I was a grad student in California in July of 2003, and I was headed to the International Herpesvirus Workshop in Madison, Wisconsin to present my research. I was flying out of SFO, and it being July, my flight was delayed due to heavy fog. My connection was in St. Louis, and I landed just as my flight to Madison, the last of the day, took off. I headed to the counter to figure out what to do. They could get me on the first flight the next morning. They could put me up at a nearby hotel and give me a voucher for dinner. All I had was carry-on, so no problems with luggage. Great, great. Because I was young, single, and still had energy to ‘be spontaneous,’ I asked if the Cards were in town that night. The person at the counter informed me that they were. This was before the ubiquity of smart phones, so I couldn’t just look it up and figure out how to get there on my own. I asked if it was hard to get to the stadium (Old Busch) from the airport. It wasn’t. The train from the airport basically went right to the stadium, about a 40 minute trip. The game was just starting, so maybe I could make it for a couple of innings. I figured, why not?
I left my bag at the airport to pick up later. I caught the train and headed toward Busch and got to the stop right around sunset or twilight, if I’m remembering correctly. It was a couple of blocks to the stadium, but I found my way there – I could see the lights and hear the crowd as I approached. Unfortunately, when I got to the stadium, the ticket windows were shuttered. I walked around for a bit, and the couple of other ticket windows I came to were also shuttered. As I walked past what I’m guessing was the delivery entrance, I saw lights and some folks wearing those classic nylon/polyester blend, shiny Cardinals team jackets. I walked down the ramp and asked one of the women wearing a red jacket where I could buy a ticket. She looked at me kinda funny, so I explained my situation; I was heading to Madison, but missed my connection, and wanted to come see a game at Busch. She said, ‘follow me.’ She took me inside the stadium, past the players’ (how’s that for appropriate use of an apostrophe, ray?) locker rooms and into the lower level of the stadium. She found an usher that looked like he’d been working games for the entire history of Busch stadium. She explained my situation. He said to follow him, one of the regulars didn’t show up tonight. I walked out behind home plate. It had just become fully night, and the lights shone brightly against the late summer haze that pervades Midwestern nights. The usher took me down to the third row, to the first base side of home. There were five gray-haired women sitting there, with an open seat next to them. The usher asked if they would mind if he sat me there and they said no. So I thanked the usher and sat down.
It was the middle of the fifth, no score. The Cardinals were playing the Pirates. I’m originally from Pittsburgh, and a huge Bucco fan. I hadn’t thought to ask the woman at the airline counter who the Cards were playing. I was happy to get to see the Pirates, but I also didn’t want to be a jackass, so I kept my Pirates fandom to myself. I started talking to the women next to me. They had been coming to games together for well over a decade – it might have been 20+ years, but my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. It was a Friday night, and they, as well of the rest of the crowd, were enjoying themselves. It was loud, and got louder in the bottom of the 5th when the Cards drove in the first run of the game. It went from no runs to lots of runs very quickly. Here’s the box score from that game:
8:10 PM ET, July 25, 2003
Busch Stadium I, St. Louis, Missouri
It was a crazy finish, with the Bucs scoring 3 in the top of the 6th, only to see the Cards regain the lead in the bottom of the 6th and the Bucs tie it in the 7th. The game seemed to get away from the Cards in the 8th, but the fans didn’t leave. The Cards got a couple guys on base (Pujols doubled – imagine that, Pujols getting a hit against the Pirates), and actually scored a run, but couldn’t complete the comeback. The crowd still seemed to have a great time.
I’m a Pirates fan. I was crushed when Cabrera hit the ball and Bonds couldn’t throw out Sid ‘no knees’ Bream at home. I wore my Andy Van Slyke Jersey to work the whole week the Pirates were actually in the playoffs this year. But that night, I wasn’t rooting for the Pirates or against the Cards. I was just enjoying the game, cheering along with the crowd, who was having tons of fun even as the game turned against their team. I honestly don’t remember much of the trip back to the airport and the hotel, but I got there, and made it to Madison the next day. My memory is of the game, the crowd, the unbelievable baseball night.
Although I will probably not watch much of this WS, I will be pulling for the Cards, not only because of the wonderful baseball memory their fans gave me, but also because Boston fans are the worst.