Day 7: Busch Stadium, St. Louis

September 3, 2011

Cardinals 6, Reds 4. W: Jaime Garcia. L: Homer Bailey. S: Jason Motte.

The Stadium:

Busch Stadium was built about five years ago right next to the old Busch Stadium, which has since been torn down. I think I actually remember seeing pictures of the upper decks of the two stadiums overlapping in one of the outfield corners during the final season of the old one. In any event, Busch’s façade is red with the bluish-greenish steel girders that seem like they’re everywhere these days.

Main entrance to Busch Stadium

Out front is a statue of Stan the Man Musial, who is baseball royalty in this town.

Stan the Man Musial gets primo placement in front of the stadium.

The overhang on the top of the upper deck is supported by arches, which may have been added to recall the top of the old Busch Stadium. Or maybe they’re just arches. The stadium looks pretty cool from the top of The Arch, too.

Busch Stadium from the top of the Gateway Arch.

One neat thing they have in the main concourse is the out-of-town scoreboards from the old stadium. An usher told me that the scoreboards were frozen the moment the last game at the old stadium ended so the scores you see on them now are the scores around the league from that moment.

National League scoreboard from the old Busch Stadium

And the American League. The left side has the Dow Jones average from that day (10,568.70).

The Experience:

Cardinals fans are fantastic fans, definitely the best I’ve seen and maybe the best in baseball. We walked by Busch Stadium on the way to The Arch around noon and there were already fans lining up in front of the stadium for the game. This was over three hours before the game was set to start. Granted today was beer stein giveaway day (more on this in a bit) so there was reason to line up, but three hours is very early for a baseball game. Further, Cardinals fans did an excellent job of showing up in their team colors. Basically everyone in the stadium wears red and white to the game, which is both a great show of support and a cool sight when the stadium is full.

As for the beer steins, major kudos to the Cardinals for giving away something this sweet. Most of the time when you go to a promotion night at the ballpark, you get a cheapo water bottle or bag that falls apart after a week or that you would never use or some other team-branded trash. Bobblehead day is a good day, although bobbleheads aren’t the most useful things. This beer stein on the other hand is great. First: it feels solid, made out of porcelain (not exactly fine porcelain, but that doesn’t really matter), and nothing like the cheap stuff you often get at stadiums. Second: the graphic design was great—it had pennants from each year the team won the World Series—and made you appreciate the long and storied history of the team. Third: it is huge; later field testing revealed that each stein held more than two bottles of beer. Fourth: I’m usually not a supporter of corporatization of baseball, but being that the stadium is Busch Stadium I thought a beer stein was an a propos giveaway. Great job, Cardinals. One funny thing about the steins is that they appeared to be so popular that fans were entering the stadium, claiming their steins, and going home. In fact, one lady outside the stadium was trying to buy tickets from scalpers for cheap just so she could get the stein and go home. By my scientific estimation, this tactic accounted for 75% of the empty seats in the stadium that day. In any event, I have two steins now. Next time you come by I’ll pour you a beer or two in one.

If you find yourself in St. Louis for a Cardinals game, I’d recommend trying to sit behind home plate in the upper deck. I’m only a few stops into the trip at this point but I don’t imagine there will be a better view from a seat than here. Check it out:

The view from the upper deck is awesome.

It’s a view of the downtown skyline of the city, with The Arch over the centerfield fence. Pretty fantastic. (The Arch, by the way, is better in person than I thought it would be. I can’t imagine a massive non-functional landmark like that being built today.) I believe the domed building over the left field wall is the Old Courthouse.

The jumbotron over the right field wall was large and clear and had plenty of information. One interesting thing about the jumbotron is that it displayed throughout the game all sorts of information about the history of the Reds and major accomplishments of Reds players as they came up to bat. This was surprising. I don’t remember any other stadium being as welcoming to the opposing team as the Cardinals (or at least the Cardinals’ jumbotron) were to the Reds.

Quirks of the presentation:

  • 7th inning stretch: TMOTTB was led by a group of moppets who came out onto the field in right. They were the Hillsboro second grade Hop’n Hawks. Adorable. They had choreographed hand gestures and everything.
  • Before the top of the eighth, the jumbotron played the old Budweiser song and the jumbotron showed a Clydesdales video. It’s a good song, but there’s not much for fans to do.

The Game:

This game looked like it might be a shootout going in as the Reds and Cardinals both have good offenses and both pitchers—Jaime Garcia for the Cards and Homer Bailey for the Reds—had been struggling coming in. And it started out that way. Brandon Phillips led off the game with a single and a stolen base, and then came around to score on a double by Edgar Renteria. Fun fact: the Cardinals fans booed Brandon Phillips heartily every time he came to bat. Anyone want to fill me in on the history? I’m sure I’m forgetting something obvious. The Reds added another run in the second on a single, a two-base error by Matt Holliday, and another single. But Jaime Garcia settled in and didn’t allow another run through six innings.

