I stepped into the lobby of my hotel on Seventh Street to meet the cab I had called for. Outside, the valet was conversing with a middle-aged man in board shorts holding a highball glass. As I stepped out onto the sidewalk, the clearly intoxicated man gave me a once-over and slurred out, "You're wearing the wrong shirt." His lips split a smile and he swigged down the last of his drink as I shuffled around his long, looping steps towards the valet. I climbed into the cab and headed for Busch Stadium as Board Shorts whipped his grey goatee towards the lobby and the hotel bar beyond.
I arrived at the stadium ahead of my brother, who was in transit with his wife and her father. He had the tickets, so I took a few minutes to poke around at Busch Stadium's Monument Park. Though it's not a park so much as a wide sidewalk where the statues of Stan Musial, Cool Papa Bell, Rogers Hornsby, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, and others stand, static testaments to dynamic individuals. I gave each of them their due diligence, pausing a step longer at Hornsby, and longer still at Musial and Gibson, before heading into the team store that stood just beyond the monuments.
The deference of the sidewalk statues gave way to a spinning, churning cash machine where everything from zombie Cardinal player statues and Redbird dining sets were being sold. A locked display case stood in the center of the store, behind its latch and key were three hundred dollar watches adorned with the birds on the bat, a hat studded with diamonds (which, at first glance could be mistaken for rhinestones), and a tennis bracelet with diamond cardinal charms. The standard fare is there, including a wall of hats where the StL logo emblazons the crown of hats for every color scheme; red and white, blue gold, orange and black, green and yellow, teal and mauve, with store clerks shuffling back and forth to front the hats becoming constantly tussled by passing patrons.
In no small way, the two contrasting venues are a microcosm of Busch Stadium itself. Classic architectural appeal with a nod to the history of the organization and the game itself, coalesced with the corporatized gaudiness of modern stadiums. Budweiser Boardwalk. The Coca-Cola Rooftop Deck. Big Mac Land. The UMB Champions Club.
It's not that old stadiums are immune to the plague of brand name product placement, but the fact that these signposts are designed into the very fabric of the stadium itself is a bit unnerving, giving the stadium the appeal of walking around in history brought to you by Chevy™. It's like taking a cab to wander around the Uncanny Valley for a few hours.
My brother shows up and, after a protracted loop around the concourse, we make our way to Section 132.
Top of the 1st: The Story of SUPERfan, Part I: Lines in the Dirt
I don't know SUPERfan, but I know he doesn't like me. He arrived during Alcides Escobar's leadoff at-bat and found me, decked in Royal blue. He stuffed into the seat next to mine, despite their being five empty seats between myself and the end of the row. It must be a stadium culture thing, because at Kauffman Stadium it is terribly common to arrive at your ticketed seat and find someone there. 95% of the time the person will apologize and obligingly move to their seat, and 4% of the time they just move. He decided to sit in his seat which, based on the 2014 National League Central Champions hat and shirt combination he was wearing, is the seat that he was in when the Cardinals lost in the NLCS, and the World's Series the year before that, and the NLCS again in 2012. That is his seat, and he certainly isn't going to let some blue blood from across-state separate him from it.
And for that, I say bravo. I'm certainly in no position to argue. I am a stranger in a strange land, with no clue as to what the etiquette and protocol is, though I do hear his lady love pleading with him to move down if, and I quote, "It bothers you that much. There's nobody sitting here." He did not budge.
Around his neck was a lanyard with a plastic sleeve, which I would come to find out is a season ticket holder thing. Throughout the stadium, hundreds of people with similar neckwear shuffle from Dizzy's Diner to the Gashouse Grill. I don't know what is in the sleeve, what kind of insider access it provides. I do wonder through some of the game whether or not it allows you into an express lane at the Dippin' Dots vendor or gives you re-entry privileges outside of Gate 4.
