Posted on September 15, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
| United Cardinal Bloggers
As loyal readers (both of you) know, last weekend was an event we called UCB Weekend. The synopsis is this: the Cardinals were gracious enough to invite us (and by us, I mean the United Cardinal Bloggers
) to enjoy a game from the suites, with a question-and-answer session with general manager John Mozeliak and team president Bill DeWitt III preceding it. Since this kind of event will bring in bloggers from all over, we gathered the night before for dinner. This is the second year
we've been able to do that, proving that the Cardinals are either very thick-skinned or we're doing something right. I'll let you figure out which is the right answer!
OK, so that's the short version. The long version is much more fun to talk about.
First off, dinner. Even after last year's experience at what was then Pujols5, we decided to return to that location for this year's dining. For one, they had the best price and two, the staff was very apologetic about last year's crowding and slow service. Now called Patrick's Restaurant
, it was an incredible evening both from a food/service standpoint and just the general fun and camaraderie that such an event engenders.
It was also almost my first celebrity experience. I got to Westport Plaza early and, after a long trip, was wandering around this area trying to find a public bathroom. As I do so, I pass a couple of guys walking around as well. I nod in their direction but didn't think much about it. At least, not until the same guys showed up a bit later after a couple of the bloggers had gathered next to the outdoor fountain. Turns out it was Spencer and Brian from StanGraphs
, a new blog that had been invited to come hang out with us. (Good recruiting as well--by the end of the night they'd joined up with the UCB.) As they'd walked past me earlier they said to themselves, "Hey, I think that's C70!" Sadly, however, they did not ask for an autograph.
Brian and Spencer (center) try to figure out just what kind of madness they've gotten themselves into. Kevin Reynolds (front right) writes down his monologue for the next UCB Radio Hour.
After a while, we all met inside in the back room of Patrick's, which was a perfect place for us to meet. Three long tables, a projection screen at the back showing the Cardinal game (which, granted, was pretty ugly no matter what the size of the screen) and a smaller TV to the side showing Missouri's entry into the SEC for those that cared about a different sport.
The room and the appetizers were provided by Any City Sports Fan
, who gave a short presentation about their new website and what they are as a company. The idea behind ACSF is to be able to meet up with other fans in cities that are distant from the team. Say if you are in Seattle and you want to find a Cardinal bar or a place where some Cardinal fans are at to watch the game. That's what ACSF wants to help do, connect fans that aren't in an obvious location.
It's also going to have forums for you to make those personal connections as well. If you are going to visit Chicago, it'll give you a chance to ask Chicago Cardinal fans where to go while you are there, what to see, etc. Again, this isn't a Cardinal-centric site, it's just designed by some guys in the St. Louis area. The idea is to reach all teams and all sports through the site and I have no doubt that it'll take off, because it seems like something people are usually asking about.
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However, ACSF wasn't the only company that came to get our attention. We also had a presentation from Burton History Trees
. The guys from Burton have an extremely impressive product. You can see other samples on their website, but their rough draft of the Cardinal tree was the talk of the night. As you can well imagine, historians like Bob Netherton
and Mark Tomasik
poured over the tree, pointing out players and telling stories.
You really have to see it to believe it
. Each UCB member that was there got a small artist's proof of the tree to keep and a larger version to edit. That's right, this project is going to have the official seal of approval from the United Cardinal Bloggers as we are going to be adding touches, catching mistakes, etc. Let me tell you, when this comes out you are going to want to get it for yourself or any Cardinal fan on your Christmas list. Just stay tuned here and at other UCB blogs because we are going to have all the information about how you can order it through some of us and help out your favorite blogger at the same time. The tree is scheduled to come out in November, so it won't be long before the promotions and preorders start.
Beyond the shirts from ACSF and the proofs from the folks at Burton, we had even more stuff for the membership. Rob and Sally Rains provided gift bags full of neat stuff like baseball cards, magazines, notepads, and other things. Geoff Goldman from Fox Sports Midwest couldn't make it (after he'd snagged tickets to the Missouri game!) but he sent along some FSMW shirts for everyone as well. It was really like a blogger convention, where we needed bags to carry all of our swag!
While all of that was nice and appreciated, getting to sit and talk with the bloggers was what was so enjoyable. These are people that I talk to on Twitter all the time, that I exchange (or overwhelm) with emails often, but I rarely if ever get to see them face to face.
