Watching the middle of this Championship Series has been slightly odder for me than it would be if it were taking place anywhere else in the National League. The ridiculously retentive reader will recall that my midsummer jaunt in 2006 was to the very same Busch Stadium we focus on now. I was in that building. I crossed those streets. I walked by that thing over there. That thing, too! And I was among The Best Fans In Baseball for three days.
I showed up in St. Louis with no affection for the home team and left with even less. That said, I had a nice time. I like seeing ballparks that are new to me, especially when they’re brand new to everybody. This Busch is a big improvement over the last one. It may not be the most original creation on Bud’s green earth, but it does the job. Open is better than circular. Smaller is better than oversized. A view of a city is better than looking at more of the same. Thousands of bricks, loads of concessions, wide concourses…it was everything you’d expect in the post-Camden era.
The Best Fans In Baseball, however, were a big disappointment. I waited to be swept up in some sort of Cardinal Nation fervor. Their Birds weren’t playing well at the time, but so what? Aren’t these the people from whose lips never pass a discouraging word? Isn’t this the crowd that prostrated itself at the feet of Larry Walker just for waiving his no-trade? What could one say about St. Louis’ baseball faithful that hadn’t been said repeatedly?
How about this?
When I think about them, I quote myself:
they boo bad things, they cheer good things, they say lame things, they wear red things
Except for the color scheme, the same could be said of ballpark patrons anywhere, even Shea. Still, they were supposed to be better than us, better than everybody. Perhaps I just didn’t find the right row in St. Louis. Perhaps there were guys two sections over trading charming remembrances of Stan the Man while showering unwavering support upon Jeff Weaver, my night’s starting pitcher. Perhaps, but I doubt it. Where Stephanie and I sat, we were subject to the rantings of a Missouri moron (unless he crossed the Eads Bridge from Illinois). As Weaver weaved his way into deeper and deeper trouble, this is what he yelled over and over and over:
“Hey! Do you wanna be in the MINORS or do you wanna be in the MAJORS? Do you wanna be in the MINORS or do you wanna be in the MAJORS? Do you wanna be in the MINORS or do you wanna be in the MAJORS?”
The consensus of us visitors from the east: What a fucking idiot.
Tough to judge 42,000 by the actions of one, but I didn’t sense a great deal of baseball savvy at Busch Stadium in early August. Not a lot of engagement, just a lot of red. Blame it on lousy play (Cards were losing all week), blame it on oppressive weather (triple-digit heat wave), blame it on Midwestern bearing (not a crime, just a difference; I love Midwesterners so much I married a gal from Wichita). Whatever the cause, Cardinals fans could have been Astros fans if I didn’t know where I was.
So should we spit at those Spiezio patches they’ve glued to their chins? Should we note they’ve fallen for one false home run idol in the past decade and seem to have chosen another with feet (or at least the personality) of clay? Should we feel superior to them because we’re noisier, ballsier and more passionate in an inning than they are in a night and, I suspect, a season?
Oh absolutely. That’s what playoffs are about. We pump ourselves up and tear our opponents down. They look like dopes with the red tape on their faces. Pujols is rapidly turning into Barry Bonds minus the charm. They don’t know strike two from ball three.
We can tell ourselves that. It’s part of the stakes. It’s fun. We’re not here for sociological studies and we don’t have to pass a test in accuracy. We’re here to wave our banner and burn somebody else’s.
I’m all for that.
But we have idiots, too. Our idiots are louder which is great unless they’re ear-splitting when you crave a moment’s peace (which you shouldn’t if you’re a part of the National League Championship Series, but you’re only human and an aging one at that). Our idiots are probably drunker, but I have only anecdotal evidence to back me up. I don’t know how the handful of Mets fans at Busch are being treated, but I can tell you the handful of Cards fans at Shea won’t soon forget being told what “assholes” they are for being Cards fans. In principle, I agree — I mean you’re wearing an Eckstein jersey here? But in the interest of civility, I’d prefer to smile at you and watch you sink into your seat while one Carlos or another rounds the bases. Indeed, before Game Two turned dreadful, one St. Louis sympathizer angrily pulled his red windbreaker over his head and waved it in an act of defiance literally two seconds before Delgado went deep. He melted into the mezzanine thereafter and was never seen again.
New York Mets fans at least are sophisticated, right? They know their baseball. Take the guy who sat behind me Friday night. He was proudly telling somebody that he’s always loathed the Cardinals, especially that damn Willie McGee, who was, according to him, “the Yadier Molina of 1978”. McGee would hit .200 against everybody, except against the Mets. Yup, that’s what he said.
This, after hearing him hold court for several innings, is what I said:
“WILLIE McGEE WON A BATTING TITLE!”
That wasn’t an itinerant Redbird rooter taking his life into his hands on behalf of his former MVP. That was me, the biggest Mets fan I know, turning around and shutting him, the dumbest Mets fan I’d heard, up. Willie McGee hit .353 in 1985, for crissake. Willie McGee hit .295 for his career. Willie McGee actually won two batting titles. And Willie McGee was a low-minors farmhand with the Yankees in 1978. I didn’t show up at Shea to defend the legacy of Willie McGee, but in the name of all that is Jose, get your facts approximately straight.
I don’t discriminate. I hate idiot fans of all stripe.