Redbird Daily Flashback: Fun at the Old Ballpark

A beer vendor cries out that it’s “too cold to hold” as the organist accompanies with “Here Comes the King.” A scent of jumbo dogs is floating on the breeze as a dad shows his child to the seats from which they will watch their first Cardinals game. This is a special place, an almost sacred place. Perfectly manicured grass leads up to a sea of red seats, capped by iron trusses atop the brick baseball palace. There are no slides or swimming pools; this is a no frills, blue collar ballpark and the beating heart of a Midwestern city. But don’t let the simple, classic design fool you. This is the home of Champions. As many World Series victors in its 11 season history as its predecessor had in 40. This is the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, this is Busch Stadium, and this is Baseball Heaven.

As the Redbird Daily continues to merge with the Cards Conclave, we are proud to feature some of our most popular articles from the past as part of the Redbird Daily Flashback series. This article was written in April of 2017 by Rusty Groppel of our very own Bird Law blog and the Bird Law podcast.

It has been a disappointing few years in St. Louis, years that have eroded fan interest. The love for our Cardinals has never wavered, but the anticipation for the evening’s game — or even the desire to dedicate your TV watching time to it — has certainly dissipated. But with the change in managers and Mike Shildt’s team bringing a seemingly new brand of baseball to the field, suddenly fans can’t wait for the game to start, are more than willingly to give their evenings to Danny Mac and crew, and even spend some coin to get out to the ballpark and see it in person. The passion is back, the winning is back.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to share four of my most memorable trips to Busch Stadium (II & III) and maybe motivate you to get down to 700 Clark Street this September and make a memory or two of your own.

Now, I haven’t attended a huge number of games in my life, I would say anywhere from 2-4 games per year, in a good year. Unfortunately, I don’t really have any big time, historical games to hang my hat on. In my lone trip of 2016, I almost saw Kyle Hendricks pitch a no-hitter (yuck!). My sister was lucky enough to be there when Big Mac hit #62 in 1998, but not I. I saw Jon Gall’s first big league home run — remember when he was THE hitting prospect in the system, wow — and clearly that turned out to be noting special. Between 2001 and 2007, I saw 15 consecutive home wins (plus 1 in KC), so that’s kind of cool.

Following a very disappointing Game 5 performance (and me being a notorious cheapskate) I couldn’t swallow the high price tag of Game 6 tickets in 2011. Two of my friends — one being Bird Law co-host Adam Butler — forked out the money and were supremely reward. If I have but one regret in my life, that would be it. But, I digress.

My games aren’t historical, but they are memorable to me. Maybe it was just one hit or one play that made the difference, but it made the difference all the same. That is what is so special about baseball; it can be a source of great memories made with friends and family, and even total strangers. It’s a beautiful game that moves at a pace that allows you to take it in and remember it. I remember…

August 29th, 2001 – Cardinals 16, Padres 14

This game has always stood out to me in part because of how I ended up attending. It was just a few days before my birthday and as I got in my Dad’s car after school he turns to me and says, “Want to go to the ballgame tonight?” I guess he got a wild hair for a last minute birthday gift (his specialty). We bought tickets at the stadium and it happened to be Tony Gwynn, commemorative pin night, as it would be the Hall-of-Famer’s final game in St. Louis.

The thing that always stuck out to me was one play, late in the game. In the 7th inning Tony Gwynn pinch hit to a standing ovation. He promptly ripped a hard ground ball in the hole between 1B and 2B, but a diving Albert Pujols (a spot where he stole so many hits) robbed him and threw to the pitcher covering for the out. It is interesting enough that a rookie Pujols was even playing 1B, as he wouldn’t become the regular there until 2004. This was a bit of a “passing of the torch” moment, with the near end of one great career and just the beginning of another.

Of note: As I looked at the box score for this game a couple cool things happened that I didn’t remember. Ray Lankford returned to Busch wearing a different jersey weeks after being traded, Rickey Henderson stole a base, and Bud Smith pitch 3.1 innings allowing 5 ER. That last one is interesting because just 5 days later Smith would no-hit the Padres in San Diego.

The ticket from Tony Gwynn’s last game in St. Louis

August 27th, 2006 – Cardinals 10, Cubs 6

This was a pretty frustrating game until the very end. The Cubs took an early lead and the Cardinals answered back. We would be up 6-3 after 4 innings, but then quit scoring and allowed the Cubs to chip away and tie the game at 6 going into the 9th. Now, at this point in the 2006 season, Yadier Molina was on the shelf and backup Gary Bennett was starting in his stead.

I’m not sure why — I believe it was born of sarcasm — but I had jokingly nicknamed him Gary “Big Game” Bennett earlier that season. Well this particular weekend against the Small Bears he lived up to the billing. On Saturday the 26th, a nationally televised broadcast, he hit a walk-off single. Then on Sunday night, another nationally televised game, he topped that.

The game was tied 6-6 with the bases loaded and 2 outs and I remember turning to my dad and saying, “Here it comes, ‘Big Game’ is walking off again.” We were seated near Big Mac Land and I remember that when the ball was hit, it seemed to be coming directly at us, and losing sight of it at the last moment as is when into the seats below. I’ll never forget the sound of the crowd when the ball got over the wall. Grand Slam. It was the most raucous moment of any game I have ever attended. A bit surreal to think that it was all part of what would end up as a storybook, World Series season.

August 31st, 2007 – Cardinals 8, Reds 5

It seems like some of my greatest memories happened in games right around my birthday. This one happened to fall on the day itself. This game I remember for two things: one good and one very tragic. This was a pretty typical baseball game for 16 of the 17 half innings played, but the bottom of the 6th is what everyone would carry home with them that night.

With Aaron Miles batting and Juan Encarnacion set to pinch hit on deck, Miles was late on an outside pitch and it was on top of Encarnacion in less than the blink of an eye. If you have never experienced 40,000 people go dead silent in one single, abrupt moment before, it is absolutely haunting. Where the Gary Bennett grand slam a year earlier was the loudest I had heard the place, this was the quietest. The only sounds were whispers, and maybe prayers that this gifted athlete would walk off the field. Unreal and heartbreaking, it would prove to be the end of his career.

But baseball is a crazy game. The Cardinals, who had already been rocked by the death of Josh Hancock that season, did not keep their heads down long. 4 batters later, the newest sensation in town would turn the mood, and the score, around. Rick Ankiel, in his first month as a Major League outfielder, crushed a grand slam that put the Cardinals ahead for good. What a crazy game it is.

April 13th 2013 – Cardinals 8, Brewers 0

I remember the trip to this game because I was on a party bus. Well…maybe I remember, it’s cloudy. The ballpark experience got off to a terrible start, solely because we didn’t make it in time to get our Carlos Beltran replica jerseys, but I digress.

The game itself I remember quite well. It was ALL Adam Wainwright. Considering he had been my favorite Cardinal since hitting a bomb in San Francisco in his first career at-bat — as a relief pitcher — back in 2006, this was one of my favorite games I had the chance to attend. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves with this one. On the mound Wainwright schooled the Brewers. 9 innings, 4 hits, 0 walks, and 12 strikeouts on his way to a shutout. And he was no slouch at the dish either. A perfect 3-for-3, complete with 2 RBI’s.

Considering the Brewers didn’t score, Waino basically won the game singlehandedly. It was vintage Wainwright at the top of his game during the peak of his career. Pure dominance, the likes of which we are unlikely to see from him again.

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