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03/31/07 10:10 PM ET

Cards get more than a W out of win

St. Louis players take in experience of Civil Rights Game

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- At the end of a weekend of celebrations, discussions and education, the Cardinals played a baseball game.

For history's sake, it should be noted that they won. But St. Louis players were fully aware that their 5-1 victory over the Indians in the inaugural Civil Rights Game presented by AutoZone was not just another exhibition game.

For many, it was the capper of an eye-opening weekend. Some players and coaches visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Even without a visit, though, it was impossible not to take in the experience of the unique event.

"I'm just glad that I played in the first one," said Cardinals star Albert Pujols, who went 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI. "I think it's awesome. You need to remember those guys that opened the door for us who played in the past. It's an honor to be in one of these games."

From a baseball perspective, the game had more than ordinary value, as well. The Cardinals faced a dangerous team. They played in front of a crowd bigger than any they saw in Grapefruit League play.

With Opening Night coming on Sunday, the defending World Series champions partook in the closest thing possible to a simulation of regular-season game conditions.

"We've been playing these meaningless Spring Training games every day," said infielder Aaron Miles. "To actually have a big game before Opening Day kind of gets you almost ready for Opening Day. It was fun."

The Cardinals arrived in Memphis on Friday, flying straight from Spring Training in Florida and playing an exhibition against their Triple-A affiliate on Friday night. They squeezed in what they could of the festivities, played in the Civil Rights Game on Saturday, then took off for St. Louis for their regular-season opener on Sunday night.

The schedule was not what they would have chosen, but at the end of the weekend few were complaining. That was especially true for those who visited the museum.

"I went with a friend of mine and he had to walk out of the room," said Pujols. "He almost started crying. It was a pretty tough situation, what those people had to go through. You don't want to go through that, but just because of them, we have the honor. We're pretty much equal now."

Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright got the most out of both the ballgame and the weekend. On the field, Wainwright pitched five innings for the win, allowing just one run to the team that finished second in the Majors in scoring in 2006.

"There were some things today that I did very poorly," he said. "I didn't locate my curveball very good. My slider was up the whole time. So to come away from facing a lineup like that the way I did with all those hazards, I guess it was a positive."

Participating in an event that commemorated the nation's history, Wainwright actually became a part of baseball's historical record. His cap was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

But even that wasn't what stuck with Wainwright the most. His visit to the National Civil Rights Museum had a deep effect on the young right-hander.

"There are some really great people that are in that museum that you can learn from," he said. "There's a thing where you walk up to where Martin Luther King was assassinated, and you get a weird, eerie kind of sad feeling when you walk by something like that. I'm glad to have it."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.