How long have I been a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals? Since Bob Gibson and the World Series victories of the 60’s. When will it end? I have to know if there is baseball in Heaven before I can tell you. And I believe there is.
A true baseball fan never abandons the team he or she loves. They live and breathe and die with the team. In the 1960’s I got to experience my Cardinals win the World Series against the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I got to experience the defeat in seven games by the Detroit Tigers and Mickey Lolich their star pitcher in 1968. And I followed them mostly by the sports page in the Mason City Globe Gazette. And sometimes second hand when I listened to the Twins’ games on radio with Great Grandpa Milo Raymond. I followed the individual players and their numbers. Curt Flood, the center fielder was a vacuum cleaner with legs in center field. Lou Brock could steal a base, though he was even more amazing at it in the 1970’s with veteran savvy and know-how on his side. Gibson was extraordinary as pitcher. And I followed the others too. Dal Maxvill at short stop, Tim McCarver at catcher. Mike Shannon at third. And a fading Roger Maris in right field, having never reached the heights again as the Yankee slugger who hit 61 home runs in 1961.
I watched and waited in the 1970’s, when I could follow them on television at least occasionally. I didn’t get more World Series victories that decade, but I listened to the ball game on radio when Bob Gibson pitched his no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was giddy about the base stealing record that Lou Brock set in the 70’s, later to be eclipsed by Ricky Henderson. I followed Ted Simmons, the catcher, and Joe Torre the third baseman.
The 1980’s brought more World Series with victory in 1981 over the Milwaukee Brewers, and losses against the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. I invented some new cuss words the night the Royals came from behind to win the sixth game of the series because an umpire blew the call at first base that would’ve given the Cardinals the series win. That bad call (the runner was clearly out at first) changed the series from a Cardinals’ win in six games to a Royals’ victory in seven games.
In the late 1990’s I cheered for Mark McGwire to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record. I watched on TV as he did it, holding my young son in my lap and cheering loudly enough to scare all the cockroaches out of the house in South Texas. It burned me later that the steroids scandals and Barry Bonds would later tarnish that moment. But I lived it never-the-less, and it was a highlight of my life as a Cardinals’ fan.
And now, this year, as everything is going wrong in my life and my body is breaking down more often than my car does, the Cardinals are surging again. They could win a hundred games this year. They could win World Series number twelve. We have history, this team and I. And I am a devoted fan. I can no more explain my love of the team to you than any baseball fan anywhere could ever explain to you why they love baseball. Or what the heck Fredbird is all about. But there it is. We don’t wait til next year. Not the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols will always be a Cardinal in my mind. We won it all in 2011.