10/09/2002 9:49 pm ET
Cards fans come ready to play
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- They were there two hours early, thousands of them, all decked out in red, dancing to the live band and waiting for the baseball party to start.
"When the Cardinals are in the playoffs, the whole city celebrates," said Anita Warren of St. Louis. "The Cardinals are the spirit of St. Louis and we love them."
Warren has been coming to Cardinals games, regular season and playoff, ever since 1982, when her newly adopted team beat the Braves three straight games in the NLCS. She knows the routine.
"You get here early, you wear red and you have a good time," Warren said. "Then you go in the park and the Cardinals win, and everybody goes home happy."
On Wednesday afternoon, downtown St. Louis was the epitome of a great Midwest baseball town. Special flags were flying everywhere. Shopkeepers put signs in their windows. "Go Cards" banners were draped on monstrous buildings.
The closer you got to Busch Stadium, the more you sensed the crisp playoff air and the excitement it induces.
"The tickets are expensive, but they're worth it," said Agatha Burns of St. Louis, wearing a very large Mark McGwire jersey over at least three other layers of red shirts. "I just know our boys are going to win the World Series."
Agatha brought her sister, Madelyn, to the game because her husband, Jim, wouldn't promise that he wouldn't root for San Francisco. Jim had spent a few years in northern California after a tour in the Navy, and was never able to rid himself of his fondness for the Giants.
"I love the man but he just doesn't understand," Agatha said. "The Cardinals need our support tonight. It's nothing personal."
Agatha then looked around and tried to decide what she wanted to do next. There were plenty of options. Surrounding her were two dozens booths and tents, set up around the monuments, memorials and special statues outside Busch Stadium.
A fan with a little time and a whole lot of energy could pitch a baseball and be measured for speed by a radar gun, hit a baseball in a batting cage or do a little putting on an artificial green shaped like a baseball diamond.
There were giveaways, handouts, freebies, signups and live remotes. But there were no rally monkeys, foam tomahawks or homer hankies to be found. Just a sea of red shirts, hats, jackets and sweaters.
Even the nuns going to the game wore red habits.
St. Louis is pure baseball.
No contrived images.
Their great Cardinals heroes are also remembered with signs under flags above right-center field. They are fondly remembered by their first names only. They are Dizzy, Ozzie, Stan "The Man," Gibby, Rogers, Lou, Red, Enos, Kenny and Gussie.
Recently, they added Jack.
No one who regularly wears red to games in St. Louis will soon forget Jack Buck, the long-time Cardinals broadcaster who died this summer. They also lost Enos "Country" Slaughter, Darrell Porter and Darryl Kile during the regular season.
"It was rough, losing all those great men," Warren said.
Cardinals fans have set up small shrines dedicated to Buck and Kile at an alcove next to the administrative entrance to Busch Stadium. On Wednesday afternoon, there was a fresh row of flowers and a couple of new, hand-written letters in front of the photos of Buck and Kile.
Out on the plaza, next to the bronze form of Slaughter sliding into second base, was a bouquet of 48 red and white roses. The card read, "Daddy, I know you are proud of our Cardinals. We're remembering you tonight."
It was signed, "Love, Gaye, Sharon and Rhonda."
All part of the family.
"Cardinals fans never forget," Warren said as she turned and disappeared into a sea of red.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.