St. Louis Cardinals welcome fans back to Busch Stadium
Nolan Arenado celebrates after a two-part home run in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Brewers.
The first thing that was different in the stadium was that everything smelled like onions.
After a shortened 2020 season, in which no fans were allowed to watch the St. Louis Cardinals within the borders and the Busch Stadium and therefore no food had to be prepared outside of the scatter bags with chips that were left out for media representatives.
On Thursday, demand was significantly higher with a sold out crowd of 13,328 people in the building. Bratwurst was back on the menu.
“I think the biggest difference was sitting in my office this morning and just seeing people outside,” said John Mozeliak, President of Baseball Operations at Cardinals, ahead of Thursday’s first game. “The mood was very different from last year, so that’s exciting. And of course a different energy level than last year. “
Some of that energy came in subtle doses – organ trills where there were only a dozen or so pop songs before, videos of fan participation games on the scoreboard, fans gossiping about the things people always complain about at ball games.
Some were less subtle when Nolan Arenado stormed a 373-foot bolt into the left field seats in his first home game as the St. Louis Cardinal for a game-winning home run and subsequent curtain.
The noise that came up felt thunderous and sounded like it could repeat what would come from a crowd three times as large.
This is partly due to the fact that attuning to stadium noise has gotten more than a little out of practice.
“There was little extra adrenaline,” said cardinal starter Adam Wainwright. “You know the fans, you just can’t … you can’t replace that.
“Maybe it’s just because we’re not used to anything, but I really felt like our fans were overproduced, so loud and disgustingly loud and just great, you know, to the extent that they cheer on their home team. I mean it was just cool. “
Some moments on Thursday will never be repeated. A memorial video for Cardinals legends Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, who each passed away in the fall, will not be part of another opening day.
Wong, Flaherty, Cardinals Hall of Famers
Also, Kolten Wong, who’s back with the Brewers after nine seasons in St. Louis, won’t be on the top tier of the visit, whistling gum sticks to his former teammates as they take part in the introductory parade. And then again Wong, who took a four-pitch walk through tears, overwhelmed with the emotion of returning to the only professional baseball home he had ever known.
Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty has partnered with the St. Louis Boys and Girls Club and black-owned local bookstore EyeSeeMe to donate thousands of books to children in need. Lost in an endless slump, Matt Carpenter appeared on the field early to pick up ground balls at first base after being put on duty by Paul Goldschmidt with a back injury.
The Cardinals Hall of Famers had to stand in midfield, a safe distance from the playing surface, in front of the bat’s eye, so Ted Simmons could shake long, silver hair out of his eyes and Scott Rolen could throw a first blow at Arenado on the field.
And then there is Arenado’s explosion.
“It went to a magical place today”
“Baseball is just a magical game for me and for a lot of the people who pay attention,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said at the press conference Thursday after the game. “It went to a magical place today. Just a storybook. “
Both financial and chronological commitments to Arenado make the Cardinals believe that Thursday’s exploits are by no means the last the team hopes will actually be a second half of a career in Colorado that began in Colorado, and if Wainwright is to believe it, it might well end in St. Louis, because Arenado himself planned his arrival in town.
Some of the changes that have resulted from the outbreak of the pandemic are likely to be more temporary. The places will certainly be fully occupied again in the future. The new touchscreen franchise system, while convenient to order, will need to be changed if food payouts don’t improve (tip: hold on to your receipt until you have chicken fingers in hand). Face masks that are gently used throughout the park will one day be a relic, even if they offer comfort on a stormy April day.
Thursday felt rather normal
Familiar faces were back in the park on Thursday. Employees performing important (or admittedly symbolic) tasks were missing in 2020 and will be at their posts in 2021. The air in the stadium is moving, not oppressive yet. It feels a bit more like it used to be.
In many places on Thursday, the Busch Stadium seemed to be, as always, on a cool day in the middle of the week at the beginning of the season – partly filled with people delighted with their harmless guilt and sneaking a secret baseball game with a couple of ten thousand co-conspirators.
2020 was empty in many ways. 2021 smells like promises for a fan base – for people – who need it more than they might ever have thought.
Jeff Jones is a freelance sports writer and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He is a regular contributor to the Belleville News-Democrat, mlb.com, and other sports websites.