My favorite baseball team swung through Los Angeles this past week, and I had the rare opportunity to catch the Cardinals in person both at Angel Stadium of Anaheim and Dodger Stadium. The Anaheim game increased the number of places I have been the “visiting fan” to six stadiums. For those scoring at home, in such a hostile environment I choose to wear my Cardinals gear but adopt a low-key approach—in part out of respect for being in someone else’s house but mostly to avoid trying out my Jackie Chan impersonation when under attack from inebriated fans in a post-game parking lot. I hate to hurt people.
I love baseball because of my dad. He grew up as a Depression-era Cardinals fan in Missouri, and in our daily games of catch in the backyard, told mesmerizing stories of seeing Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang in an exhibition game in the 1930s and of later games at old Sportsman’s Park, including a doubleheader that pitted Stan Musial against Willie Mays. I was hooked. My dad, of course, was my first hero, so when your hero tells stories of heroes, well, it is sort of hard not to be forever influenced.
My first trip to see the Cardinals in person was in the middle of a sticky St. Louis summer in 1979. We couldn’t afford a St. Louis hotel or to leave our family without a car, so my dad bought two bus tickets for our first ever father-son trip. We left before sunrise and arrived in time to wander around the city. We checked out the zoo in Forest Park and gazed in awe at the mighty Gateway Arch, but we came to watch baseball—and we watched the Redbirds get destroyed by the Cincinnati Big Red Machine sixteen to four. The score didn’t matter. I will never forget sitting in the left field loge seats behind Lou Brock at old Busch Memorial Stadium with my dad. Afterward, we boarded the bus and rode home through the night with me asleep on his lap. At that point it was the best day of my life, and now so many years later, it remains pretty darn close.
There is a crazy cool baseball website that has box scores and game information from MLB games dating all the way back to 1913, and I discovered that every play of my special baseball trip with my dad is recorded there. It was a Thursday evening (July 19), and 27,228 were in attendance. Dave Collins led off the game by grounding out to Keith Hernandez, unassisted, followed by a walk to Joe Morgan. Lou Brock went three for five with three ribbies. Ray Knight hit a grand slam. Johnny Bench hit a single to left that scored Dave Concepcion. Mario Soto struck out Tony Scott to end the game. The game lasted two hours and fifty-two minutes.
Nobody cares about the details but me, but I care enough for the whole world combined. It reminds me of an innocent kid with a hero dad on a grand adventure. I suspect that is why I fought Los Angeles traffic twice this past week—just to tap into that special feeling from thirty-seven years ago. My dad has been gone for over twenty years now, but when I watch the Cardinals play baseball in a major-league stadium, he is right beside me.