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[New] Busch Stadium

[New] Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 3, 2007 (Mets 4, Cardinals 1)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

It’s done!  It’s over!  At the age of 36, I have officially seen a game at all of the major league baseball stadiums.  A moment for reflection, if you will indulge me…

When I first did a big baseball tour in 1993, I had no idea I’d eventually get to all the ballparks, or even want to.  It

was just a way to spend one summer.  But eventually, as I knocked off a few ballparks a year, the goal of making it to all the ballparks started to look attainable.  By the time I voluntarily flew to Puerto Rico to go to ballgames, I realized this was becoming one of the central frivolous activities of my life.  I was all set to finish off all the ballparks in the summer of 2006, but my St. Louis-born Cardinal-fan wife wouldn’t let me go to Busch without her.  So, with the wife in tow (and as a birthday present, no less…for her!), I crossed the last ballpark off the list.  I will try to get back to some of them if my travels take me to town, and I will go to new ballparks as they open, but not a lot of people can say what I could honestly say for the length of the 2007 baseball season:

I’ve been to all the ballparks.  (Yay me.)

The newest incarnation of Busch Stadium seems to be a bit of an afterthought to the late-nineties stadium boom.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed.  On the one hand, I don’t miss the old Busch…the last of the four awful cookie-cutters going

the way of the dinosaur isn’t worth any tears.  But surely a baseball town as good as St. Louis could make a new ballpark that is worthy of its rich history.  Surely St. Louis deserves a ballpark on the level of Jacobs Field, the Ballpark in Arlington, PNC Park, or Oriole Park.  I’m afraid that hasn’t happened here.

What was strange about the ballpark is that I greatly preferred the exterior to the interior.  Not so much the edifice itself, although I did like it–it incorporated locally-appropriate arches into the facade, and was a darker red than most other ballparks–but a lot of the touches that help with the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test were on the outside when I’d like at least a few of them on the inside.  Cardinals’ Hall of Famers were represented in sculpture near home plate.  The sculptures

were a bit small–I don’t mind a larger-than-life depiction.  But when the representation of Bob Gibson fails to elicit blood-curdling terror, well, the sculptor hasn’t done his/her job.  The Mini-Me version of Gibson just doesn’t intimidate like the guy I imagine in the 1967 World Series.  They’d have done well to hire the sculptor from Cincinnati, Milwaukee, or–my absolute favorite–the guy in Detroit.

Also outside, the Cardinals track critical moments in their history via plaques on the sidewalk.  Many, I knew about…some, I did not.  I’d have liked it to not be interrupted–the plaques are only on the west and east sides of the ballpark, and are interrupted by an empty stretch along the north side.  However, I still walked the whole way, reading every plaque.  I can’t help but be saddened by the number of plaques devoted to Mark McGwire’s 1998 season.  I called my dad to watch the 61st home run together, and it was a special moment.  But ever since his

performance in front of the Congressional committee, I can’t get myself to feel the same magic about that day or that year.  Yeah, I know there’s no proof, but emotions can be messed with that way.  It’s like a memory of a wonderful weekend with an ex-girlfriend…who I later learn was possibly cheating on me.  I just can’t make the memory beautiful anymore, and that’s why those McGwire plaques make me sad now.

On the north side of the ballpark, there are two other snippets of St. Louis baseball history–one beautiful, and one just confusing.

Beautiful was the tribute to Jack Buck.  A large section of wall is dedicated to his memory.  While the photos are nice–particularly the one of him with son Joe–the sound of his voice is easily what carries the day.  Buck’s voice is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever listened to a baseball game, and the people of New Busch take advantage of that recognition by having tapes of some of his most famous calls on continuous loop there.  In the few minutes I lingered–and his calls make any

baseball fan want to linger–I heard Bob Forsch’s no-hitter and Mark McGwire’s 60th home run.  I can’t think of a better tribute.  I think it’s because I think it’s more common to see pictures of the dead than it is to listen to their voices.  He seems so much more alive this way.  I hope that Herb Carneal gets similar treatment in Minnesota, and that when their day comes–which I hope is a very long time from now–Vin Scully and Bob Sheppard as well.

