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Cards fans ready for playoffs
10/04/2004 10:08 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- It was a sea of red-shirted Cardinals fans, cheering under a sky as blue as any Cubs fan on Rally Monday under the Gateway Arch prior to Tuesday's start of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium.

That brought a special warmth on a chilly late afternoon, when more than 10,000 faithful from Cardinal Nation came to the Mississippi Riverfront, though the Cubbies were not the Big Blue team they're concerned with at the moment.

"We're going to welcome the Los Angeles Dodgers to town," said Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who won his first World Series ring 40 years ago, "and then we're gonna send them out of town!"

And venerated former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, who led this team to its last World Series in 1982, '85 and '87, said, "This is the team, and this is the year. ... When you win 105 games, that means you're the best team in baseball, and they are."

The Cardinals bullpen came en masse to talk to the crowd. Lefty Ray King, who pitched in last year's playoffs for Atlanta thanked "Walt Jocketty for getting me out of Atlanta and bringing me to the best city ever to play baseball."

Closer Jason Isringhausen, who grew up in Southern Illinois said, "I grew up knowing what you feel for this team, and what you've gone through -- and it's a privilege to play for you, and with this group of players."

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Fan zone

That brought a roar from the sea of jerseys that had numbers from 1 (Ozzie Smith) to 99 (So Taguchi). They wore red-and-white Mardi Gras beads, feather boas, flags, pennants, rally towels proclaiming St. Louis "Baseball City USA" ... and they came by the generations.

There was Mike Cooper with his 5-year-old son, Kyle. "I've been rooting for them since I was born, and so was he," Cooper said, while Kyle just said, "I like the Cardinals ... and Albert Pujols."

"I heard my first championship on the radio in 1949, and now my nephew is going to have his first championship," Vince Turner of St. Louis said, then pointed to his mother, Arlene. "She grew up a Browns fan ... and every year I thank her for having the decency to bring me into the world here in St. Louis!"

Marty Prather, "The Sign Man" from Springfield, Mo., put 225 more miles on an SUV that has logged more than 250,000 miles going to Cardinals games. "Wouldn't miss this," said Prather. "But I'll tell you, as arrogant as those Cub fans were this year, it may be nicer to be under a sky as blue as they are today! Go Cardinals!"

Prather brought some fresh signs to roll out for the Dodgers, and star closer Eric Gagne. He had just redone his Cub-O-Meter "97 Years of Frustration ... and counting." And his Cardinal Magic Number sign is set at 11 -- the number of wins needed for a world championship.

In one corner of the crowd, trying to keep from being obliterated by the music of Cowboy Mouth (and later a special tune written by St. Louis rapper Murphy Lee), Sister Jean Patrick Ehrhardt of Granite City, Ill., was remembering old friends dressed in the "alternate" Dominican postseason order of black veil and skirt -- and red jersey festooned with pins and beads.

"I'm 70, and I've been rooting a long time, but in 1999 a friend of mine, Peggy Morrison, had tickets to a lot of the games and she would take me," Sister Jean said. "The next year she died, but gave me the tickets and her Mark McGwire shirt. I would wear it to the park and feel like she was there with me. Since then my sister, my niece and the parishioners see I get to go to some games.

"Tomorrow I'll be watching on TV ... but I have to be careful. At my parish, there are a lot of Cub fans around, and you have to be gentle with them."

The number that Cardinals president Mark Lamping is focused on is 10. "We've had 10 years and five division championships with [manager] Tony La Russa and [general manager] Walt Jocketty," said Lamping. "And now we're looking to turn that 'Nine' into a '10' -- and you Cardinals fans know what I'm talking about."

The Cardinals have been at nine World Series titles and holding, since Herzog's 1982 team rallied to beat the Brewers.

As the rally died down, longtime friends and fans Debbie Smith and Gloria Harrell were getting their game faces on. "No carousing, no partying ... get some sleep because we've gotta go early tomorrow [game time is noon CT]," Smith said.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.