Bailey, on the other hand, appeared to be serving up batting practice. The first inning went fine, but Bailey couldn’t hold the 2-0 lead the Reds gave him. The Cardinals knocked out three hits and two runs in the second, and then three more runs on two hits in the third. Bailey was pulled after that and the Reds bullpen held the Cardinals scoreless the rest of the way. The Reds never really managed to get much going on a comeback attempt. They scored two runs in the eighth on a two-run homer by Jay Bruce but it never really felt like they were back in the game. The Cardinals won, 6-4. Jason Motte came in for a five-out save. Unfortunately, Motte hasn’t been a closer long enough to warrant a closer video so there was little fanfare when he came in the game. Albert Pujols went 2 for 3 with a double, a run, an RBI, and one intentional walk. That dude is good at baseball.

We also got our first rain of the trip at Busch Stadium. The weather was predicted to be as high as 100 for game day. The weather was hot in the morning, but clouds started rolling in shortly after first pitch. In the second or third inning some steady but light rain started falling and we heard some thunder in the near distance. Many fans retreated for cover but some (including us) stayed out. And the game never got stopped. This was the same storm, or at least a storm on the same day, as the ones that cancelled college football games at Michigan and West Virginia. But the umps didn’t appear to ever consider delaying the game and the tarp never came out on the field.

The Food:

The food at Busch Stadium was pretty tremendous. I had heard beforehand that toasted ravioli is one of the big local delicacies that you have to try while you’re in St. Louis (that and fried brain sandwiches) and that the ones in the stadium were pretty good. But once inside, I couldn’t find them anywhere. I asked around and nobody could tell me where they were either. (Traveler’s note aside: after going to all these stadiums and trying to find the specialty food, I’ve learned that the people to ask about this sort of thing are not the people actually selling the food. Most or all of the people selling the food work for a food supply or catering type company that provide everyone from the cashiers to the cooks to the beer guys walking up and down the aisles. These people apparently know nothing about the stadium other than what they’re brought to the stadium to sell. Every time I asked a food guy where something was, they either gave me a blank stare or retrieved a sheet of paper that lists all of the food sold in the ballpark and where it can be located. Specialty items aren’t always on there (maybe because they’re special and not made by the food service company?). In any event, the people to ask are the ushers. They work for the stadium, more often than not know the place inside and out, and are generally happy that people are talking to them instead of viewing them as an obstacle to getting better seats. Also, don’t ask the people selling the programs and scorecards for anything. For some reason they tended to be grumpy, probably because nobody ever buys anything from them anymore. End of aside.) What the stadium had instead was fried cannelloni. You get about eight of them and they’re served with a side of marinara sauce. St. Louis is evidently known for their Italian food and these were no exception. Tasty stuff, and a nice change from what you normally get at the ballpark.

Fried cannelloni with the best view in town.

But the real crowning achievement was the special jumbo hot dog, available at maybe only one place in the stadium. This thing was a jumbo hot dog, wrapped in bacon, and topped with baked beans, BBQ sauce, and fried onions. Similar to the one we had in Toronto but better, probably because Toronto’s were old because nobody was there to buy them. Wesley said that she was hoping it would be bad or at least just OK so that she didn’t have to eat it. But no. It was tremendous. A+

Greatest ballpark hot dog ever.

To drink, we sampled a pale ale and a hefeweizen from the local Schlafly brewery. Great beers. And a great value, too. I think a pint of the Schlafly draft was less than a dollar more than the bottled (i.e., 12 ounce) other fancy beers they were selling at the same stand. The local beers can sometimes be more difficult to find, especially in Busch stadium where Bud was everywhere, but they are always worth the extra money.

St. Louis also had the return of the Food Network kiosk. Come up with something different, Food Network! You can’t pass the same sandwich off as signature in every city that has a baseball stadium!

You can't put anything past me, Food Network!

All in all, Busch Stadium was a pretty great experience. The fans are crazy about their team. The team’s slogan is We Are Cardinal Nation, but it also becomes “We Are [fill in the blank].” One of the blanks made it “We Are 46,377 on a Tuesday Night,” implying that the Cardinals will sell out a big stadium anytime for any game. And it’s pretty much true. The fans are remarkably passionate and that took an already good stadium up another level. Definitely my favorite stadium of the trip so far.

Next stop: Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

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