Games 2 & 3: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City & Busch Stadium, St. Louis

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It’s the first week of the season and I’m already straying from my original itinerary. I ended my last post saying I’d be in Atlanta next, but I underestimated the allure of Opening Day at both of my home ballparks.

So, surprise! Games 2 & 3 ended up being in Kansas City and St. Louis!

Okay, so only one of those is truly “home”. Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals, has been my hometown ballpark my entire life. I’ve grown up going to dozens of games every year. One year I even made it to 22 games. Unfortunately, the Royals lost 106 games that year, and they were something like 4-18 when I was present. Bad luck? Maybe in 2005. But so far in 2014, I’ve been pretty lucky.

But Busch Stadium feels like home too. St. Louis isn’t my hometown, and I’ve never spent time in STL with a purpose besides watching Cardinal baseball games. But Cardinal fandom is in my blood. I was wearing the Birds on the Bat when I was a newborn baby. I could pick out and tell you the names of all of my Cardinal baseball cards before I could read: Jack Clark, Ozzie Smith, Jose, Oquendo, Willie McGee. Those names are important to who I am as a baseball fan. Especially Ozzie.

My dad and I were tallying it up on the drive home from STL on Monday, and we’ve been to 7 games over the past 3 years there including the 2012 NLDS Game 2 and 2013 World Series Game 4.

St. Louis isn’t home, but Busch Stadium certainly feels like it.

Originally, I was supposed to have a seminary class meeting on the day of the Royals home opener. It got rescheduled two weeks ago, and I forgot to change it in my phone. I woke up Friday morning with no plans of going to The K, remembered I didn’t have class and figured there was no good reason why I shouldn’t be there for the home opener.

So I called my wife at work, hopped on StubHub, and made it just in time to see jazz saxophonist, Michael Phillips, drop the most impressive rendition of the Star Spangled Banner I’ve ever heard. Here’s the video…

…absolutely terrible footage of the flyover at the end there. The camera crew underestimated how long Phillips could hold that crazy long note. How insane was that?!

Since I’m a conflicted fan with loyalties on both sides of the great state of Missouri (I’m watching both games simultaneously right now), I decided it was only fitting that I make it out to the Cardinals home opener on Monday too. Thankfully, Monday is my day off, so I was free to make the drive to STL and back. My dad finagled his way out of work to join me.

Before this year, I had never been to a home opener in my life.

Now I’ve been to 3.

I was in Cincinnati for Game 1 of the season and watched them fall to the Cardinals 1-0. And while it certainly was the right place to begin this ballpark tour, I’m glad I chose to switch things up and hit these two parks earlier than originally planned. From a historical and traditional perspective, Cincinnati was the right choice. From a personal identity standpoint, it was important that I make it to the Royals and Cardinals next.

We’ve all constructed our own identities when it comes to being fans. Our family of origin and our surrounding environment have shaped which teams we cheer for and which teams we despise. We have our favorite players from the past – it’s no mystery why my two all-time favorites are Ozzie Smith and Bo Jackson.*

* – Also Nolan Ryan, but we’ll talk about him when I’m in Arlington/Houston next week.

We’ve been groomed into our current fandom, and I find myself trying to fit the awkward mold of both Kansas City and St. Louis fan.

Royals fans cannot stand the Cardinals or their fans. They’re annoyed of their history of success, but even more so by their arrogance. The Cardinals throw around phrases like “Cardinal Nation” and “The Best Fans in Baseball,” and I admit that even I am irked by those ideals.

I’ve heard Royals fans refer to the Cardinals as the “Yankees of the National League.” Sure, like the Yankees, they can boast the most success of any team in their League, and they both have the history of success throughout the decades, but I don’t fully support that parallel. The Cardinals farm system and scouting department is what has brought them their recent success. The Yankees hit big on drafting Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, but overall they’ve just been flexing their lucrative muscles and shelling out the millions.

But to Royals fans, it’s all the same. They’ve all got more money to throw around than KC does. It’s an unfair game and the power is always unbalanced in baseball, and the Royals are on the wrong side of the teeter-totter.

And the Cardinals are the primary target of their frustration.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have decades of National League rivalries that take their primary focus. The Cubs and Cardinals have been going at it since the late 1800s, and is one of the perennial rivalries in the game. The Cardinals have also had frustration with teams like the Reds and Mets and others over the years depending on the success of each franchise. The Royals definitely aren’t at the top of their rivalry list.