Angela and Dennis do their best to ignore the fact Daniel Descalso is starting at short again while Bob (back corner) indicates where the next pitch is going to be hit.
The fabled meeting of the historians. Mark (left) and Bob (right) talk about Vinegar Bend Mizell and whether Ray Washburn really was obscure enough.
The boys of Pitchers Hit Eighth (Josh, Dennis, Nick l-r) conduct blog business while Bill (background) holds court.
There was a lot of fun talking Cardinals, getting to know each other, throwing jabs, all the sort of things that bloggers do when they get together. I handed out certificates acknowledging last year's Cardinal Blogger Award winners
and gave a short UCB speech, at which time no pieces of toasted ravioli were thrown at me. (I think Dennis got into his windup once, but his lovely wife Lisa stopped him.) All in all, we had a great time and were sad to see the night end, even though we knew tomorrow brought a whole lot more fun.
Sunday was an absolutely perfect day to be at the ballpark. 75 degrees and sunny with a nice breeze floating through the stadium. However, before we got to enjoy that part of the day, we had some business inside to take care of first.
Getting settled in to await the arrival of Mozeliak and BDW3.
The ladies of PH8: Lisa (left, wife of Dennis) and Christi (right, wife of Josh) plan exactly how they are going to steal the awesome Cardinal memorabilia outside the conference room.
Bill and Angela (right) talk to Jeff of Born Bleeding before the activities begin.
As noon approached, the gathered horde took their (very comfortable) seats and waited for the fun to begin. The front office folks filed in and Ron Watermon, head of the PR department for the Cardinals, began by welcoming us and expressing appreciation for what we do. He was kind enough to mention my work by name and congratulated Bill and Angela for taking the "united" part of UCB to heart (in reference to their recent wedding).
Then Ron introduced Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt and, after some comments from both of them, we were off. Actually, their comments were pretty interesting as well, with Mozeliak indicating that he thought the mainstream press took some ideas from the blogging community and wondered how we felt about that. It'd been fun to follow that line of discussion, but it was a little difficult to do with such a group. He also gave us an update on the state of the team, in which is noted it'd been a frustrating year and not all of their dice rolls had panned out, but they were still very much in contention.
BDW3 took the bull by the horns and addressed Ballpark Village before it was brought up via question. The expectation was that they would receive their final authorizations very soon and be able to start breaking ground with a completion date for Phase I of sometime in 2014. This was only going to be (IIRC--percentages may not be right) 20% or so of the final BV size, but being that it was the first part it was going to require so much more money and work because of all the infrastructure that had to be put into place. However, the organization is excited about where it's going and hopefully we'll start seeing some activity in that area across from Busch very soon.
Then it was question time and there were a lot of good questions. Christine from AMF asked what turned out to be a prophetic one, asking Mo about Quad Cities and that relationship. Mo didn't give a direct answer--it came out this week that the Cards were ending their time in QC, but it hadn't been announced then--but talked about what they liked to see out of their minor league affiliates.
For a while, it even seemed like he broke some news with the bloggers, though it turned out he'd put it out there before we got in the room. In answering a different question about injuries and how players have been able to step in when others had gone down, he made a remark about "Westbrook being out and we'll see if some of the young guys can take those starts." Now, we'd all seen Westbrook pitch the night before, but none of us had heard anything about him being hurt. You could almost hear the buzz in the room as Mo continued his answer, with all of us looking around like "what happened to Westbrook?" After we got to the suite and were able to access the internet and such, we found out about the oblique. It was a bit surreal to have that happen, though!
We also got to see flashes of Mo's dry humor and perhaps the most telling example of that came at my expense. I had a question that I'd been thinking about for a while but I wasn't sure exactly how to phrase it. I basically was contrasting the excitement of last offseason with the expectation of a quieter one this year. With few open slots and less activity going on, it seemed like, save for Adam Wainwright's extension, there wouldn't be much going on.
John Mozeliak answering questions, flanked by Ron Watermon, Bill DeWitt III and chef Jessica Helms. This is before he mercilessly mocked my Wainwright question.
However, when it came time for me to actually address Mo, it didn't quite come out that way. I started into the question, then said, "this offseason, except for the Adam Wainwright extension...."
Mo smiled and interrupted. "That's a bit presumptuous."
The bloggers roared. There's a reason I'm a blogger, not an interviewer.
