© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
ST. LOUIS -- Down to the very last out, the stands were still full of Cardinals fans, all of them standing in red-clad unison, flashbulbs popping all around for the entire ninth inning.
It was a moment to remember. It was a moment to say farewell.
It just wasn't the moment anyone there was hoping would be the dying breath of Busch Stadium.
Alas, this wasn't how the script was supposed to be written for Busch Stadium's final game, was it? But October writes its own script, and the Astros wrote their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday night, not the beloved Cardinals.
So it was with a gentle golf clap instead of a thunderous roar that the last out at Busch Stadium was recorded, the ball off Yadier Molina's bat falling gently into the glove of Astros right fielder Jason Lane.
No shouts of joy. No trophy taking a victory lap. And the wrong team dancing on the infield.
The venue that hosted six World Series and eight National League Championship Series in its 40-year history had seen its last game.
Soon, a "Let's Go, Cardinals" chant started echoing through the place, with perhaps new meaning: Let's go next door, Cardinals -- next door to the new Busch Stadium that will open in 2006, its red bricks replacing the concrete, its view of the Gateway Arch replacing the arches that encircle the top of the upper deck, its history yet to be written as it replaces a stadium with so much history now confined to the record books.
"Time marches on," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt said in the quiet clubhouse afterward. "We've got a wonderful new facility that will open next year. It's still Busch Stadium. It's still the same place, the same location."
That said, even as DeWitt was uttering those words, thousands upon thousands of Cardinals fans just didn't want to let go. They stayed for more than an hour after the game, soaking in a video presentation and cheering former stars, then staying to cheer their current stars, who came back on the field for the ultimate curtain call.
The tribute marked the end of a month of tributes for the place and the people who played here, with Cardinals from the past and present taking in their last few sips of Busch Stadium from September to October.
Outside, there are statues of Stan Musial and several others who have made St. Louis baseball such a unique experience. Inside, there's been a statue-in-the-making in Albert Pujols, and the current superstar says there's a lot he'll miss about this place.
"Everything, man," Pujols said. "The fans, the players, the home runs I hit here, all the moments we had here the last two weeks of the season with every Hall of Famer coming through and the future Hall of Famers."
For Matt Morris, the memories were quite personal, and just as poignant.
"I grew up here," the career Cardinal said. "I grew up playing ball here. My whole professional life has been here. It's going to be disappointing to see it down, with all the memories I had, the good times and bad and what I've learned throughout the years. But I think the change will be good for the city and the team and the organization. Next year is a new year."
Ah, but the years rolled by in the mind's eye for so many Cardinals fans Thursday night. From the final days of Bob Gibson and Lou Brock to the first days of Pujols, from the Ozzie Smith homer to Big Mac's No. 62, they're really too numerous to mention.
But all of those memories and more came over the video board after the final out, with the image of Jack Buck -- the voice of the Cardinals for nearly 50 years -- drawing the first huge ovation, but not the last.
As the video rolled, the reality became clear. And the reality is this:
It's not about the concrete doughnut itself, or the grass or the seats. It's not about the unique structure, even if it's a circular image that will burn in many a baseball fan's eye for years to come.
It's about the people. It's about Bob Gibson. It's about Lou Brock. It's about Ozzie Smith. It's about Darryl Kile. It's about Tony La Russa. It's about Albert Pujols. It's about Jack Buck.
It's about the memories. And, be it as it may, Thursday night was another memory to put in the Busch Stadium scrapbook, the final entry.
But there are many more memories to be created for this proud franchise, and they will be created just a matter of yards away at the new yard next door. It'll be different, yet it'll be the same.
Busch Stadium is gone.
Long live Busch Stadium.