sterile and perfectly bland, like watching a baseball game in a doctor’s office waiting room with 25,000 extremely polite patients who love the hell out of maple syrup and hockey. That probably sounds more insulting than I mean it.

The City and Memories
Following the Cincinnati debacle the previous year, my brothers wanted to be certain that the fans around us would be friendly. To accomplish this, they purchased a pizza that we shared with the folks seated near us. It wasn’t really necessary, though, as Jays fans were extremely friendly. Every Jays fan we spoke to wanted to be certain that we liked their town and did their best to welcome us. One thing became very apparent outside the stadium, based upon the items for sale- they love sexual innuendo and do not like the Yankees at all.

After the game, we bunkered in at a bar featuring a shark mouth urinal (we discovered this when Brian returned from the bathroom ominously proclaiming, “When you guys go to the bathroom, use the one downstairs.”) There, we ate poutine and drank a lot of Canadian beer to celebrate Shelby Miller’s outing. For dinner the night before the game, we tried Jack Astor’s close to our hotel. We inadvertently had gone to, basically, Canadian Hooters. Since Mark loves hockey, we visited the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the way up to Toronto, we made it a point to stop in Windsor, Ontario and tour the Canadian Club distillery- a nod to our father, a known enjoyer of Canadian whisky. Overall, Toronto is a strikingly international city in the best possible way. It’s also perfectly clean and friendly, and I’d love to go back some time.

October 4, 2015, Turner Field

The Ballpark and Games
For this trip, Brian’s wife/my sister-in-law joined us, as well as Brian’s oldest daughter and youngest son. By now, Brian had moved to South Carolina, making Atlanta a fairly short drive. Unfortunately, our tickets for Saturday were useless, as it rained heavily all night. While everyone in the stadium waited to see if the game would be played, little pockets of people huddled around the concession stands to take in some college football, which is catnip in the south (and in my family as well). After standing in the rain getting soaked and drinking ballpark beer out of boredom, the game was finally called. They scheduled a doubleheader for Sunday, the final day of the regular season.

On the way to our Uber back to the hotel, Brian passed the Chick-Fil-A stand in the stadium and asked what they planned to do with all of the leftover chicken sandwiches. And that explains how we feasted on a bag full of free chicken sandwiches in our half hour Uber ride back to the hotel.

The next day, Brian and his family had to return home. That left Mark and me to watch the doubleheader. The Braves were awful that year, and the season was already over. It was rainy, it was the final game of the season, their team was terrible, and they were playing a 100-win Cardinals team. Needless to say, not many people showed up to the game. I would guess that the actual butts-in-the-seat attendance was 5,000. In the first inning, the public address announcer stated that fans could sit wherever they wished. Mark and I took this as a chance to see what Turner Field looked like from every single location we could find.

When Adam Wainwright came in to pitch- this was the year he rushed back from injury to pitch out of the bullpen- we wanted to see what that looked like behind home plate. Then for game number two in the doubleheader, we headed to the first row of the bleachers. The Cardinals lost both games to a terrible team with nothing to play for, and it was a harbinger of a dumb NLDS just days later.

The City and Memories
Considering we were only in Atlanta for a few days, we packed in a lot. Just as Mark is an avid hockey fan, Brian is fanatical about college football. It just so happens that the College Football Hall of Fame is in Atlanta. We took a tour there, then visited Coca-Cola and tried a thousand Cokes from around the world. After the second game of the doubleheader, Mark and I walked from Turner Field to the Georgia Aquarium. After two solid days of drinking and baseball, a fish is kind of a welcomed change.

August 20, 2016, Citizens Bank Park

The Ballpark and Game
Not much stood out about the game other than it being Luke Weaver’s second career Major League game, and that it came on the heels of Alex Reyes slamming the door for a save the night before in one of his first MLB appearances. For the game we attended, Weaver got BABIP’ed to death- 5 IP, 0 BB, 6 K, 9 H, 3 R. It was more than they could overcome, with the offense only mustering two runs in a 4-2 loss.

Citizens Bank Park was built amid a wave of retro ballparks, and it gives off the proper vibe with just enough character to get by. The atmosphere was good amongst the fans, even if the Phillies were awful that season. Why yes, as a matter of fact I did eat a cheesesteak at the ballpark. My only knock on the Bank is that it’s way out in the middle of nowhere, not particularly close to the fun city.

