[Edit: I’ve known Alan since he was in college. We’ve been friends and colleagues since that time, despite our various opposing sports loyalties. Alan recently completed his Ph.D. in Education at Vanderbilt University and is the Executive Director of the Office of Innovation for the Metro Nashville Public Schools. I asked him to share his thoughts as a Cardinals fan at the start of the 2014 season to coincide with the important series in St. Louis this week. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two sons. Please welcome him to our community. – SPM]
In my family, Cardinals baseball provides the timeline against which our memories are cataloged. At great family events from weddings to funerals, it is never too long before conversation turns to the latest Redbird news and the renewing optimism of the series or season ahead. Recounting stories of seasons past and reliving memories of meeting Stan Musial or running into Ozzie Smith at a restaurant, our family has always marked growth and progress against the progress of our Cardinals teams.
Having had the privilege to live in Cincinnati for a couple of years, I know the joy and pride that Opening Day brings to Reds fans, and I am excited that this year’s opening will highlight a vital (and in recent years tense) rivalry that will begin this year’s quest for Central Division supremacy. Even in a season of 162 games, every game counts, and both teams will come ready to play.
Having come of age in the 1970’s, I learned to love the Cardinals without any sustained greatness. In fact, between 1968 (the year I was born) and 1982, the Cardinals made no post-season appearances. During that time, I had to lean on my father’s stories of the great teams from the 40’s and 60’s and the belief that one day, my beloved team might again show greatness. I spent many summer nights listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call the game on KMOX as I kept score on a sheet of notebook paper suitably lined to show the players and the innings.
Since 1982, however, it is easy to believe that Cardinals fans have been the most spoiled of any National League team. There have certainly been other great NL teams during that span (including the Atlanta Braves and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds), and the Cardinals have encountered a few lulls, but it’s been a pretty good 30 years. From Whitey-ball to LaRussa’s bats, we have managed to accept whatever style of play will make the best use of the team’s talent and offer the greatest chances to win.
St. Louis fans love their heroes, and that includes everyone on the roster most of the time. We expect our teams to compete and to keep competing to the final out. We have been able to say goodbye to our most beloved heroes (think Pujols and Freese) and fall in love with once-dreaded foes (think Beltran and Berkman) because wearing the uniform is what matters most.
So, 2014 begins with new hope and the unbelievable possibility that losing Carlos Beltran and David Freese may yet again produce a team that is stronger in the field and at least as potent at the plate. Cardinal fans are ready to fall in love with Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos, and set to spend full seasons with the young arms that made such an impact down the stretch last fall.
With Chris Carpenter’s formal departure, Adam Wainwright will settle in as the Dean (and old man) of the staff that boasts Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez (Baby Pedro), Joe Kelly, and bullpen depth that will only grow stronger when Jason Motte returns from injury.
So, begins another campaign. We will not forget David Freese Game Six heroics or Albert Pujols 3-homer Game Four in 2011 any more than we might forget Ozzie Smith’s 1985 NLCS home run to seal the victory over Los Angeles (Go Crazy, folks!). These moment and these players are forever Cardinals and mark moments in our lives that will never fade.
The great thing about baseball is that we don’t have to forget. Each year springs new, and the hope for another year of memories is right there for the taking. Just as my dad regaled me with stories of Musial and Gibson until I could imagine them out there even in the long summers of the later 1970s, I have now passed to my own boys the mythical greatness of Ozzie and McGee until they, too, mark time by Cardinals games past.
The great thing about being a Cardinals fan at this time is that we get to share so many great moments together.