Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Baseball Place No. 47: Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum

Now that the Mets have won a game at their beautiful new home, we can head back on the road with Josh.

And once again, we find ourselves in the same place, and that would be the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.

Technically we’re setting aside spot No. 46 in the “101 Baseball Places to See before You Strike Out” because I have to take some photos of an historic place here in Grand Rapids.

So we’ll go right to No. 47, which sadly, is closed for now.

The Cardinals had a wonderful Hall of Fame in the lower levels of the old Busch Stadium. It later moved it across the street into the National Bowling Hall of Fame.

I suspect this was because the bowling hall lacked visitors. In fact, the bowling hall packed up and headed to Texas in November. A new Cards museum is expected to be a part of a new development across from the new stadium, should the retail-office-residential complex get built.

But all was good back in 1993 when my wife and I caught up with Tony for a day of adventure.

We learned a lot, too. For instance, 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 and future Met Bernard Gilkey.

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, we enjoyed all St. Louis had to offer, all in the name of research, of course.

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.
Check out all the dents in the dugout wall from foul balls.

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.

Tony, a would-be base-stealer.

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. The Cards have a pretty rich history, and it was all displayed well.

There was much to see, with jerseys, equipment, championship pennants, stadium models and other artifacts. The Cards have a pretty impressive history, and they present it without the in-you-face-bow-before-the- Yankee-gods another team adopts.

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 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 also popped into the bowling museum, which brought back flashbacks of my high school years when I was the show and score sheet kid at 300 Bowl in Massapequa Park.

It was clear that the people running the place took bowling very seriously. We did not, but had fun playing on the old fashioned lanes in the lower level.

I was in St. Louis again in October, and saw the signs that the museum was closing and popped in to squish some pennies for my daughter and grab some very discounted souvenirs.

I didn’t have time to walk through the Cardinals museum one more time, but I expect to take another tour when the new version opens. Maybe Bernard Gilkey will be there again.

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