ST. LOUIS: The pregame scene surrounding Busch Stadium feels more like a football game than baseball. By late afternoon, the October temperature in St. Louis is a crisp, cold 40 degrees, and the streets are completely flooded with a sea of red. Tailgaters are cooking up bratwursts. James Thomas is a St. Louis native who has been tailgating before games for 15 years. His family has been going to Cardinal games since the early 60s, even before the old Busch Stadium was built. "It is just a part of the tradition," he says. "Everything with the Cardinals is tradition."
As fans fill the streets, the players' lounges inside Busch Stadium are packed. Some hungry men get in their last bites before the action begins. Others don't eat. Albert Pujols, Octavio Dotel and Rafael Furcal play dominoes with one of the coaches in the home clubhouse. Every couple of minutes, someone lets out a yell or collective gasp. Nearby, Matt Holliday sits alongside Skip Schumaker and Lance Berkman, playing some form of what appears to be "Go Fish." Holliday, in game pants and a tight red top, has about the biggest arms you've ever seen. Berkman complains about his "cold cards over the past two months," while backup catcher Gerald Laird swings by to watch. The Golden Tee arcade game, is empty.
In the hours before the game begins, the office of Redbirds skipper Tony La Russa is the place to mingle with the men who made baseball history. Hall of Famer Stan "the Man" Musial drops by. The 90-year-old legend is dressed in full Cardinals attire, all the way down to his tie. He walks and speaks gingerly and is remarkably gracious and humble. When he sees five baseballs sitting on the table, Musial, speaking softly, says, "Here, let me sign those for you." Well known for his classical signature, it is clear he's having trouble with the small pen. Nevertheless, he signs all five baseballs with the same perfection he is now so well known for. "One of the prettiest signatures you'll ever see," La Russa adds. Musial, who had the same number of hits on the road (1,815) as he did at home, says that in his final game ever at home, he got two hits. Ever the gentlemen, the 24-time All-Star pulls out his harmonica to play a few notes. When asked if he had trouble facing Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, he laughingly replies, "no."
Other visitors to La Russa's office include Bob Gibson. Perhaps the most intimidating pitcher of all time, Gibby hit more than 100 batters in his illustrious career. Yet today, he is soft spoken, rehashing a couple of his own baseball memories. He is quick to point out that while he aggressively pitched to the inner half of the plate, that he did not own the inside corner. "Nobody owns it," he says confidently. "I may have thrown it way in to get him off the plate, but that was to set up the outside half. [Willie] Mays has a great story he tells." Gibson, now standing up, demonstrates how Mays says he once dug his feet real deep into the dirt at home plate. When somebody then told him it was Gibson on the mound, Mays immediately tried to throw the dirt back on to not insult Gibson.
Even as first pitch approaches, the mood remains light. In walks longtime manager Joe Torre, who is now working for Major League Baseball. "Man, I hated this guy when I played with him," Torre playfully jokes with Gibson. Soon enough, La Russa is fully dressed and finally ready to take the field.
Ford Plaza in right-center field offers one of the best vantage points of the action at Busch Stadium. Going roughly 25 rows up, the young and boisterous crowd worships Albert Pujols perhaps more so than any other section. Dozens of 20-somethings sporting No. 5 jerseys sip Bud Light. Of course, the occasional Lou Brock, Musial or Gibson throwback can be spotted, but for the most part, this section is all about "El Hombre." When he comes up to the plate, at least a quarter of the section won't sit down until his at-bat is over.
Just outside the park, hundreds of diehard Cardinals supporters watch the game on a big screen. Fully decked in gear, it would seem like they'd be disappointed not to actually have a personal seat. Mike Smith though, a longtime Redbird fan and Kansas City native, doesn't mind. "I drove here to be amongst Cardinal fans. St. Louis was the only place for me to be."
In section 146, in between home plate and first base, a pink-haired woman from Southern Indiana holds up a wonderfully crafted handmade sign, representing all ten St. Louis World Series as well as the newest member of the Cardinal family... the Rally Squirrel.
Whether celebrating a Game 1 win or commiserating after a Game 2 loss, fans crowd local bars like Kilroys and the Broadway Oyster. "People in the Midwest, we know how to drink our sorrows away," Amy Teanum says after the Cardinals' Game 2 loss to the Rangers. "And that's especially true after tonight."
Just seven or eight blocks away, Occupy St. Louis -- a much less heralded yet still very dedicated group -- has a couple dozen people holding up signs dressed in Cardinal red, just feet from their tents. Steve Hamilton is one of them. "The economy is a mess. We don't have jobs. We are all hungry. But, we still love the Cardinals."
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