Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chatty Cardinals fans, Pokeman and other adventures at Busch Stadium

Caroline takes awesome photos.
One aspect of attending a baseball game is that you develop short-term acquaintances with the people sitting around you.

You are elbow-to-elbow with a stranger, as well as getting to know the back of the head of the person in front.  This can be a pleasant experience. Or it can be an adventure, like the one Caroline and I shared when we attended the Cardinals-Marlins game at Busch Stadium this month.

Busch is a nice ballpark, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But first let me tell you about the guy sitting behind us. He would not stop talking. Ever.

You’re pretty much trapped in these situations. It’s not like there is a no-talking rule at the ballpark. Nor can you turn around and say, “Dude, you are driving most of section 452 crazy, especially the middle of rows seven, eight and nine.”

There was no avoiding this guy, who was in is early-to-mid 20s and wearing a hunter camo cap with his free Cardinals jersey. 

He had a loud voice, and since he was in the seat right behind me, talking at the back of my head the whole game. It was impossible to tune him out.

Sometimes people get settled and chill out a bit. Not this guy. He had stamina. 

It started out annoying, before turning into one of those can’t-help-but-listen things, wondering where this guy was going to go next.

Before the first pitch he was talking about a strange fantasy baseball league he was in where he somehow was allowed to include non-baseball players on the roster. 

He had a president on there – a good one, too – and former Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and finally a Pokémon in the outfield. Don’t ask how this could work. He didn't explain and I sure as heck was not going to ask.

But there was a long discussion about the particular Pokémon he selected and his powers. I’d tell you which one, but I've tried to purge all knowledge of Pokémon from my memory since being the parent who volunteered to take all the kids to the first, soul-sucking Pokémon movie years ago.

Then we learned, in no particular order, that:

He’s still afraid of his high school football coach. 

He quit scouts because he didn’t like a lot of other kids in the pack. His parents made him drive to the scoutmaster’s house and tell him in person. The scoutmaster was not happy with this decision

He was on the wrestling team. So were other scouts, so this did not sway the scoutmaster.

He occasionally smokes dope, but will not allow anyone to bring it in his car.

This went on and on. Not a lot of baseball talk, save for his fantasy team. He's a football fan.

At one point, he saw that Caroline was taking photos, and looking over her shoulder, noticed that she was able to zoom in on the observation deck windows of the Arch from our seats in the Busch upper deck.
Caroline was able to zoom in on the Arch windows.

“That must be a nice camera,” he said.

Caroline, being polite, said that it was.

“You guys must not be from around here.”

Danger! I know better to engage with one of these guys. You just don’t want to do it, because you don’t want to get sucked into the conversation and hear about the football coach, Tim Tebow and the Pokémon again.

But I also don’t want to be rude to anyone, especially a Cardinal fan. I like Cardinal fans.

I explained that we are from Michigan, but attended University of Missouri, so we did, in fact, have some St. Louis cred.

He asked about my major, and I told him that I studied journalism, which I offered tentatively because I've learned the subject either interests or horrifies people and I didn't want to prolong the conversation.

“That’s one of the top five journalism programs in the country, isn't it?”

OK, he got points for that. Flattery and accuracy bought him, a “Well, yeah, there are a number of good schools,” before I was able to disengage thanks to new antics from Fred Bird on the Cardinals’ dugout.
Thank you, Fred Bird.
Oddly chatty fans aside, Busch is a nice ballpark. No stadium is at its best when it’s near capacity. The concourses were packed, the lines were long and it was difficult to get a good look at everything.

But it's certainly better than the multi-purpose Busch Stadium that this new version replaced. True story. Former Cardinals outfielder -- and later Met -- Bernard Gilkey once told me that the artificial turf at the old stadium was so hot in the summer that players would run off the field and stick their feet into buckets of ice water in the dugout to cool off.

One interesting thing about Busch is that some of the neat features are outside the gates.  The big statue of Stan Musial and the smaller statues of Stan and other Cardinal greats as well as broadcaster Jack Buck are all on the sidewalk, which is nice because you can check them out before or after the game and not worry about missing anything.

New this year is a “Ballpark Village” across the street, with rooftop seats like Wrigley – but I suspect owned by the Cardinals. The team’s Hall of Fame and Museum is part of the complex, but the $12 admission was a little steep. It seemed like that should be part of the game experience. The rest of the village appeared to be a bunch of bars.
These fans are across the street.

Give the Cards credit for a great scorecard, too. It came with four pages of stats. If you’re like me, and one of the handful of people still keeping score, this is a cool thing.

The game was exciting, with the Cards building a lead and giving part of it back. The team had a one-run victory in its grasp, with the apparent final Marlin down to his last strike. 

Fans were on their feet, going crazy as the Casey McGehee fouled off what seemed like 10 pitches. Then he got a hit, driving home Donovan Solano to tie the game. 

Then pinch-hitter Jeff Baker got a hit, and the Marlins went ahead.

The crowd was stunned into silence, even our compulsively chatty friend.

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