October 25, 2006
Expect the Unexpected
Two years ago I attended my first World Series game. It was Game 3 between the Cardinals and the Red Sox. It was great to fulfill a lifelong dream to go to a World Series but the outcome put a bit of a damper on my joy as the Cardinals lost that night en route to being swept by Boston. That year the Cardinals had won 105 games and everyone expected they would win the Series, though looking back, the injuries and a tough seven game NLCS with Houston might have foretold the eventual outcome, but probably not a sweep.
This year was different. I was very fortunate to get tickets for Game 3 against the Detroit Tigers, a team that was to be so powerful as to win in 3 according to a contemptuous USA Today sports scribe. Of course, the sports writers were all hoping for a “Subway” series. That way they get to take in all the charms of New York CIty on their newspaper’s budget. Nevermind that a NY vs. NY series has the least appeal to the rest of the country of all the possible matchups. Granted, downtown Detroit or St. Louis is not Manhattan but we sure know how to host a World Series. From the surprise appearance of the majestic Clydesdales to pre game pitches by Ozzie Smith and Joe Garagiola to the National Anthem and a flyover by jets from Scott Air Force Base, it was a magnificent beginning to the evening. Maybe we enjoy these things so much because we have less distractions than folk from more exotic places. What makes St. Louis baseball heaven though is the fans.
I have been going to Cardinal games for only about a dozen years, but I have been to games in many other ball parks including famous ones like Fenway Park over the years. I firmly believe that Cardinal fans are the best. They are knowledgeable about the game, they treat others with respect (albeit they are more likely to applaud a good play by the opposition when we are ahead), and they are loyal to their team. About ten years ago I would occasionally get tickets from a friend who had seats on the first row on the first base side near the dugout. Back then the Cards were drawing about 26,000 and seats were plentiful. Late in the game fans from other sections would often come down and sit in the lower seats. At one game against the Braves some young men came down and started shouting rather personal insults at the Braves first baseman. My wife, becoming fed up, finally turned to them and said, “Hey, this is St. Louis, we don’t do that here!” I could see the headlines “New College President Starts Brawl at Baseball Game.” Amazingly, they just looked kind of sheepish and went to another part of the stadium. She had it right. There are exceptions, but mostly the fans are great. Unlike other venues, they will chat with you, high five good plays, even offer to share food and information about where they got the latest Cardinal gear.
Last night my daughter took a sign, not the bunt or steal kind, a real sign. I would never take a sign but she is an inveterate sign maker. She knows that signs get you on the jumbotron. Now I don’t want to sound cocky here, but I have been on the jumbotron, twice; once with one of those promotional things that Southwest Airlines used to do and once when when I threw out a ceremonial first pitch. But neither was on TV or at the World Series. There were a lot of clever signs and many were getting on the jumbotron but she was having no luck. To compilcate matters a guy had a big professionally lettered sign that he kept holding up in front of hers, inadvertently of course. Then about the second inning a cameraman ventured by. Not being shy she yelled, “Hey, Cameraman, up here.” Maybe it is because she is tall, blond, and attractive but for whatever reason he obeyed. He said, I’ll get you on next and sure enough, there we were on the jumbotron yelling and screaming behind the words “Expect the Unexpected.”
One smart aleck sitting near us said he didn’t get it, that he fully expected the Cardinals to win. Sure he did, just like the guy I read about who refused to pick up his newpaper in his yard on days the Cardinals lost. That was, by the way, 78 newspapers. I’m glad I didn’t have to mow his yard. On one level I suppose those words don’t make much sense but for Cardinal fans it means that we can never give up on this team that has refused to give up on itself. They may eventually lose, the Tigers are still a very good team, but what a great ride it has been so far and with all apologies to the cocksure fan, few of us expected it.