Thursday, July 07, 2005

Busch Stadium Memories (Part One): Doc Gooden and Lots of Ice Water

Julie, Tony and me at Busch Stadium in 1993.

It used to get so hot on the Busch Stadium artificial turf that players would run off the field after each inning and jump — spikes and all — into tubs of ice water kept in the dugout.

I got this from a pretty good source: former Cardinals outfielder Bernard Gilkey.

Busch, despite the apparent discomfort for players in the humid Missouri summers, is one of my favorite places to see a game. I was sad when I realized this was the final year for the yard.

It’s certainly true that Busch is a multi-purpose ash tray along the lines of Three Rivers, Riverfront and the Vet, all of whom have preceded it in being demolished. But the little arches along the top made it a little different, and adding natural grass a few years back was a tremendous step forward — and I presume a step cooler, too for the players. Plus, Cardinal fans are among the best in all of baseball and you can’t help but get swept up in the group hug that is a game at Busch.

I’ve been able to attend six games at Busch over the years. Here are some of my favorite memories:

April 24, 1985: Cardinals 5, Mets 1

I was getting pretty homesick toward the end of my first year at University of Missouri, and my passion for the Mets was not a well-concealed secret.

So when a friend from the dorm suggested I join him for a sprint to St. Louis to see the Cards play the Mets, I jumped at the chance even though it meant skipping out on my News 105 class -- the boot camp of journalism school. It was the first time I’d seen the Mets as a visiting team.

This was at the height of the Cardinals-Mets rivalry, and the pitching match-up couldn’t beat. Dwight Gooden was early in his Cy Young Award season, and Jaoquin Andujar was the Cards’ ace.

Gooden lost just four games all season, and I saw two of them in person. This was one. He didn’t pitch poorly, giving up two runs on four hits in seven innings. But the Mets couldn’t manage more than a run off Andujar.

The Cards, of course, went on to choke away the World Series to the cross-state rival Royals that season, with Vince Coleman getting run over by the Busch Stadium tarp machine and Andujar melting down in Game Seven.

Andujar – who was never the same after that season – didn’t fully grasp English, as indicated in his famous baseball quote. “There's one word in America that says it all and that one word is ‘You never know.’”

The News 105 professor also happened to the School of Journalism’s assistant dean, and he was curious why I missed class.

“Mets were playing the Cardinals, Gooden vs. Andujar,” I pleaded. Of course he'd understand.

His stone-faced response: “Interesting. Not a valid excuse, but interesting.”

July 10, 1993: Cardinals 9, Rockies 3

My editors at The Flint Journal knew of my love for all things St. Louis and sent me to write a travel story about the city. Armed with an expense account, my wife and I caught up with my buddy Tony and his wife for a weekend of fun – all in the name of research, of course.

Tony, a man of remarkable patience, survived being my roommate at Missouri, and we’ve been close since.

Naturally, a game at Busch Stadium was on our list of things to see, and the Rockies, in their inaugural year, were in town. Even more exciting, we found out that the Cardinals offered stadium tours.

This was too good to pass up. We were not allowed in the clubhouse – there was a game that night, after all -- but we got some behind-the-scenes peeks of the press box and other areas.

The highlight, by far, was going out on the field and hanging out in the dugout. The artificial turf was indeed like fuzzy concrete with very little bounce. That didn’t stop us from doing sweet Ozzie Smith flips. Well, more like Tony holding my feet while I did something resembling a handstand for a photo. But properly cropped, me and Ozzie are one and the same!

After exploring the field, the tour took us into the Cardinals museum, which has since moved across the street. The Cards have a pretty rich history, and it was all displayed well. Much to our glee, we found that on some Saturday afternoons, a Cardinals player is in the museum to meet fans.

And there, as if he was one of the exhibits, was outfielder Bernard Gilkey. There wasn’t a big crowd that day, so we had plenty of time to chat.

This was a surprise, so I wasn’t prepared with a ball for Bernard to sign. I offered the bill of my Cards home cap as he gave us the inside scoop about the turf, and that the temperature on the field sometimes reached 110 degrees, hence the ice water.

We returned later for the game, a Cardinals rout over the expansion Rockies. Mark Whiten and Brian Jordan supplied much of the damage, hitting three- and two-run jacks.

I've had some other adventures in Busch, but we'll save those for later.


Tony Hartsfield said...

Gosh it was hot that day!

Tony Hartsfield said...

By the way, I can still probably find my Gilky autograph, but I seem to have misplaced that wife...