On the sidewalk, there’s a strange painting of a yellow line with the number 402.  At first, I thought it was an extension of the foul line, with a notation of how long a home run that landed there would be.  Once I poked my head into the ballpark, however, this proved impossible–the yellow line seemed to be sticking out of center field of the new Busch.  That’s when

we made our next guess…it must be the outfield wall of the old Busch.  (That guess has been confirmed by fellow ballpark traveler Frank Albanese.)  Is it center field?  Left?  Is this the spot where I saw Andy Van Slyke break his collarbone, perhaps?  Or where Ozzie Smith’s NLCS home run left the yard?  I have no way of knowing.  There’s no label, no explanation…nada.  Just a line and a number.  I’m all for understated, but the old Busch deserves better.

Once I got inside Busch, I found a ballpark that I’d say is simply functional.  None of the history that I see in moments like the plaques or the Jack Buck tribute makes it inside the ballpark.  The best ballparks can both be functional and celebrate rich histories on the inside (Philadelphia comes to mind as an excellent example).  But there’s very little of that here.

Case in point:  I came upon an out-of-town scoreboard in the pavilion area.  “Look,” my wife said,

“the Mariners are tied up with Oakland!”  Indeed, my Mariners were playing Oakland that day, and the score showed a 3-3 tie.  It seemed strange to have the out-of-town scoreboard hidden behind an ice cream vendor and some girders, but different strokes, right?

But hold the phone…this couldn’t be right.  Didn’t the M’s game start later?  And what’s Felix Hernandez, #59, doing pitching two days in a row?  Is this score from yesterday?  Wait…the Angels aren’t playing the Rangers tonight!  What’s going on?

A few paces later, I saw a Cardinals/Reds scoreboard, and I figured it out.  This had to have been the out of town scoreboard as it appeared at the end of the last game at old Busch.  Again, like the yellow line outside, it was unexplained and

uncherished…it was just sort of thrown up there at a random place.  And again, old Busch deserved better.  Why not recreate what was on the board at a key moment in Cardinal history rather than the last day of the ’05 season?  And why not let passersby know what’s happening?

A little history was going on in front of us on this, the second night of the 2007 season:  the ’06 Cardinals were given their World Series rings.  In a nice touch, they gave their Hall of Famers World Series rings as well as the actual members of the championship team.  St. Louis deifies Stan Musial in the extreme, and even if love of sports stars feels a little idolatrous to me at times, there is something undeniably touching about such the unabashed love pouring down on an elderly man so frail that he needed help to walk out to claim his ring.  The feel-good moment continued when Scott Spiezio received his ring from his dad, Ed.  They are the only

father-son combination to win a World Series with the same club.  Love of the elderly, father-son hugs…what more could you want?  It was almost enough to make me forget Scott’s comically bad 2005 Mariner campaign.  Almost.

But the best part of the game, as always, were the Cardinal fans.  While I was a little disappointed in the number of them who left early, I can forgive it…it was a bitterly cold school night and a lackluster Cardinal performance.  But there’s something exciting about being in the middle of a sea of red.  Friendly Midwesterners chatted with us about our adventures, congratulated me on completing my set of parks, and talked about the team a little bit.  A relative of my wife even got us tickets for the day…and wouldn’t let us reimburse her!  With its downtown location and packed house, Busch creates the feel I like from Fenway of a carnival atmosphere for the ballgame, where everyone is excited and anticipating a great night while walking through the city.

Even so, I can’t help but think that Busch could have done much better.  It doesn’t quite celebrate the joy and history of such a great baseball town.  It’s just not quite enough.

And I should know.  I’ve been to all of the ballparks now.


Orlando Hernandez baffles the Cardinals with 7 innings of five-hit ball.  He also delivers a difference-making 2-RBI double.

Scott Rolen homers.

(Written August 2007.)

[Old] Busch Stadium

[Old] Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Number of Games:  2
First game:  June 14, 1993 (Cardinals 8, Pirates 3)
Last game:  May 30, 1997 (Cardinals 2, Dodgers 1)

Busch Stadium was demolished after the 2005 season.

Busch Stadium is an argument for stadium improvements.  Between my first visit in 1993 and my most recent visit in 1997, they’d made some changes that made Busch less cookie-cutter and more interesting.  In 1993, Busch was more or less an exact copy of Riverfront, Three Rivers, and The Vet, except that Busch had those nice little arches around the rim.  Now, although it doesn’t have the charm of a baseball-only stadium, it feels a lot nicer…real grass, mostly, and the removal of a section of seats to put in retired players’ pennants.  (At least I think that was done since 1993.  And I like the idea of a player having his own pennant.  Feels right.)  And there are an awful lot of pennants up there, which reminds you of the rich baseball history in St. Louis.