After correcting myself and finishing the question, Mo gave a great answer, talking about how he was actually looking forward to this offseason with less going on because that meant he could address some processes and some front office evaluations that he couldn't do last year with the World Series, the TLR decision and having to find a new manager, and the Pujols negotiations. I could easily relate to that, because it's always good to have some downtime to do some long-term planning and tinkering.
On a wall full of such awards, this is the official letter stating the Cardinals were the National League Champions in 2011. You'll see the LDS and LCS results on there as well. I hear the Cubs hang their letters on the wall as well, just that it's the wall of a cubicle and the paper is falling apart.
Taking pictures of Matt Whitener (STL Sports 360) taking pictures of pictures. I think that's meta or something. Christine of AMF, right before she forcibly removed this picture from the wall, knocked over the security guards, and was never seen again.
After about 20 minutes, the front office types headed out and we bloggers made our way to the Lou Brock and Jack Buck suites. This was a noted change for some of us, as we are used to watching the game in the basement in our pajamas. (None of us actually did show up in our pajamas, which is fairly impressive in its own right.)
The Cards pulled out all the stops for us. There was different food in each suite, but all of it was quite good. I don't know that anyone was able to resist the bacon-wrapped hot dogs. I didn't eat much up there, but I was sure to grab one of those. That was an experience! There was also great stuff like fancy mac-and-cheese, brisket, nachos, the list went on and on.
I also promised one of them that I'd make mention of the support staff and that was an easy promise to make. Anyone that was involved with the Cardinals was generous with their time and made us feel welcome, but those that were running the suite went above and beyond. They continued to ask if we needed anything, were pleasant and cheerful to talk with, knew what was going on with the game and were cheering for the Redbirds the whole time as well. I'm sure that part of the interview/hiring process for those positions is determining whether the staff has personality, but these people passed that with flying colors. I really can't say enough about the experience and they are a large reason why.
The view from our corner of baseball heaven.
One of the other reasons that this trip to the ballpark was so wonderful was the hard work of Lindsey Weber. Lindsey is still new on the job, having come on board in March of this year, but you couldn't tell it. She worked diligently to set this up and then spent the entire game just hanging out with us, getting to know the bloggers personally. It wasn't a case where they set it up and left us alone. It was a lot of fun to have her around and here about her job and the perspectives that she, as a St. Louisian, brings to working for one of the major institutions of the city.
Lindsey (left) with Diane (Women Who Love Cardinal Baseball), Christine and Stacy (@sports_chick1) solving all the problems of the world. I think they were doing OK until they tried to figure out a way to stop Mike Matheny from ordering bunts all the time.
Dennis and Matt eat while watching the game on the provided TVs. Just like at home, though the food was likely a little better. If this isn't blogging in a microcosm, I don't have any idea what is.
Ultimately, the day was a lot of fun. We spent time going back and forth between the seats, between hanging out and talking inside or sitting in the seats outside. Some were more devoted to watching the game, some did more socializing. No matter what, though, everybody had a wonderful time.
Lisa listens to a preview of the next UCB Radio Hour with Kevin and Jon Doble (Redbird Dugout). Otherwise known as Kevin's Monologue Segment, this took up a good portion of the middle innings.
As mentioned before, I took home a lot of items this weekend (not counting the large amount of money I dropped at the team store for myself and the kids). Two items, though, were very near and dear to me. The first was a baseball given to me by the PH8 guys with all of their signatures on it. That was a really cool thing for them to think about and right now it sits above my computer right next to the only other autographed ball I have in the house, Buck O'Neil. That's not bad company.
The second was arranged by Bill and Angela. You can see it below.
Look at all the autographs. I'm sure I could sell this for at least $10, don't you think?
They got the logo printed out and then had everyone sign it during the weekend. I don't think any of the bloggers that attended missed the chance to put their name and Twitter handle on there, plus we also got Lindsey, Eric Fine (from the Burton folks) and even Mozeliak (he's the red signature almost directly above the logo) and BDW3 (almost at the bottom, straight down from the middle). It meant a lot to have everyone join in on this and I look forward to getting it framed and hanging it in a place of honor.
All in all, it was a great time and with a lot of great people. I really look forward to next year and UCB Weekend 3. I mean, sure, the last of a trilogy is often iffy, but I bet we can beat that trend!
Group shot of the United Cardinal Bloggers. Not complete--not everyone made it to the event--but the biggest one we've got. Look forward to even more next year!