Baseball is back...and as always it feels good. The opening week of a new season is always one of my favorite times of the year. This year opens with a somewhat bittersweet feeling for me. This past January, we said goodbye to my grandfather, and I can't help but think of him as a new season gets underway. I can still remember going to the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis to root on the Cardinals. They were a good team when I was a kid and my grandfather was always as big of a Cardinals fan as there was. He and my uncle were in attendance when the '82 Cardinals took game 7 of the World Series, and for years, my sister and I would sneak into his bedroom to look at the ticket stubs from that game that he had taped to the mirror. I still have an old Coke that he bought for me after that game. No idea if it is worth any real money or not (I'm guessing yes, since it has never been opened), but it would take a pretty lofty sum of money to get me to even think of parting with it.
But of all the great memories I have of the time I was fortunate enough to have with my grandfather, perhaps my favorite memory comes from the 2006 World Series. My passion for the Cardinals had faded a bit over the years, until I made a trip back to Busch Stadium for the first time in many years. This was 2005, and it was the final season for the old stadium. For a long time, this was the only stadium I had known, and was the benchmark for all other parks. I had never been to another major league park until I was in college when we road tripped to see the White Sox and Yankees play at the new Comiskey Park in 1994. Later that same year, I made my first trip to Wrigley. I've since been to Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Coors Field, Great American Ballpark, Miller Park and the Metrodome (and, of course, the new Busch Stadium), but I've never been to a place that brings back that magical feeling the way old Busch did. That trip in 2005 rekindled the fire, so to speak, and the Cardinals were all of a sudden a team I followed again. Good timing, I guess, because it was the next year that they shocked the baseball world by winning the '06 Series.
As much as I enjoyed watching that playoff run, what made it truly special were the emails that I traded with my grandfather as the Cardinals won each game. I'm 38, so while I'm far from "old" I do remember a world without the internet and a personal computer or 3 in every house. My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression and was a WWII vet.....reading emails was not something he picked up from his peers. But he learned how to use it because it gave him an easy way to keep up with his grandkids. His emails were priceless. Names were not his strong suit -- and even though I know he played it up to get a laugh out of me, he probably had no idea that it took me a solid 30 minutes to figure out who "Escusian" was (that'd be Juan Encarnacion) and I had to text my uncle to find out that "Chug Chug" was Yadier Molina. While I had a few good laughs reading the notes he'd send, I knew at the time that this was going to be one of those things that I'd remember fondly for the rest of my life. He was so excited after the Cardinals won it all that he went out and bought a Cadillac after they won. For Christmas that year, I got him a customized name and number t-shirt with #2 and "Papa" on the back (that was our nickname for him). I only got to see him wear it once or twice, but my uncle told me that he wore it quite a bit when the Cardinals were on TV.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. I've decided that as a small token of respect for him that I'm mostly a Cardinals fan for 2011. The Cardinals are trying hard to make that seem like a really bad decision at the moment. 4 games in, and they haven't scored more than 3 runs in any game. Pujols might be playing his last year wearing the birds on the bat, Ryan Theriot is being sold as a defensive upgrade over the departed Brendan Ryan, Wainwright is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and Matt Holliday is out with appendicitis. You wonder what's next, but then again, it might be better to not have to find out. It might be a long season. But, even if this turns out to be a terrible team, I won't watch a game all season where I don't pause for a moment and thank my grandfather for helping to teach me to root for this great franchise and love this great game. And wherever he is, I'm sure knowing that will bring a smile to his face.