Four years ago, I moved from the only home I ever knew just outside of New York City to St. Louis, Missouri, where I would be attending school for the next few years. I grew up a passionate Mets fan, which meant I was obligated to hate the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, the 2000 NLCS, the '80s rivalry, their unbelievably irritating ability to win year after year. Not to mention taking Carlos Beltran away from us. They were the worst.
When I came to St. Louis, I was aspiring to be in the world of sports media. I worked for a couple radio stations, wrote for a couple blogs, and was basically forced to learn about the Cardinals, their franchise and their culture. They were an entertaining team to watch, but not one that I could ever adamantly support. The reality was that the pain of that devastating curveball still burned in my memory. I could still see that gloomy impression on Aaron Heilman's face, seconds before he let up that most unbearable home run. It was crushing.
In the fall of 2011, through a series of generous friends and colleagues, I was fortunate enough to attend many of the Cardinals' games toward the end of the season and nearly all of their home playoff games at Busch Stadium, including game six of the World Series (which I do believe will eventually be known as the greatest baseball game ever played). It seemed as if I was going back to Busch on a daily basis, and though I was hesitant to let into it, Cardinal fever inevitably got to me. Throughout their remarkable comeback in the regular season (they were ten games out of the wild card race on August 25), an incredible turn around after facing two elimination games against the Philadelphia Phillies, and an offensive outpouring against the Milwaukee Brewers, I was able to see firsthand what the Cardinals meant to St. Louis. I could see the magic that they create for their fan base on a scarily consistent basis, one that, at least in the present generation, does not exist anywhere else in baseball. It is simply the Cardinal way -- the commitment to winning, excellence, and perseverance that makes them superior over other teams. Between Tony LaRussa, Chris Carpenter, and David Freese, it was impossible not to root for this team. Of course, it all culminated when Freese hit that fly ball over Nelson Cruz's head in the ninth inning of that pivotal game six, a moment that now resonates with me as much as Endy's catch or Johan's no-hitter.
In 2012, the Cards overcame the odds yet again to put themselves in a 3-1 advantage over the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS, creating another thrilling series of games at Busch. The 2012 Cardinals were not as talented as the 2011 team, but they always seemed to find a way to win. That was of course until they ran into the Giants' pitching staff, who won three straight games to put themselves in their second World Series in three years.
Then there was 2013. The Cardinals led the league in runs scored, doubles, and on base percentage. They were second in hits, total bases, and slugging percentage. Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha all came on the scene as star pitchers. They were a powerhouse, a roster stocked with talent from top to bottom. Yet, it wasn't meant to be. The combination of David Ortiz, who sported a casual .688 batting average (11-for-16 ) during the series, and a lack of situational hitting was enough to keep the Cards two games from their twelfth championship. However, despite the loss, there's no denying it: the Cardinals currently own the National League, and it would be hard to argue that they will not be toward the top of the league for the next several seasons.
Analysts have compared the Cardinals' current dominance to the Yankees of the late '90s, as the Cards have appeared in four World Series over the past ten years. The Cardinals don't deserve to be brought to that level. They might be the Yankees of today on a competitive level, but certainly not on a character level. They don't have the arrogance and egotism of those Yankee teams. The Cardinals treat their opponents with a sense of respect that is hardly replicated. You will rarely see a Cardinals fan yell and scream at an opposing player. In fact, you hardly hear much noise at all when at Busch Stadium. Most of the fans are too busy keeping score.
In about six months, I will go back to New York and revert to my true identity of a Mets fan. Though I will always have an emotional attachment to the Cardinals, it's hard to shake where you truly come from. While it may be frustrating at times, the Mets are where my heart as baseball fan truly lies. Having said that, as the Cardinals played their final game of the 2013 season on Wednesday night, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of the fans that have allowed me to take part in your world over the last few years. Last night was the official end of a small era in my baseball fandom, and it is one that I will never forget. Thank you.