I do know that it gives him the entitlement to assume that no one should be sitting in the seat next to him at the stadium, especially some putzy Royals fan who came in on the afternoon stage. His muttered grumblings to his significant other (who was tremendously polite) weren't subtle enough to go unnoticed, and I doubt that they were meant to be. It is a situation that was exacerbated by the top of the inning, when Kansas City scored two runs. After a walk by Mike Moustakas and an Eric Hosmer infield single to the comically shifted Kolten Wong, Perez dunked one into left and Rios singled to right, putting the Royals ahead and setting SUPERfan's mood from sour to surly.
Bottom of the 1st: The Story of SUPERfan, Part II: Contrition, Thy Name Is SUPERfan
My brother and I had already predetermined the bottom of the inning to be our snack run. Prior to the arrival of SUPERfan, it was an easy convention that caused no consternation, as the entire row was empty on one side. It was also a blessed turn of events, as the right field line is a sun field under which all things are illumined, a bright bulb burning in the evening sky.
The problem now is that SUPERfan is here, and he already hates me. I am sitting next to his seat, certainly taking more space than he wants, and now the team that I clearly root for, having brandished my Sneech-esque star upon thar, has taken the lead against his Redbirds. I have decided that I do not want to give him cause for further agitation, so I will make sure to interrupt his Old Man Parker routine during the intermission.
And it works, but I forgot about my brother and his wife. Though he followed me, having seen that I stood and began my sorry excuse me sorry shuffle down the row, his wife was still attempting to ascertain what her father wanted from the concessions. She was left behind, and in so doing we forced SUPERfan to stand up from his seat twice. The simulacra of decorum was washed away. There was no disguising it now. SUPERfan was pissed.
Top of the 2nd - The Story of SUPERfan, Part III: Bygones and Byes Gone
There is nothing I can do now to make things right between us. That I was messaging someone on my phone most likely bugged him. That my sister-in-law returned to the stands before my brother and I did, forcing him to again rise and fall, rise and fall, was the ellipses at the end of a very long and perturbed sigh.
As I return to my seat with my brother and a souvenir cup, SUPERfan has had enough. His lady love, shining light that she is, finally convinces him to move down one seat. It is a sad departure for me. I have no ill-will toward him. In this moment, I don't even begrudge him the team he roots for. As fans of baseball, I just wanted to say I'm sorry. Sorry for making him move, for making him stand up, for making him stand up again, and more importantly for invading his space.
But there are no words. SUPERfan and I could very well have been the best of friends, but on an 85-degree Thursday with a high sky and two rival baseball teams between us, there is no peace to be found. The pair of them move down one seat, still leaving another seat on her right at the end of the row.
Bottom of the 2nd, Part A - Jason Heyward is Apparently a God
A thing that I learned about the St. Louis fanbase, or at least the thirty-ish thousand on hand for the tilt against Kansas City (Announced attendance was just over 40,000), is that Jason Heyward is apparently a god. He may not be in-line with a Zeus or Hades or Yadier Molina, but he's definitely in the next tier down in terms of fan fawning. Your Thanatos's or Thalassa's or Nemesis's. After the aforementioned Molina, Heyward received the largest cheer during lineup announcement, the loudest ovation for his first at-bat, and even received a decent round of applause after missing a diving catch on a Salvador Perez double.
It makes sense, I guess. He's their Lorenzo Cain (though decidedly not as good, he leads the Cardinals in position player fWAR at 2.6), acquired by sending promising young starter Shelby Miller to the Braves last winter. He's a toolsy guy and plays good defense while hitting above average offensively and playing with a bit of flair.
I can see why he's beloved, though I did find it interesting that he was singled out above all others last night. I mean, except for Yadi. Because come on.
Bottom of the 2nd, Part B - The Terrible Two's
The second inning is a foreboding glade for Royals pitching to navigate, as @ pointed out to me after Ventura's "Headcase" inning on Monday. The bad luck turned into coincidence the following night when Jason Vargas' elbow ligament was rended in twain. The coincidence became pattern when Chris Young served up a high fastball to Randal Grichuk, who deposited it just beyond the left field wall to tie the game at 2-2. Shocking how that works out.