But what the Cardinals fans do get ticked off about: the 1985 World Series against the Royals.

The Cardinals were up 3 games to 2 over KC with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. They were three outs away from a championship when Don Denkinger blew a call at first base. Jorge Orta hit a chopper to first, and pitcher Todd Worrell was covering and clearly beat Orta to the bag. But Denkinger called Orta safe, and the Royals went on to score 2 runs and win the game. Then they went on to crush St. Louis in Game 7 for their first and only World Series trophy.

Royals fans and Cardinals fans will both read that last paragraph and feel vastly different emotions.

Royals fans feel a rush of excitement and may even laugh at the misfortune of the Cardinals. But deep down, if they’re honest about it, their conflicted and a maybe even embarrassed that it took a bad call for them to win their only World Series.

Cardinals fans are immediately enraged and start reminding everyone that they should have 12 championships instead of just 11 – as if that’s a low number or something. But deep down, if they’re honest about it, they know two things about how that Series ended: the Royals still may have rallied in the 9th (they scored 2, after all), and that they still had a chance to win Game 7 and got shellacked. That series is the only real reason the Cardinals dislike the Royals at all. Over one botched call in 1985.

But it’s significant. And it only adds to why my position as a fan can get awkward.

Ninety percent of the time, it’s not an issue. But sometimes my Royals friends get on my case about being a traitor or an impostor or a typical arrogant Cardinals fan. And sometimes my Cardinals friends (especially my dad) will get to griping about 1985, and I don’t know which side to take.

I don’t remember it. I wasn’t rooting for either team. When Denkinger missed the call, I was a fetus. I wasn’t born until March 1986. If I remembered it, I’d probably know how to pick a side and wouldn’t be so split. Those who follow me on Twitter know I spend equal time supporting both teams.

But here’s usually how that goes during the season:

  • March/April/May – Heavy on the Royals talk.
  • June/July/August – Pretty evenly split.
  • September/October – Heavy on the Cardinals talk.

Why? Because every year I hope that this is the year the Royals make the playoffs for the first time since Denkinger’s call. I want it for my hometown team because I’ve never experienced it myself. Plus, rooting for the underdog rubs off on you over the years. It starves you into wanting it more and more.

Maybe this is the year.

I’ve experienced two Cardinals World Series championships in my lifetime*, and the Cardinals make regular trips to the playoffs. As a Cards fan, I never begin the season saying, “maybe this is the year,” because nearly every year is the year for them. Cardinals fans have grown accustomed to success, so Opening Day is a celebration of the previous season – not necessarily the hope for a new season.

* – For the record, if the Cardinals and Royals met in the World Series today, I would root for the Royals because I’ve never seen them win one, but more importantly: the fans deserve it more.

So the cycle begins with lots of Royals talk. High hopes for the season. But by July or August, it starts to look like the Royals might be out of the playoffs again, and the Cardinals are gearing up for another postseason run. Thus, my Twitter activity slowly shifts, and by October, it’s all Cardinals all the time.

I experienced this difference in the home openers this week too.

The Royals home opener was high on energy and hope. The fans want to get over the hump and make it into October. The team is better than its been in 20 years, and they actually have a shot at making the postseason. These are our hometown boys and maybe – just maybe – this is our year. Will Moose show up this year? Will we have a single player hit 20 home runs this year? How will Yordano Ventura be as good as we all hope he is? Was Vargas worth picking up? Can our bullpen match their success last year?* Maybe if we come out on the right side of all these questions, we can make it to October.

* – So far, the answer are: No. No. Yes. Yes. No. But it’s early…

The Cardinals home opener was high on tradition and celebration. The pre-game fanfare includes a procession of all the living Hall of Famers into the stadium along with the World Series and NL Championship trophies down on the field. The players come in on F-150s and are announced individually over the PA like they’re celebrities. Because they are – they’ve proven their worth and the fans celebrate their successes as a team. It’s a presentation of Cardinal baseball over the years. It’s a celebration of what they’ve accomplished in the past with a nod toward more success in the coming year.

In retrospect, the home openers couldn’t have been more different. Other than the fact that the “good guys” won in both cities.

I’m really looking forward to experiencing the perspective other fans across the nation over the course of this season. Next week is the start of The Smorgasbord section of my ballpark tour: ATL, TEX, HOU, ARI and SD starting this Sunday. I’m really excited to experience life in each of these stadiums.