Which is a lot of the point.  St. Louis has a reputation as a great baseball town.  As I recall, in the heat of the Mark McGwire business in 1998, Sports Illustrated called it the best baseball town in America (which, I assume, means in the world).  And my experience in St. Louis backs that up.  I like the feeling of a crowd getting riled up late in the count in a crucial situation, all the while maintaining that Midwestern politeness I like so much (St. Louis has figured it out–at a baseball game, you can be polite and loud at the same time).  I like the way the ballpark is hard by downtown and that you can see the Gateway Arch rising above the ballpark–it therefore passes the “is there any question what city you’re in” test.  I would be happy to call Busch my home park, and I hope there doesn’t come a day when the Cardinals’ brass decides to abandon Busch Stadium for something more cutting-edge that produces more revenue.  (2005:  Alas, that day has come since I wrote those words four years ago.)

Also, Busch Stadium seems to understand the “less is more” idea of ballgame entertainment.  I don’t remember being ordered to cheer so often as I have been at other ballparks.  And my favorite part of each game was the immediate aftermath…no PA guy saying “thank you for coming,” at least not

immediately, but right away–DiamondVision highlights with Jack Buck’s call.  No “We win!” foolishness on the scoreboard…just the plays you want to get a look at in case you don’t catch SportsCenter.  It’s obviously run by somebody who understands that baseball is the entertainment instead of some excuse to make a theme park.

It was there that I saw Tim Wakefield at the nadir of his career, which came exactly one season after his huge 1992 debut.  He had been moved to the bullpen because he was suddenly losing.  He came on in relief in a blowout loss.  His knuckleball wasn’t finding the plate, so hitters would wait on that 2-0 or 3-0 70-mile-an-hour fastball, and they’d hit it.  Still, even when they’re not doing well, I love watching knuckleballers.  You expect to see this Pedro Martinez-style delivery–WHOOSH!!–and instead you get…whush.  The ball seems to flutter even from a distance.  I also like knuckleballers because, for a non-athlete like me (the fastest I’ve ever thrown a baseball is about 58 miles an hour), the knuckleball would be my only chance to make the major leagues.  I don’t care how much I work out, my genetics will not allow me to hurl a baseball the 88 miles an hour it would take to be even a borderline major leaguer.  But a knuckler–well, it’s a non-athletic move that beats athletes.  I remember Steve Sparks saying in an interview how he would slow down his pitches, then slow them down again, to make a huge guy like Chili Davis look ridiculous.  He said something like:  “Chili gets frustrated because he knows he’s a way better athlete than I am, and he still can’t hit me.”  Which is a fantasy I’ve had since elementary school…the idea that brains could beat brawn on the playing field.  It can’t…brains-with-brawn beats just-brawn.  Except for knuckleballers like Sparks or Wakefield striking out massive weight-room-enhanced power hitters.

So, on the whole, I was sad to see this ballpark fade away after the 2005 season.  It was somewhat charmless, sure, but now that the four worst of the cookie-cutters (Busch, Three Rivers, Riverfront, and Veterans) have all gone the way of the dodo, I do miss the dullness of them somehow.  In many ways, it’s preferable to the theme parks, especially in a baseball town like St. Louis.  I bet I’ll like the new place, but since the multi-purpose cookie-cutters were the rule of my youth, with all their problems, I’ll miss them a little.  Sentimental and foolish?  Sure.  But true.


Andy Van Slyke, then a Pirate, broke his collarbone jumping for a catch at the center field wall.  The ball ricocheted off his glove and over the fence for a home run, and Van Slyke was out for most of the rest of the season.

I saw an awesome, awesome game–one of the best I’ve seen–in 1997.  Ramon Martinez and Andy Benes were in a pitchers’ duel, but each delivered the key hit for his team…Benes a drive to the wall for an RBI double, Martinez a lucky roller down the third-base line for a leadoff double…he eventually scored.  It was 1-1 on those plays until the bottom of the ninth, when Gary Gaetti almost hit a homer to win it…caught at the wall.  Then St. Louis loaded the bases, Los Angeles brought on Mark Guthrie to face Delino DeShields, and he walked him on four pitches to end the game.  A little bit of a letdown, but that actually only added to the game’s charm somehow.

(Written August 2001.  Updated December 2005.)