Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: An old ballpark, a special statue and a stranger
So long, old stadium.
A wrecking ball took its first swings at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, signaling the end to the stadium, which opened in 1966.
Luckily, I saw the storied stadium before it became history.
In September, my mother and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to St. Louis. We never had been to a game at Busch Stadium.
Neither had my father.
For years, the three of us had planned to make a trip to either Busch Stadium in St. Louis or Wrigley Field in Chicago.
"We'll do it next year," we always said.
Next years came and went, but we never made the trip. And my father died in July 2004.
So when I realized earlier this year that this would be the last season the Cardinals would play baseball in old Busch Stadium, I decided it was a must for my mother and me to travel to St. Louis in Dad's memory. And in September, we set out for St. Louis to see Dad's Cardinals take on my Chicago Cubs.
It was Sept. 7, 2005 -- the last game between archrivals St. Louis and Chicago.
Mom was dressed head-to-toe in Cardinal red in honor of Dad. I loved my father very much, but I couldn't wear red on this particular night. Instead, I wore my Chicago blue and we sat together and watched the Cubs win an exciting 2-1 game against the Cardinals. After the game, an usher took pictures of Mom and me holding an 8x10 picture of Dad with the outfield as our backdrop.
The next day, we planned to visit the sights throughout St. Louis, but those plans fell through.
Instead, we headed back to Busch Stadium, the home of a team my father first loved while listening to the Cards on the radio. Back then, Dad listened to former Cardinals announcer Harry Caray call games on the radio.
Coincidentally, I became acquainted with Cubs baseball thanks to Caray on television. He called Cubs games on WGN until his death in 1998.
Back at Busch Stadium one last time, we discovered that one last tour would be given at the stadium that afternoon.
We jumped at the chance. Because Dad never got the chance to see Busch Stadium inside and out, we would do it in his memory.
Before the tour started, a tour guide asked whether any Cubs would be along for the tour. Reluctantly, I slowly put my hand in the air.
Another guide told me I could join the group, but would have to walk 19 1/2 steps behind the rest of the tourists, the number of games the Cubs stood behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central Division.
A pretty clever jab, I thought, so I went along with the good-natured ribbing.
As we made our way through the stadium, I gazed at the ballpark that hosted 11 postseasons, including six World Series. Plenty of tradition was packed into the stadium, which actually was a multi-purpose stadium. Like many other cookie-cutter stadiums built during that era, Busch Stadium was home to the baseball Cardinals and the National Football League Cardinals. The football Cardinals moved to Arizona in the 1980s, leaving the baseball Cardinals as the only team playing at the stadium.
Other stadiums built during that era just didn't have much character. But that wasn't the case for Busch Stadium. Renovations to the downtown stadium made it look more and more like a great ballpark. Architecture around the top of the stadium included 96 identical arch-like structures built to honor the Gateway Arch, which stands not far from the stadium.
Construction on the new Busch Stadium already is under way near the original stadium.
I'm sure it will be a great ballpark, but after only two days taking in the original, I realized it should stay.
As we walked around the stadium one last time in September, my mother and I took a few final photos of statues. From Lou Brock to Ozzie Smith, I looked carefully at the statues, thinking about which ones were Dad's favorites.
Then we saw a statue of Stan Musial, who happened to be Dad's favorite player.
Musial was considered one of the greatest players of all time -- both on the field and in the community.
As I read more about Musial on the base of the statue I discovered his full name -- Stan Frank Musial.
Frank, coincidentally, was my father's first name.
I motioned excitedly to my mother and showed her what I had just read.
As tears moved down our faces, I felt great pride knowing that my father shared a name with one of baseball's gentleman.
We continued to take pictures of statues when a couple approached us, asking us to take their picture in front of a few statues.
After taking their pictures, my mother explained why we were in St. Louis, that we were there in honor of my father.
The man then told us they drove to St. Louis from Oregon. Doctors told him a few weeks before that he had cancer. It was the same day his wife learned that she was pregnant with the couple's first child.
The man told us he planned to kick the cancer.
My mother gave the man a hug, we shared a few more tears and then I took a few more pictures of the couple in front of a statue of Lou Brock, who was the man's all-time favorite Cardinal.
After meeting the couple from Oregon, I realized how special the trip truly was. I urge anyone whose been putting off that family trip to, if possible, make it happen soon.
Although the original Busch Stadium won't be around next season, the memories will remain.
I just wish my father could have been there with us at that game and the day after to meet the couple from Oregon.
But then again, maybe he was.