Game Notes:

CWS @ KC

The home opener in Kansas City was cold. In the 40s and completely overcast and windy the whole game. The Royals bats, however, were hot, and they put up 7 runs on 13 hits – 8 of the by the first 3 batters, Aoki/Infante/Hosmer – en route to a 7-5 victory over the White Sox. It was Gordon who did the most damage though, doubling with the bases loaded for 3 RBI.

Since the third game of the Detroit series got rained out, I was hoping the starters would just get pushed back a day and we’d get to see Ace Ventura start for the opener. Instead, they skipped his start and stayed with Guthrie, who pitched alright considering the conditions. He walked 4 batters, which is kinda awful, but Ned Yost left him in too long and he got into some trouble in the 6th causing Kelvin Herrera to inherit some runners who eventually scored. 4 R on 7 H for Guthrie.

The bullpen has not been sharp to start the season. They were incredible last year. I’m missing Hochevar, and I hope Holland, Crow and Collins (although he didn’t pitch in this game) return to form soon. Wade Davis, on the other hand, has been our best bullpen guy so far.

The K was packed – over 40,000 fans – despite the cold weather.

Quick soap box: I wish Kauffman Stadium was downtown instead of being out near nothing, practically in Independence, MO. The Royals don’t draw 40,000 fans nearly ever during the season because it’s such a chore to get out to the game. It’s way easier to just watch the game on TV. So Opening Day is packed, and the rest of our games hover around 14,000.

If the ballpark was downtown, the team would draw so many more fans every game. Every single guy working downtown would get off work and walk over to the game. I work a couple miles south of downtown, and I would love to get off work, drive north, find a side street to park on and walk to the game. It’s so much more work to drive out to I-70/I-435, pay $11 to park, and drive all the way home.

I love the new performing arts center downtown, but I’d much rather it be a ballpark.

Final note: I love beating the White Sox.

CIN @ STL

I wonder how many fans at the home opener had already seen these two teams play each other this year?

Interesting that after today, the Cardinals will have played 9 games, 6 of them against the Reds. The pitching match ups are the same too. The rotations lined up for a rematch between the NLCS MVP Michael Wacha for STL against Tony Cingrani for CIN.

Neither Wacha or Cingrani were extremely sharp, and both teams had a lot of opportunities, but the Cardinals seemed to be the only ones who could cash in. Yadier Molina hit a bases clearing double in the bottom of the 1st to take a 3-0 lead which seemed to set the tone throughout.

Players for both teams finally got their first hit of the season. Reds leadoff speedster, Billy Hamilton, who has been royally disappointing thus far, got his first hit of the season, and so did Peter Bourjos, who the Cardinals acquired from the Angels in the David Freese trade. Nobody likes to have a .000 batting average (see Mike Moustakas’s single in last night’s Rays/Royals game), and it was good to see them both get their first knock.

Brayan Pena went 3-4 with two doubles. Unfortunately for the Reds, all three hits came with the bases empty.

It wasn’t close until late. Cards closer, Trevor Rosenthal, pitched the 9th in a non-save situation and promptly walked the first two batters who came around to score. He eventually settled down and the Cards won 5-3.

Attendence: 47,492. Busch Stadium was packed despite the drizzly weather. It rained hard all morning but turned into a beautiful day by the late innings. Thankfully, I’d picked up tickets on the second level underneath the upper deck. The only thing the rain messed up: the Budweiser Clydesdales didn’t march around the warning track like they’d planned.

The Cardinals also opened up “Ballpark Village” on Monday along with the new Cardinals Hall of Fame. In a style similar to Wrigley Field in Chicago, the new structure across the street from the left field stands had rooftop seats that look into Busch.

The HOF was good, but it was packed like sardines on a rainy home opener. One funny note: it was hilarious to see the sections devoted to the 1950s and 1970s – both very bleak eras of Cardinal history – that only had one little corner dedicated to those years, while years like 1946 or 1964 had entire rooms with memorabilia.

The 40s, 60s, 80s and 00s have been huge decades for the Cardinals. 50s and 70s and 90s…not so much.

Interesting personal note: every time my dad and I go to STL, we always go to Hardees for some reason. This trip was less than 24 hours, and we managed to go twice: for breakfast on the way out, and for dinner on the way home.

Three games down. Twenty-seven to go.

Up next: Atlanta. (For real this time.)

-apc.

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