All eyes are on St. Louis this week as America tunes in to watch the Cardinals play the Milwaukee Brewers for the National League pennant. But there’s more to the Cardinal experience than the winning team; the retro ballpark in the shadow of the Gateway Arch is also worth a visit. Contributing writer David DeVoss explores the special features of St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.
In the days before cable and satellites brought baseball into American homes, the Cardinals were the rulers of radio. From the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains down through North Texas and across to the Gulf, generations grew up listening to Harry Carey describe the exploits of Red Schiendist, Ken Boyer and Stan Musial on KMOX radio. These players are long retired, but the Cardinal fan base continues to grow.
The main ritual for Cardinal fans is the annual pilgrimage to Busch Stadium to pay homage to Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter. The new $365 million stadium, which opened last year in the heart of St. Louis, is a wonderful place to watch a game and become a part of the city’s summer sports scene.
The entertainment starts an hour before the game as thousands of people dressed in red file into the brick-clad stadium. St. Louisians call it the “Red Sea on the Mississippi” and the best place to photograph the phenomenon is from the pedestrian bridge across Stadium Way that looks down on the Cardinal Walk of Fame and the bronze statue of Stan Musial.
The party really begins inside where beneath a center field sign reading “Welcome to Baseball Heaven” stand picnic tables, a playground and virtual reality batting cages where Little Leaguers can take some swings against virtual major league pitching.
Having wholesome family fun is the main goal. But making money for the Cardinals runs a close second. Parents beware when entering the “Making of the Game” pavilion run by Rawlings Sporting Goods. Baseball bats branded with your child’s name are sold straight off the lathe. Personalized baseball gloves cost $190. Baseballs used in previous games sell for $50; even bases are available – if you’re willing to spend $500. If you see a scuffed ball from the last Cubs–Cards game and your son says, “I’ve gotta have that,” make sure you’re carrying plastic.
The Cardinals offer four daily tours of the new stadium ($10 for adults, $6 for kids) and they are worth the time and money since they range from the press box to the Cardinals dugout. You’ll also see the special boxes available for parties and the field level Red Bird Club where people probably richer than you take their meals before taking their seats behind home plate.
Families on a budget should resist the Rawlings pavilion and the outrageously overpriced souvenir stands around Busch Stadium. Instead visit the Cardinals
Clubhouse at St. Louis Union Station, the rail depot that served the Cardinals and St. Louis Browns (today’s Baltimore Orioles) in the days when ballplayers traveled by train. A National Historic Landmark within walking distance of Busch Stadium, Union Station now contains a luxury hotel and shopping center where the Cardinals store will sell you a third base identical to the $500 on offer at Busch Stadium for $110. More moderately priced apparel also is available, but note the sign above the cash register: “No Discount to Cubs Fans.”
Cardinal players tend to fall in love with St. Louis and never leave. Enough retired Cardinals still live in St. Louis to make up four baseball teams. Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith operates a restaurant. Relief pitcher Al Hrabosky, known as the Mad Hungarian when he closed games for the Cardinals, owns a wild downtown bar.
The next best thing to attending a Cardinals game is to dine at Mike Shannon’s Steak & Seafood. Located four blocks from Busch Stadium, the restaurant, owned by the former third baseman who now broadcasts Cardinal games, is packed with baseball memorabilia. Shannon’s post-game recap and talk show takes place at one of the restaurant’s corner tables.
If you’re hungry for Italian food head for The Hill, a working class neighborhood just beyond downtown where Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up. The Hill has bocce ball courts and fireplugs painted the Italian colors of red, white and green. Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda says Charlie Gittos restaurant just off Marconi Street serves the best Italian food in the U.S.
Before returning home, check the Internet to see if the St. Louis Perfectos have a game at Lafayette Park. The Perfectos are a 19th century baseball club that plays teams like the Rock Springs Ground Squirrels and the Shoal Creek Farmers. This is baseball circa 1860: no bunting, sliding or uncivil language. Good plays by either side merit a hearty “Huzzah.”
Resources to Check Out Before You Go:
- To order regular season Cardinals tickets go to www.stlcardinals.com Busch Stadium ticket office.
- Reserve space on a guided tour of the new Busch Stadium that includes visits to the dugout and press box by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Then make sure you visit the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame across the street at 111 Stadium Plaza.
- St. Louis’ Union Station is a national landmark. It’s also a great place to shop, have lunch and buy Cardinals memorabilia.
- The Busch Brewery at 12th and Lynch Streets offers tours throughout the year. Reserve ahead for Beer School and don’t miss the Clydesdale barn and post-tour hospitality room.
- If you’re planning a trip to The Hill contact The Hill Business Association first at www.shopthehill.com for a free map showing restaurants, shops and other locations.
- If you’re in St. Louis on a weekend you may be lucky enough to see the St. Louis Perfectos. It’s not Cardinal baseball but the games are free and you can talk to the players.
- The St. Louis Walk of Fame along Delmar Blvd. features sidewalk plaques commemorating Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and other famous St. Louisians like Josephine Baker, Dred Scott and Maya Angelou. Stop for a drink at the Blueberry Hill pub or the Rock ‘nRoll restaurant.
- For maps, brochures and dozens of discounts, go to www.explorestlouis.com.
Do you think the Cardinal’s tricked out stadium and loyal fanbase will help them win the pennant? And tell Peter and David about your favorite American ballpark in the comments below.
For more baseball travel, check out:
- Phil Wallace’s pick of this year’s Top Five Ballparks
- 5 Places To Catch’s Baseball’s Spring Training
- Fantasy Baseball Camp: First Day On The Diamond
- Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Cooperstown, NY
Text and Images by David DeVoss for PeterGreenberg.com. East-West News Service editor David DeVoss listened to Cardinals games while growing up in Dallas.