At a very young age, my Uncle Gordon introduced me to the St. Louis Cardinals. Like my father, Uncle Gordon was a baseball fan, but unlike my father—who always seemed to enjoy the game more than any one team—Uncle Gordon was a staunch member of Redbird Nation.
Having no children of his own, Uncle Gordon was determined to put his nephew on the right path, so he set about making me into a Cardinal fan. Uncle Gordon lived in O’Fallon, IL, just 21 miles from the corner of Grand Boulevard and Dodier Street. At that corner stood Sportsman’s Park, then the home of the Cardinals.
It was there that I saw my first major league baseball game. I saw Cardinal greats Stan “The Man” Musial and Red Schoendienst in the twilights of their careers. By the end of that game, under Uncle Gordon’s tutelage, I was hooked.
Through the 60’s and 70’s, a summer visit to Uncle Gordon and Aunt Ruth’s would always include a pilgrimage to see the Cardinals play, first at Sportsman’s Park, then later at Busch Stadium. I learned the storied history of the Cards, the nuances of the game, the obvious superiority of the National League, and—most importantly—to hate the Cubs.
There have been more ups than downs for this Cardinal fan: the brilliant Bob Gibson leading those great mid-60s teams, the 1982 and 2006 World Championships, the home run derby between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the 1985 playoffs against the Dodgers, with Ozzie Smith’s Game 5 walk-off homer (“Go crazy folks, go crazy!”) and the clinching win in Game 6 (“Oh my god…Lasorda is going to pitch to Jack Clark!”)
I’d like to think that despite my love for the Redbirds, I don’t sulk all winter when things don’t go well. I’ve learned that the game provides surprises: in 2004 the Cardinals had the best record in baseball, but were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series; in 2006 they won only 83 games in the regular season, but won the World Series.
Which brings us to this year. All but dead in late August, the Cardinals suddenly went on a tear. On the last day of the season, they clinched the Wild Card, and now have gone on to beat the heavily favored Phillies and Brewers.
And so, the beloved Cardinals are once again in the World Series. History tells me that this storied run could end in tears, but no matter what, I’ll have been given 15 extra Cardinal games.
And that, as Uncle Gordon would surely say, is well worth it.
Before they were the St. Louis Cardinals, they were called the Brown Stockings, the Browns and the Perfectos.