Catching a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis has never been more fun
Dear Cardinals fans,
You are nice. Much nicer than us Cubs fans.
I suspect your niceness is rooted in all that winning. The occasional World Series crown must make each day glow just a bit brighter, and life’s problems seem a tad less burdensome. Being a lifelong Cubs fan, I wouldn’t know. You have been to the World Series 19 times during the last 90 years. (Four times during the last 12!) You have won 11 of those World Series. (Twice during the last 10!)
It’s not fair.
The last time the Cubs reached the World Series, World War II had just ended.
The last time the Cubs managed to win one, in 1908, someone named Charles W. Fairbanks was vice president. Charles W. Fairbanks was born in a log cabin, which, more than any statistic, shows how insufferably long it has been since the Cubs won a World Series.
All this is to say nothing of our heartbreak in 1969. Or 1984. Or 2003. Or when we dealt future Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock in 1964 in one of the most lopsided trades in sports history. Whom did we have the misfortune of sending him to? Oh. That’s right. Your Cardinals.
So, yes, when things go wrong for more than a century, you can get a little testy. And when things break just right for that century, you can afford to be nice.
Now, I know what people say. You call yourselves the “best fans in baseball,” which makes you obvious candidates to be the most insufferable fans in baseball. There’s even a Twitter account — @BestFansStLouis — dedicated to illustrating the irony (which it does quite effectively).
But I don’t listen to all that. I say you are good people: nice, wholesome, baseball-loving people. Anyway, that was my conclusion after attending two Cubs-Cardinals games in St. Louis earlier this year. Even as the Cubs were putting the final touches on a 12-3 Tuesday night thumping, you didn’t disagree.
“This is not me talking trash, but the culture of winning so long just makes you ...” Douglas Reimer, 33, of suburban St. Louis, said and then trailed off. In his white No. 4 Yadier Molina jersey — I know, you people love your gritty catcher — he gathered his thoughts.
“Let’s just say if I was a Cubs fan, I’d be a little salty.”
But things are changing, aren’t they? Now who is the first place team? Now who seems poised for a decade of dominance? Who beat whom in the playoffs last year? (We beat you, in case you forgot.)
Yes, things are changing. And you know it.
“It used to be, ‘Aw, the Cubs,’” Reimer said as the Cubs tallied the last out, sending a fan to unfurl a white “W” flag a few rows in front of us — just like the one raised after victories at Wrigley Field. (That must have stung!) “When the Cubs would win, I’d be like, ‘Atta boy,’ and I wouldn’t get mad. Now I get mad.”
Welcome to our world! And now that you are in our world, it’s an ideal time for us to trek down to St. Louis for one of baseball’s best rivalries. This is true not only because we are finally the better team, but because of this grudging truth: You guys have a great baseball town. And here’s one more: We really like your ballpark. Wrigley Field, electric as it is, is an urban experience — busy, crowded and a little grimy. It’s a pain to get into, a pain to get out of and the wait for the men’s room can seem interminable.
Busch Stadium is a lovelier ballpark than most: a bowl of red seats, framed by the ideal balance of swooping curves and straight lines, with barely a bad seat in the house. Your skyline is nothing special, but it’s framed just right beyond the outfield wall. And if you sit along third base, you get a bonus view of one of the nation’s great pieces of art: the Gateway Arch, that gleaming silver streak curling through the sky. But my favorite thing about Busch Stadium in summer might be that heavy river breeze blowing in off the Mississippi every couple of innings: a little musty, a little dank and deeply Midwestern.
For a city that seems to be all freeways and suburbs, you had the good sense to tuck that ballpark in a downtown with most everything a visitor needs for a couple of days of baseball immersion: the restaurants and bars of Washington Street, the Arch and City Museum (both are musts), and the pre-game hot spot that is Ballpark Village, a cavernous complex of beer and television screens across the street from the stadium. It’s a bit loud and frenetic for my liking. But other people seem to enjoy it.
