Cardinal Fan First

A week ago today, KatiesTrail and I had the privilege of attending Opening Day for the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. I’ve been going to Cardinals games for roughly 27 years, but 2011 marked my first time at Opening Day.

Although the game ended up being a bit of a bummer, the Cardinals lost 5-3 to the San Diego Padres in extra innings, the overall experience was amazing.

For starters, a pre-game meal I attended included a couple of St. Louis favorites, toasted ravioli and thin-crust pizza. Final score of that contest: MoTravelGuy-15, toasted ravioli and pizza-0.

We also saw a lady who had made her Cardinals Snuggie into a robe-like jacket, complete with fringe on the “belt.” You had to see it to believe it.

Inside the stadium, which was a sea of red, as always, people were buzzing about the prospects of a new season. Some talks focused on Albert Pujols and his contract situation; others lamented the loss of starting pitcher Adam Wainwright.

But any negative thoughts about the future gave way to unbridled enthusiasm when the famous Budweiser Clydesdales made their ceremonial first lap around the ball park. They were followed by Cardinals legends, including Stan “The Man” Musial, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. The current managers and team also were introduced, with the loudest of ovations coming for Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina; newcomer Lance Berkman also received a pretty nice welcome to Busch Stadium.

Although the forecast had been shaky, the day ended up being bright and sunny, with first-pitch temperature at 51 degrees. Ozzie Smith’s son, Nikko, gave a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem, and a flyover elicited a roar I’m sure the pilot of the aircraft heard.

During the fifth inning, KatiesTrail and I were taken on a quick tour of the Fox Sports Midwest operations inside the stadium. This included a visit to the master control room and a stop inside the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast booth, were Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky (he stopped to shake hands with us) and Ricky Horton were calling the game.

On the way into the booth, I bumped into former Cardinal outfielder Jimmy Edmonds, who had been at the stadium to throw out the first pitch. I told him how much I enjoyed watching him play during this tenure with the Cardinals. We also bumped into former St. Louis Blues hockey star Kelly Chase, who was on the phone, but took time to shake our hands and say hello. And we got to say hello and speak with Gov. Jay Nixon, who also was introduced during the pre-game festivities.

Of course, that brief tour helped me work up an appetite: Final score,  MoTravelGuy-6, hot dog, BBQ brisket sandwich and four cookies-0.

The game was breezing along until about the eighth inning. With the game tied at two in the bottom half of the eighth, Cardinals outfielder Matt Holiday hit a laser shot — it seemed never to get more than 10 feet off the ground — that gave the home team a 3-2 lead.

The Cards were on the verge of victory; the Padres had two outs in the top of the ninth, before hitting a solo home run to tie the game at 3. A couple of untimely miscues in the 11th inning ultimately did in the Cards, spoiling what otherwise was a perfect opening day at Busch.

Despite the loss, it was a great experience at Busch Stadium. One of my favorite things about sports is the first moment you walk from the concourse toward your seats and you see that beautiful green grass for the first time.  And if that grass just happens to have an outline of the Gateway Arch mowed into it, well ….