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UCB June Project: Cardinal Memories

Posted on June 26, 2009 at 7:49 AM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals | United Cardinal Bloggers
Today, that intrepid group known as the United Cardinal Bloggers are coordinating again to have a "theme of the day", as it were.  This time, we are all talking about our personal Cardinal memories.  Whether they were watching on TV, where we were when, or just our own times at the ball park, they are entries worth reading and give you a glimpse of what your favorite blogger is like behind the scenes, as it were.  You can check out this post at our official site for links to all that are participating.

I guess I should try to do these in some sort of order, I will try not to ramble on too long for you, but the Cardinals have been a major part of my life ever since I started really following them in 1987 (one of my earliest memories is seeing a bit of the '85 series, but collecting baseball cards in '87 is where I mark my "obsession" beginning) so there may be quite a few to go through.

One of my earliest memories is a personal one.  In both 1988 and 1989, the family vacation was to St. Louis, where we took in a series of games.  When we were there in '89, one of the promotions was camera day.  This is where fans can get on the field (the old astroturf, so they had us right off the infield dirt on the outfield side) as the players come out and get their picture taken.  I've got numerous pictures of Fredbird, Red Schoendienst, Tom Brunansky and others as they made their rounds.

When Ozzie Smith came by, though, kids ignored the rope and hurried to him.  Even though I was almost 14 and the others were seven or eight, that didn't stop me from getting over to Ozzie as well.  I still remember him asking, "Where're we looking?"  I don't think I said anything, just pointed to where my mother was taking the picture.  So Ozzie and I are looking in the same direction and these other kids probably have pictures at home going "who was that goofy kid?"  That picture is still around here somewhere.  I'm a little surprised I couldn't lay my hands on it this morning.

The early '90s didn't really allow for many memories.  After that '89 series, I didn't get back to Busch until 2002 (more on that one in a while) and there wasn't much on the field until the Mark McGwire home run chase in 1998.

Say what you will about the chase in hindsight, but at the time it was the most gripping thing in America, much less baseball.  I honestly had thought '98 was going to be the year after seeing him hit 58 in 1997, with more hit in the National League after the trade than before.

I still remember the first home run of that year.  I was "working" (it's a long story) at Deloitte and Touche in Little Rock, about three months into the job.  I was in the office, having little to do, and watching the old version of ESPN's GameTracker.  I remember seeing the bases loaded with McGwire up and, after an interminable wait, seeing the bases empty.  It was a taste of things to come.

As he got closer and closer to the mark, I noted the number of the home run on my desk calendar at work, by this time the firm I'm with now.  I remember the series in Florida where he hit four of them, bringing his total to 59.  Then came the historic weekend.

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I was over at a good friend's house whiling away a Saturday afternoon.  We were playing around on the computer, racing games or some such, but had the TV on with the Cards and Reds playing.  We stopped, of course, when McGwire was up.  I still remember the breaking ball around the middle of the plate as McGwire crushed it for #60.

Two days later, I was at my apartment, watching the game on Labor Day afternoon.  When he hit #61, I jumped off the couch with my arms in the air.  The fact that he had hit it on his father's 61st birthday was just incredible.

So, of course, that set the stage for #62.  It was the first prime-time baseball game on a major network in years.  I went out to my parents to watch the game.  After his first at-bat, they sat out on their porch enjoying the evening while I continued to watch.  When he came up the second time, I went out to get them.  Good thing I did.

Watching the reactions were just amazing.  To see Sammy Sosa come in from right field and share in the moment is something that we'll probably never see the likes of again.  Seeing McGwire going into the stands to be with the Maris family was incredible as well.  Can you imagine someone doing that for Barry Bonds or his family if someone was to hit 74 years from now?

The rest of that chase isn't as clear, though I do remember one moment.  Sosa had taken the lead in the final weekend.  I was watching the Cardinal game at my parents when they mentioned Sammy had hit #66 to McGwire's #65.  He was up for his first AB since slipping behind and I told my dad he wouldn't let Sosa stay ahead of him.  Sure enough, he didn't and then had that final push to reach an amazing 70, something that, obviously, sticks with me until this day.