Though the darkness certainly extends beyond this week, as the numbers show. Including last night's game, the Royals have been downright Davies in the second inning, yielding a 5.17 ERA. The fifth inning has also been problematic with a 5.27 ERA. The next highest after that is the third, all the way down at 3.73.
There's probably a reason for it. A team's best hitters will usually bat in the second if no one reaches in the first. They come up again in the fifth, which is also when the times through the order penalty can start to kick in. But let's leave it to whimsy for now. Because even if superstition isn't rationally better, it's certainly more fun.
Bottom of the 2nd, Part C - The Story of SUPERfan, Part III - Nothing Will Ever Make It Better
Look, Grichuk homered. Fair play to the Cardinals. I am in their stadium, amongst their fans, and they have generally speaking been pretty cordial to me and my family. So, I clap. I clapped for Grichuk. Not even that sarcastic slow clap that you give to your friend for beating 2048 for the third time. The genuine clap of respect that says, "Hey, in the interest of fair play, you bested the guy pitching for my team. Well met. I salute you."
SUPERfan shot to his feet and started cheering. I started clapping. SUPERfan stopped cheering and kind of shuffled and then turned to see that I was still applauding the player on his team having scored against my team. SUPERfan starts cheering again. I stop clapping, SUPERfan stops cheering, and then he sits down and starts grumbling about me to his overly kind and patient lady love.
The rift between us is too great now. What I had given in deference and respect has now been repaid in scorn. I will now prove to him that I can be a polite, courteous, and respectful fan-opponent, even if I have to murder him and everyone he loves in the process.
Top of the 3rd - Snakes Alive It's '85 (Or, I'm Starting To Think SUPERfan Is Just A Prick)
Lorenzo Cain just had to do it. Had to lunge out for first, had to invoke the specter of Jorge Orta, recall the video-captured memory of Don Denkinger.
The red sections of the stadium were most pleased when Cain was initially ruled out on the field. And understandably so. They were less pleased when Ned Yost decided to challenge the call.
It wasn't so much a groan as it was a churn. As the umpires gathered on the infield, the replay started to roll on the big screen in center field. Most could see that Cain was safe on the play, but it didn't matter. The atmosphere started filling with a certain agitation that I can't really describe. It was as if the crowd expected the call to be (rightly) overturned, but still saw it as a bullet point in the keynote on the Cardinals' continuing string of bad luck, a tribulation that only they themselves could see.
SUPERfan, for his part, was adamant that Cain was out. Even as the replays rolled by, he staked his position and refused to waver. It was at this point that I began to consider the possibility that SUPERfan might, in actuality, just be a prick. Outside of Board Shorts, he certainly was not representative of most of my other interactions with Cardinals fans. He strikes me now as the fervent wrestling fan who, while sitting in a gymnasium with the aged and withered bodies of his childhood heroes standing in front of him, professes through a quivering voice and teary eyes, "It's still real to me, dammit!"
Despite the fact that it isn't. I mean, obviously it isn't. Of course it isn't. But I'm starting to realize that SUPERfan doesn't give a shit about reality. He is only interested in his narrative, and his narrative says that Lorenzo Cain is out.
The umpires reverse the call and the antipathy between us grows. It worsens during the next at-bat, when a protracted SUPERfan celebration occurs following Eric Hosmer's GIDP on a ball that was questionably fair.
Bottom of the 3rd - The Story of SUPERfan, Part IV: Deal With It
Wong singles. Carpenter hits a home run into right field. I clap dutifully. SUPERfan cheers for a while and stops, feeling that an appropriate amount of time has passed. He turns. I'm still clapping. He starts cheering again.
And now you know how the Cold War started.
Top of the 4th - Stag Musial and His Angel Wings
So, this guy shows up.
No scene. No fanfare. No pronouncement as to why he's wearing a cardboard hat for a beer company that was driven out of business by a rival brewer that the stadium he is sitting in is named after. More befuddling is that he is drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, who bought the sibling company of Stag Beer (Falstaff) and ceased production. Contradictions and questions abound, but only half the story has yet to be spun, because she is also a thing.
