The perfect storm or just timing was perfect for me. The Rams are on their bye week and the Cardinals are deep in the NLDS. While my professional sports background was in the National Football League, I grew up in Seattle playing all sports (football, basketball, track, soccer and baseball) and Tuesday’s game stirred up some old baseball memories for me. The smell of popcorn and cotton candy. The sight of people putting mustard on hot dogs.
As a kid, I wore my folks out, 365 days from one sport to the next. All of those pairs of cleats. All of the different uniforms. I was introduced to every sport while attending Catholic school and competing in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). I was eight years old when I first shot a basketball, picked up a baseball bat and played full contact football. It wasn’t until I was 10 that I put on a pair of track spikes and kicked the soccer ball.
I loved playing football. I was athletic, had size and the willingness to be very physical. I learned the game of basketball and all the fundamentals that come along with the game. My father was a great track man in the Seattle (Franklin High School) public schools, holding several city and state records in the sprints and hurdles and held the long jump record at the University of Washington for many years. That is why I ran track until high school and when I no longer had a sprinter’s body but a physique of a shot putter, I excelled in the field events.
I grew up six blocks from Lake Washington, three blocks from Franklin High and a mile from Sick’s Seattle Stadium. This stadium was home to the Seattle Pilots, a minor league baseball team, where my brother and I would ride our Sting Ray bikes down the hill to the game, lock them up and sneak into the game through a hole in the outfield fence that for some reason they never fixed.
This grand stadium opened on June 15, 1938 and was built for the sum of $125,000, a great amount of money in those days. It got its name from Emil Sick, owner of the Rainier Brewing Company. Mr. Sick had purchased the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Indians in 1937 at the urging of his friend, Jacob Ruppert, a fellow brewer and owner of the New York Yankees.
I watched many years of baseball in that stadium, and even saw Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin play a live concert in which I was not to attend per my folks, but the music made me peddle faster downhill. I remember the day our father told us there will be no more baseball in Seattle, that the team was sold and moving to Milwaukee. I was crushed (as a kid you can only imagine).
Bud Selig, now the commissioner of Major League Baseball, purchased the team for $10.8 million after weeks of negotiations. While the Seattle SuperSonics were in town (Lenny Wilkens, Dick Snyder, Leaping Lee Winfield and many others) and the Nordstrom family granted a NFL franchise several years later in the mid 70’s, there was a separation from baseball for me.
While I played baseball through Pony League (just before entering high school), I lost the love, following and passion for the game despite having a good bat and glove playing first base and pitching. Prior to going to the park Tuesday, I threw my briefcase in the back of my SUV and headed down 70 East to downtown St. Louis. Walking up to the stadium, I had the same feeling as I did when I was just a kid. I got excited as I heard the vendor yell, “Programs, get your programs!” Only now I didn’t have to sneak in through a fence.
I walked by the statues of Cardinals out front and through the doors. I was excited like I was a kid going to his first game. Sure I know the coaches, players and the game, and I don’t get deep into the statistical side like a lot of fans. Just as I did in 2006 when the Cardinals won the World Series, I attended Game 3, sat about 30 rows up off the third-base line (actually 22 rows behind the Redbirds dugout).
Even though the Cardinals fell short, I was like a kid in a candy store. Balls being hit, men advancing on base, bullpens being emptied to defeat batters. The strategy used by both managers was priceless. Even though it was a Cardinals’ loss, it was truly a great game.
The Cards came up short, losing 3-2 and leaving men on base with the last pitch. However, the three-run homer by pinch-hitter Ben Francisco is something I will remember for a long time. You see, his batting average was not very good against the Cardinals and even lower when facing pitcher Jaime Garcia. That’s one of the things I love about the game.
On any given day, in any ballpark, everyone that comes to the plate can be the hero in this game of baseball.