I know that's a lot on the McGwire chase, but that was the most exciting, most formative Cardinal moment for me.  To see the nation following Cardinal baseball, to have this kind of history happening was just incredible.  It'd be different if it happened in this stage in my life, possibly, but for where I was at that time, it's a formative event.

I do have a few more memories, if you'll indulge me for a moment.

A quick one for you.  It's a game I actually have on tape, but not for this reason.  I set the tape because Rick Ankiel was starting on Fox's Game of the Week the first weekend of 2001.  As a huge Ankiel fan, I was wanting to get a game of his on tape and see if he couldn't bounce back from that terrible 2000 postseason.  (As we know, he couldn't.)  In this game, he struggled through five innings and got his last win as a starting pitcher.

That's not what I remember out of this game, though.  I was doing other things during the game (another reason I was taping it) but came through just in time to see Randy Johnson facing this rookie hitter that I'd heard some about but never seen yet.  Johnson got up 0-2 on him and I was expecting to see the rook head back to the dugout.  I mean, this is Randy Johnson in his prime against some guy that had five or six games in the bigs.  There's no way this is a matchup.

Johnson threw a tough pitch, a pitch that would have struck out season vets.  This rookie doubled off the wall, driving in a run.  It was at that moment that I knew that the reports were right and that Albert Pujols was going to be something.

As I said before, I didn't get back to Busch until 2002.  I was able to go to one game for three years straight and all of them were, of course, memorable to me.  In '02, I remember two guys reaching via walk with Jim Edmonds up.  The count ran to three balls and I said, "walk him too and let Pujols hit a grand slam!"  They did.  He did.  Even before Albert Pujols read this blog, he was listening.

In 2003, I was lucky enough to go to a Cardinals/Cubs game.  Not only a Cards/Cubs game, but one with Mark Prior (in his heyday) on the mound.  It was everything you'd expect out of that game.  Prior was on, making the one Cub run stand up until the bottom of the eighth, when Pujols took him yard to tie it up.  The Cubs scored in the top of the ninth to win the game, but they couldn't ruin the day.

2004 was actually the last time I saw the Cards in person.  While it was a miserable day for them, it was a historic day nonetheless.  I was following the tracker, hoping it would work out, and it did.  With Matt Morris (2004 version) on the mound and Ken Griffey sitting on #499, you  had a feeling it was going to be magical and it was.  To see the reaction of the Cardinal faithful to the achievement by an opposing player was great.  I'm sure it helped that it was Griffey, someone well-regarded, but I'm not sure he'd have gotten much better response even in Cincinnati.

The other thing I remember about that game?  I took a friend of mine and my wife, who was about four months pregnant with our first child, to the game.  About an inning before Griffey would bat again, she went looking for Dipping Dots.  Not seeing the stand that was just a little ways down the concourse, she wound up down a level, taking forever.  So she was standing in line for ice cream when he hit #500.  No, I have not ever let her forget that.

Most of us have our own memories of the championship run in 2006.  I remember watching Endy Chavez robbing Scott Rolen and thinking maybe the Cards were done.  I remember seeing Yadier Molina prove they weren't.  And I remember the knee-buckling curve to Carlos Beltran sending the Cards to the Series. 

One of my most fond memories of that postseason, though, was watching the last outs on television, then getting online to share it with my Cardinal friends in cyberspace.  This was the first championship that many of us could remember and for it to happen to such an unlikely team, especially after the disappointments of '04 and '05, was incredible.

I know I've gone on way too long, but when you start talking about Cardinal memories, it's hard to stop.  Really, though, I'm looking forward to my next one.  In a couple of weeks, the family will be going to FanFest in St. Louis as well as going by the stadium.  I can't wait to see my kids enjoying the baseball activities, but I'm really looking forward to my son seeing the statues and the players now that he is getting an appreciation for the game and the Cards.  Passing memories down to the next generation--it's what Cardinal fans do, right?


3 Comments | Leave a comment

Couldn't have said it any better myself! Hope to experience some of the FanFest too, but either way this AS Break will mean more than any other I can remember.

Well done Dan. The Summer of 98 was definitely a fun one.

Great list. I especially loved the Pujols at bat versus Randy Johnson. Many times it is the little things that stand out.

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