His lady friend in the wicker cowboy hat has a tattoo on her back. It is a tattoo of angel wings. Angel Wings is double-fisting Miller Lite aluminum bottles when they arrive at their seat. Angel Wings spends the entire half-inning trying to figure out what the score is via search engine on her phone.
By the time the half-inning is over, Stag Musial has ordered two more bottles from a vendor. Bud Light Lime.
Bottom of the 4th - Nothing Never Happens (Or, Come On SUPERfan, Work With Me)
Randal Grichuk of the Second Inning Home Run Grichuk's has reached third base. Salvador Perez has picked Grichuk off of third base, because Salvador Perez is the catch and throw equivalent of the Übermensch.
I am happy about the call, but mute my reaction to a simple applause. I feel like SUPERfan is a botched ground ball away from taking someone's head off, whether that be me, the Royals fans sitting behind me, or his dear sweet significant other who is trying her damnedest to make the best out of what really shouldn't be a bad situation. And I really don't want to get sideways with him. He seems like a nice guy, aside from his patently obvious flaws and shortcomings.
The replay is dubious, at best. I decide to float an olive branch by stating to my brother, "Oh, I don't know, he might be safe" loud enough for SUPERfan to hear me.
He is not sated. Grichuk is out. SUPERfan is now more agitated than ever.
The Fifth Inning - Untitled
The game happens. I struggle with my phone to get reception so I can converse with other human beings about baseball. I look up and plead for 3G. Busch Stadium looks down and whispers, "No."
Stag Musial is on his second round of vendor-purchased beer. Angel Wings smiles and makes noises, but I'm not really sure what she is saying. None of it really sounds like words. Then, this exchange happens:
Stag Musial: Heh. I should run out on the field.
Angel Wings: Don't do that *ha ha* you'd get *vocal fry* arrested.
Stag Musial: I'm just joking.
Angel Wings: *Ha ha* You're so funny.
Top of the 6th - The Story of SUPERfan, Part V: This Is Why We Fight
SUPERfan and his genial lady love are leaving.
I don't know why. I don't know where they are going. I just know that they are soon gone. Never to return. My eyes do not befall them on the concourses or in the stands, on the easements, nor anywhere I strain to look. But they are certainly still with me, and I know that with him he will carry a bad impression of me.
And such it is with life; two strangers thrust together with disparate backgrounds hunting and straining for understanding and finding none, turning towards aggression from misplaced frustration, leaving the new now to hate for hate's sake. He is gone and I am alone again in the throng.
Bottom of the 6th - Oy. Morales In.
It's a DM I sent to a friend, expressing some kind of concern over Franklin Morales replacing Kris Medlen. Almost instantaneously, I regretted it. Why would I kvetch over Morales? He's been a cromulent relief pitcher for Kansas City this year. Sure, he's at the short-end of the totem pole or the bottom of the stick, but still. Why Morales?
My fears, as it were, were unfounded. Morales pitched a 1-2-3, and he now has a 2.35 ERA on the year. I was trying to figure out the Why of Morales, when Stag Musial started making whooping sounds for some reason. I lost my train of thought and went back to trying to get my phone to work properly.
Top of the 7th - An Appreciation
At night, Busch Stadium does look pretty remarkable. Even with that giant neon Hardee's sign above the awning on the first base side. There is a closeness that you feel to the game at hand, with the seats stacked on top of each other, edging up to the foul lines, low angles, sight lines free. All in all, a remarkable stadium. Kitschy, but cozy.
7th Inning Stretch - Wassup Wassup and the Shadow of '85
During the Stretch my brother and I made our way outside and were approached by Wassup Wassup.
"Wassup wassup wassup?" he said, throwing an arm around either of us. "When I say wassup, you say wassup, sho?"
"Alright," I said.
"Wassup," he said.
"Wassup," my brother and I responded.
"Wassup," he said.
"Wassup," we said.
