Redbird Nation

A crazy Cardinal fan’s diagnosis of just why 417-land is so nuts about the Birds on the Bat.

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Photo Kevin O'Riley

What you may not know is that Matt Lemmon, editor of GO Magazine, takes this stuff with him every time he leaves the house.
If the St. Louis Cardinals’ marketing message from 2006 is to be believed, and St. Louis really is “Baseball Heaven,” then Springfield is heaven’s suburb, slightly less rabid but possibly even more devoted to the team we call our own without reservation. It’s not that way with other sports—there’s a nice split between Mizzou and Missouri State sports fans; the NFL’s St. Louis Rams (and Dallas Cowboys) have firm footholds in what used to be strictly K.C. Chiefs country; the NBA is an afterthought, as is the NHL. The Cardinals’ dominance is unquestioned and unchallenged. But why?

1. We Love a Winner
If the Kansas City Royals ever had a heyday in 417-land, it was from roughly 1975 to 1985, e.g., the only time the team was ever a winner. Our Cardinals, on the other hand, have won 10 World Series championships between 1926 and 2006. Each generation has had a team or teams to call a champion. That’s a big deal.

2. The Springfield Cardinals
Duh. When John Q. Hammons announced he was building a stadium and bringing a St. Louis Cardinals AA franchise to Springfield, the only word most people took notice of was “Cardinals.” I recently asked Springfield GM Matt Gifford a tough question: If the team hadn’t been a Cardinals’ affiliate, do you think we’d still be so gaga over minor league baseball four seasons in? Gifford bristled a bit at the question, and with good reason; it does a disservice to Springfield baseball fans to suggest we wouldn’t rabidly support a, say, Texas Rangers Double-A team. Hammons Field alone is worth the price of admission, even if it’s for high school ball. But, admit it, it is sooo much more fun to see our local boys run on the field wearing those classic red-and-white uniforms sporting the birds on the bat, and knowing any of those players could wind up playing for the Major League Team we love so much. Indeed, in years when the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t playing to their usual standards (read: probably this year), the kids will keep our interest in baseball bright and shiny.

3. The Cardinals Fit Our Values
My earliest memories of baseball are of trading baseball cards with my cousin, Jason. I was born near Kansas City and at the age of 6, I knew only of the Royals. Jason had traded me three Angel Salazars for three Ozzie Smith cards before my dad put a stop to it and taught me the family ropes.

My next memories are of my grandparents’ house boat on Table Rock Lake, listening to Jack Buck call games while the adults sipped beer and coffee, and I pretended to like my grandma’s diet lemon-lime Shasta. Pop would tell me stories about Bob Gibson, and about Yankee Stadium, and about watching Stan the Man Musial play minor league ball in Springfield. When Musial returned in April 2005 to throw out the first pitch at Hammons Field, Pop and I were there. When Stan took a fake swing at the plate, Pop was jumping up and down, clapping his hands like a little, 82-year-old boy. The 26-year-old crying in Section E, Row 11? That was me.

In the land of family values, nothing brings us together like a team with more than 100 years of history and a lazy, eight-month season of twilight ballgames to enjoy. Bill Bennett approves.

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