Sunday, May 24, 2009

Busch Stadium

After a relaxing day eating barbeque, touring the Anheuser-Busch brewery (Horses! Buildings! Clamato! Plus, more beer than you've ever seen in your life!), and making sweet sweet love to the Gateway Arch, Andy, Danny, and I headed down to Busch Stadium to check out a Cardinals-Royals game.

We got there at about 5:30, about an hour and a half before the first pitch, and already there were masses of people outside the gates. Presumably, this was for the free Albert Pujols figurine giveaway, but nonetheless the scene outside the ballpark was lively, with people decked out in Cardinals t-shirts drinking on bar patios and live bands playing. Also, the exterior of the ballpark is 100% brick, and thus by law, classy.

We made our way to the seats behind the plate to watch some batting practice, and were immediately struck with a beatiful view of St. Louis' skyline, which prominently featured the arch. We hung around there for a few minutes before heading out to the outfield with the hopes of catching a batting practice home run. Unfortunately, we forgot to take into account the fact that the Kansas City Royals were the ones taking batting practice. Of the four home runs hit the entire time, none were near us. As they left the field, we headed to our seats feeling tired, sweaty, and used.

The Royals' batting practice was not a total failure though. As we stood in the stands, I noticed someone in the outfield who I recognized; it was none other than Royals bullpen coach John Mizerock, the catcher for the 1989 Richmond Braves, and my first ever favorite player. On a team with future major leaguers David Justice, Ron Gant, and Mark Lemke among others, I decided to pick John Mizerock, he of 103 total major league games played in, as my favorite.

After BP was over, I went over to the Royals bullpen. John was standing there, about to head out to the field to warm up a pitcher. As he started to walk out to the field, I yelled to him, "John Mizerock!" He looked up. "You were my favorite player on the Richmond Braves when I was growing up!"

He smiled and gave me a big thumbs up as he walked out onto the field. Minutes later he returned. Some guy yelled for him to throw a ball up in the stands. Mizerock looked up and shrugged, indicating he didn't have a ball to throw. I yelled to no one in particular, "he only throws them to Richmond Braves fans!" Again, a pointing acknowledgement. This was awesome.

As Andy and Danny begin realizing that this was bordering on stalking, Mizerock came back in to the bullpen with a ball. He looked up into the stands and our eyes locked. He lobbed the ball. And because I was holding my Albert Pujols figurine in one hand, some lady next to me grabbed it with both hands as I grabbed it with one. Not wanting to go to jail for hitting a girl, I let the ball go. Later on, however, Mizerock tossed another one up to me, and this time, both hands free, I caught it. So thank you,'re still my favorite player ever. And to that woman who stole the ball from me: I hope you're happy with yourself. A month from now that ball will mean nothing to you. But it would have meant a lot to me. I hope you get a tapeworm.

We headed to our seats in the right field lower deck, and proceeded to watch some baseball. From the beginning, it was obvious that every fan into the stadium was into the game. Everyone was there to watch the game. No one was there because there was nothing else to do. 

When I took my standard lap around the stadium in the middle innings, the two things I noticed were the lack of "frills," or unnecessary additions to the ballpark (for the opposite end of the spectrum, think new Yankee Stadium), and how empty the plaza areas were relative to other stadiums. There was a small kids area with a miniature baseball diamond, but there were only a few kids there. The rest were watching the game. Whereas Cincinnati had Tanner, the morbidly obese child who was more interested in food than anything else, St. Louis had a girl of roughly the same age, sitting a few seats down from us, who understood the game; she watched intently, cheered when it was appropriate to do so, and booed when Albert Pujols was intentionally walked in a key situation.

Overall, the stadium doesn't have a lot of extras. There's a painted line in the outfield walkway to show where the wall of the old Busch Stadium was. The scoreboard from the old stadium is on display in the walkway on the first-base side. There's a private club somewhere on the club level, I think. Other than those things, it's a basic stadium; the great thing is though, it doesn't have to be more than this. The team is good enough, and the fans are engaged enough, that Busch Stadium is perfect just the way it is.

The night before we went, Pujols crushed a ball that took out the "I" in the "BIG MAC LAND" sign. When we got there, the sign had an added message. Personally, I would have gone with a "no I in team" motif, but this worked too.

Quick summary: Busch Stadium reminds me of what a classic ballpark would look like if it was built in 2005. It is an outstanding place to watch a game, as the ballpark design, ballpark views, and the enthusiasm of the fans are all exceptional.

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