You may have heard that Philadelphia sports fans have a certain reputation. I was worried about it before we went. I can only speak to my own experience and tell you that the Phillie fans we met were awesome. Some light razzing occurred but it was all good natured. Nobody threw any batteries or booed Santa. J.D. Drew’s name never came up. I’d even go so far as to say that Phillie fans made the atmosphere better. It probably wouldn’t be the same if the Phillies were actually good at the time, but you take your victories where you can find them.

The City and Memories
My niece and her boyfriend- now fiancé- attended with us. On Friday, we visited the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall before scratching Brian’s itch for Italian food at a nearby restaurant. This was the year that Brian brought what I can only describe as a giant tub of pork rinds, which came in handy during hangovers. The following day, we all went to Reading Market in the morning before we split ways- Brian, his daughter/my niece, and her boyfriend went to the Franklin Mint. Mark and I made a trip to Beer Mecca- Monk’s Café. We drank some incredible beers there for several hours before the game, and eventually Brian and his gang met us there.

While we were there, Pliney the Elder was next on tap, but a different delicious keg had to float first. We didn’t manage to get to Pliney before the game. After the game, Mark and I went back and discovered it was available. It was every bit the delicious unicorn it’s described as by beer dorks. On our way back to the hotel from Monk’s, we got an urge for Dunkin’ Donuts. We bought six, ate two, and gave the rest to a homeless lady sleeping near our hotel. I’m a firm believer that Philly is the most underrated city in America.

June 16 and 17, 2017, Camden Yards

The Ballpark and Game
Since Camden is just a short 45 minute drive from where I live, we tackled both the Friday and Saturday games. For this trip, my amazing beer-and-baseball loving wife joined us. The two teams exchanged butt-whoopin’s. El Gallo was dealing on Friday and the Cardinals blasted five homeruns en route to an 11-2 victory. On Saturday, the O’s- with the help of two homeruns by Jonathan “Minty Fresh” Schoop- annihilated the Cardinals, 15-7. Across the two games, we saw Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler each hit two homeruns. All of the pitchers after Carlos Martinez were terrible for both teams. There were 14 homeruns hit and 35 runs scored in two games.

I’m a sucker for Camden. When folks ask me my favorite stadium, I frequently say that Wrigley is #1 and Camden is #1A. It kicked off the new stadium boom and it’s easy to see why. They did it right, capturing retro without it feeling like pandering in any way. O’s fans have a lot of weird traditions. They play John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy during the 7th inning stretch of every game. There are approximately eight songs about magic associated with the team (made hilarious by how crappy the O’s have been for a lot of the last 30 years). The city and the ballpark- until 2016- idolized National Bohemian (aka Natty Boh), the best Dad beer on the face of the earth. Baltimore is called Charm City, which seems ironic until you witness it. Camden is very much an extension of that, a big league jewel in a place you wouldn’t expect it. It’s a very comfortable ballpark, full of amenities and crab, and a smallish group of very loyal and knowledgeable fans. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend Camden.

The City and Memories
Before Saturday’s game, we discovered Brian’s love of Edgar Allan Poe. One of the best parts of these trips is finding out new things about people you’ve known your entire life. For Brian, we went to the Poe House and Museum. Then we went to Bo Brooks in Fells Point. There, we demolished a lot of crab- literally demolished it with a mallet before eating it- while downing a few buckets of Natty Boh. It wouldn’t be Baltimore without Boh, crab, and obscene amounts of Old Bay.

At the ballpark, we ate more crab. We had the crab waffle fries and at least two rounds of soft shell crab sandwiches. We didn’t even bother with the crab soup, the crab chips, the crab cakes, or the crab chipper (pork rinds topped with cheese sauce, crab, and Old Bay), each of them a different way to eat crab at Camden. Look, it’s Baltimore. They don’t mess around when it comes to crab. My favorite part of the Camden year was my brother Brian’s completely appropriate fascination with eating soft shell crab sandwiches at a baseball game.

As for Baltimore, it’s the St. Louis of the east coast. It’s a city with a lot of quirk, a blue collar city with a bad national reputation, locals who adore the city even as they butcher a vowel, and a bird-named baseball team. Swap out Ted Drewes with Bergers cookies, Bud with Natty Boh, provel with crab, slingers with pit beef and you’re there.

And so this weekend promises more memories, surely involving Primanti’s and shouting “Raise the Jolly Rancher!” at Pirates fans, a good natured lot who will let you bond with them if you tell them you don’t like the Cubs either.