Through the years, I’ve seen the Cardinals play the Pirates, the Rockies and the Reds at Busch. Nothing has had the vibe of the Cubs coming to town. It evokes round-the-clock passions more akin to a college football rivalry. From the hotel breakfast buffet until the last beer at the last bar after the last out, people swarm downtown in red and blue. For lunch one day, I headed to Stacked, a burger joint in a lovely old neighborhood in south St. Louis, and found at a large table two large brothers in their Cubs shirts. Aaron and Addison Ahart — both prison guards and built like it — come down from Normal, Ill., for a Cubs-Cardinals series at least once a season.
“It’s always been a great place to watch a game, and I’d come down here no matter what,” Addison Ahart said. “But it’s even better now that we’re winning.”
We all agreed. You guys run a nice operation. Clean. Family-friendly. A good ballpark. Affordable parking.
“And the food is always good,” Addison said. “I say that as a bigger guy.”
The waiter interrupted and set down the brothers’ appetizers: deep fried mac-and-cheese balls and fried pickles. He said, “You guys have a good team this year,” and walked away.
In case things ever got ill-tempered at a game, I’d want the Aharts on my side. But the truth is, the rivalry is mostly good-natured, and that’s due in part to the stunning number of mixed couples throughout the stands: one red and one blue.
Such was the case for the Tubby family, whom I met during a walk to the stadium. Laurie liked the Cardinals. She wore a red No. 51 Willie McGee jersey, red-and-white Cardinals earrings and a matching necklace. Her husband, Matt, a Cubs fan, wore a No. 44 blue Anthony Rizzo jersey, a Cubs T-shirt below that and a Cubs cap on his head.
“If he gets a new Cubs shirt, I have to get something Cardinals,” Laurie said. “Just to keep it balanced.”
The first of the two games I attended, the Cubs got off to a 3-1 lead but lost in the ninth inning on a game-ending home run by a Cardinals outfielder. It was terrible, but you Cardinals fans were happy for about 30 seconds. (If the Cubs had done that at Wrigley Field, the party would have lasted three hours.) The next day, the Cubs scored six runs in the first inning, essentially ending the game before anyone’s seat got warm.
During the second inning of that game, I met Roger and Norma Williamson, season ticket holders along the first base line; they’re from Monticello, a central Illinois town of 5,500 that is half Cardinals fans and half Cubs fans. The Williamsons are so deeply in the Cardinals camp that they make the 300-mile round-trip drive about 15 times a year. Tickets to games against the Miami Marlins they’re happy to give away. Cubs games? They never miss them.
“It’s more fun when the Cardinals and Cubs get at it,” Norma said as she took a swig from a bottle of Bud Select.
Just then, the Cardinals turned a nifty double play and got a standing ovation from the Cardinals fans, even though their team was losing by six runs. Like I said — good baseball fans.
And the Williamsons were as good as any I met. Roger has kept score at every game they’ve attended since 1968. That has included two no-hitters and plenty of playoff games. He handed me a business card that featured his name and a little redbird to underscore his allegiance.
“If the Cubs get in the playoffs and we’re not in it, I’ll support the Cubs,” he said.
See? That’s nice! The only time we’d consider rooting for the Cardinals is if they were playing the Packers. So, in other words, never. We’d rather Darth Vader wins the World Series.
When the Cubs’ Jorge Soler clubbed a two-run homer in the fifth inning, four guys in Cubs T-shirts behind us exploded in cheers. Even Norma high-fived me. A guy in a Cardinals jersey in front of us turned around and said, “I tell my co-workers that this is the year the Cubs will actually win the World Series. I’m OK with it. You guys have to win it sometime.”
Both nice and resigned! There’s never been a better time to be a Cubs fan in Cardinal land.
Us Cubs fans
P.S. We know an article in the form of a letter is a tired trope, but we really wanted you to know how we feel.
IF YOU GO: The Cubs and Cardinals next play in St. Louis on Sept. 12-14. Tickets are available for all three games at www.cardinals.com, and range in price from $11 to $225.
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