It’s always great to be the best at something. In Lexington, Ky., their fans believe that they have the best college basketball team. In Tuscaloosa, Ala., they give their college football team undying love. And in Green Bay, those cheeseheads realize that their faithful support of the Packers is second to none.
In St. Louis, we are living in the baseball capital of the world: We know it. The players know it. Even the networks know it.
Former pitcher Bob Shirley, who played for the Cardinals and Padres, put it best in one memorable quote: Tradition here in St. Louis is Stan Musial coming to the clubhouse and making the rounds. Tradition in San Diego is Nate Colbert coming into the clubhouse and trying to sell you a used car.
Opening Day in St. Louis is an illustration of why we do baseball better than anybody else. I have been to about 25 of them (and covered 19). It never gets old. I try to get my interviews and editing as quickly as possible so I can have time to just milk it and feel proud to be a St. Louisian. I want to see the Hall-of-Famers in their custom-made Cardinal-red sport coats. I want to see the players hop out of those cars and take a bow. I want to see who gets the loudest ovation. I want to see younger players shake hands with the older ones. I want to see a former Cardinal throw a strike for the ceremonial first pitch.
I want to see those majestic Clydesdales trot all proud as if they know they are part of the best opening day in baseball. The music is just a beer slogan called Here Comes The King; however, when we hear it, we think baseball, Gussie Busch and Hall-of-Famers. I had a friend from out of town tell me that it’s just some bad polka music. I wanted to fight him. That’s our music. That’s our Opening Day music. How dare him say that about our song!
The best part of Opening Day is when the gates open up in right field. And Stan the Man comes out in a golf cart. It doesn’t really matter if he can’t hit or throw anymore. Just to have him smile and wave—and see him with Red, Lou, Gibby, Bruce, Ozzie and Whitey.
Stan may be from Denora, but he is St. Louis. Ted Williams was arrogant so it’s fitting that he was a Boston Red Sox. Joe Dimaggio was aloof and unapproachable, so it’s appropriate he played for the New York Yankees. Musial is the nicest, most unassuming sports legend—perhaps in the entire country. He symbolizes Cardinal baseball. So when he’s introduced on Opening Day, no matter if I have seen him countless times, I get a lump in my throat the size of a softball.
Opening Day is the end of winter’s long and cold nap. The tarp is pulled back. It’s the return of green. It’s a glorious rite of spring.
We know they have been playing baseball in Florida during spring training. But that doesn’t count. It’s always warm in Florida. When there is baseball in St. Louis, it’s going to be warm and warmer. We will be wearing short sleeves and shorts soon. We will be grilling outside and hitting golf balls. We know that because baseball is back. And nobody does baseball or Opening Day like we do in St. Louis.
Five Suggestions for Opening Day:
1. Arrive downtown three hours before game time. You have to take it all in. They arrive late in L.A. We don’t in our town. You would miss everything.
2. When you are allowed to actually enter the stadium, head down to the firstbase side. That’s the Cardinal dugout area. You have a better chance for an autograph. The players to ask are the younger ones. They are still excited that people would actually ask for their autograph. Albert, for instance, signed once every five years.
3. Bring some headphones. Listen to Mike and John. Baseball on radio is still a beautiful thing.
4. Take your kids out of school. Math and science can take a back seat for one day to Wainwright and Berkman. They will forget the day at school. They will never forget an Opening Day at Busch.
5. Throughout the day, remember this quote from Pete Rose on the thrill of Opening Day: It’s like Christmas, except it’s warmer.