"Kings of Kansas City right here," Wassup announced to all within earshot. Then the timbre of his voice changed. "Hey man, I just wanna thank you guys for beatin' them Pirates. We needed that," he said, almost grateful in the implication that my brother and I had single-handedly swashbuckled our way through the Pittsburgh lineup to victory.
"But," he said, pausing briefly. "I'm still mad at you. You all stole one from us, man."
I laughed. "That was thirty years ago, man," I said.
Wassup laughed. "Ha, you right."
And just like that, he was gone.
He was the friendliest encounter of the evening, edging out the Cardinals fan who asked me if I would pump the ketchup into the cup she was holding because she had to balance the food in her other hand. She said thank you and everything. Nice woman.
The 8th Inning - Randy Choate Chokes, Salvador Perez Needs A Vacation
The thing about LOOGY's is that they are supposed to LOOG, but if you don't get the out then you're just a LOG, and Choate was kind enough to give up a single to Moustakas. I admire the architecture a little bit more, contemplate the long-lost possibility of a downtown stadium in Kansas City, and Maness gets Cain to fly out to center. Hosmer followed with a single, and then Salvador Perez came up.
Salvador Perez in the first half hit .262/.273/.453, which despite the comical indifference to drawing walks, was good enough for a 97 wRC+, which is a more than acceptable line from a catcher, and even more so from one who plays defense the way that Perez does.
Salvador Perez in the second half though is hitting .160/.222/.240. By comparison, Omar Infante in the second half is hitting .179/.233/.286. Omar Infante is outhitting Salvador Perez.
Perez grounded into a double play and we move on with our lives.
*I should note that, in the bottom of the eighth, the Royals made three good-nigh-great defensive plays in a row, from Moustakas snagging a sharp line drive over his head to Alex Rios (who had three hits, by the way) making a diving catch, to that guy I mentioned two paragraphs ago throwing out Grichuk after he struck out on a ball that got away from home plate.
The Top of the 9th - Why Baseball?
When I was five, my dad signed me up for a little league team without asking me. I didn't even know that I had a choice to play baseball. I thought it was like school; I thought everybody played baseball somewhere. My parents played softball, my friends played baseball, I just assumed that everyone had a team floating around the neighborhood. I didn't know a world without it.
I get asked this by my friends sometimes. Why does baseball have such a grip on me? Why do I cherish the game and all of its flaws and foibles, why the statistics and scouting reports get poured over and processed?
The top of the ninth on July 23rd, 2015 is the closest you can get to a physical manifestation of the unhinged joy that baseball brings. Alex Rios, whose OPS continues to climb out of the cellar and into respectability, legged out an infield single by outrunning the voices that have been calling for him to be replaced ever since he returned from a broken hand. It was his third hit on the night and his tenth multi-hit game this month.
Omar Infante, who is statistically speaking the worst qualified hitter in the major leagues, follows it up with a true gap triple to right field. Rios scores from first.
One guy can't buy a hit. The other keeps hitting out of spite. Yet neither of them do what you might expect, which makes it all the more majestic.
That the game ended in a loss for Kansas City is not particularly concerning. Sure, it sucks a little, particularly to St. Louis. But baseball is bigger than wins and losses, though it's hard to see it sometimes. Baseball is about the new and the old and the rare and the common and the expected and unexpected hanging on anticipation and thundering into existence for brief glimpses of light and life before smashing out and burning away. It's about the ritual and routine of game times and box scores, the cathedrals of Kauffman and Wrigley and Busch, the support groups of long-suffering message boards and the glee of winning team forums, the bon mots of announcers and fellow fans, of distinguishing yourself while giving over to a greater world beyond the shell of your own body.
As I walk up the concourse with my brother and his wife, a Cardinals fan carrying what can only be described as an empty margarita carafe starts saying Boooooooooo. I soon realize that he is talking to my brother and I. He continues on with his Boooooooo until we are around the corner.
A drive that took ten minutes on the way in takes nearly an hour, as we have to get out of the parking garage and back to my hotel, thanks in part to getting lost on the way back and ending up in East St. Louis for a spell.