Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Travelblog, St. Louis - Part III

And for my final installment about my weekend trip, here’s a look at the (fairly) new home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium II.  Just to clarify, I refer to the current ballpark as "II" and its predecessor as Busch Stadium I, even though some fans like to think of old Sportsman’s Park as the first Busch Stadium, because it also went by that name toward the end of its tenure.

No visit to a Cardinals game is complete without passing by the Stan Musial statue on the third base side.  I personally think they should’ve had him facing toward the ballpark instead of away from it, but no matter, he’s still the greatest Cardinal of them all.  I heartily agree with those who say that Stan The Man is grossly underrated and is often overlooked when the ESPN talking heads reel off their all-time greats lists.  Same goes for Frank Robinson, come to think of it.  Only because Musial played in the Midwest instead of for the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox does he not get more acclaim.  I’d gladly have taken him on my team over Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, whom I think are a bit overrated.  Hell, Stan was such a badass, he gets TWO statues at Busch II!

St. Louis Cardinals games are the most fun to attend in the Major Leagues because the atmosphere is so electric.  Even back when the Royals were a good team, the ambience at Kauffman Stadium seemed more battery-powered than electric compared with the festive air in and around Busch Stadium on game day.  If you hate the color red, then I wouldn’t recommend attending a Cards game, since nearly everyone in attendance is wearing it.  Of course, St. Louis has quite a history to be proud of—ten World Series titles and a flotilla of Hall of Famers—and the fans should be justifiably proud of their team.  Since divisional play began in 1969, the Cardinals have only finished in last place one time (1990).  Pretty impressive.

The current fad in stadium design that’s all the rage is where a significant chunk of the grandstand is omitted for no particular reason like at the top right of this shot (taken from my seat).  The new parks in Detroit and Cincinnati have this feature too, as does the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, and I believe the new Twins stadium in Minneapolis will be likewise.  They even gouged two hunks out of the upper deck at Kauffman Stadium during the recent renovations too, and I don’t really get the point of it—it looks really hokey to me.  Seems to me you could put more seats in those gaps and attract more fans to the stadium, but I keep forgetting that it’s all about the hoity-toity luxury suites and not the Joe Fan seating area anymore.

...why are the two big video boards placed practically side-by-side here?  Can you say "redundant"?  Meanwhile, from my nosebleed seat in the upper deck in right field, I could only see the top half of the video board with the birds and clock on it, and from my vantage point (even when the old drunk fuck in front of me was actually seated), I couldn’t get any out-of-town scores or even the linescore of the Cardinal game, not even on the auxiliary ribbon board on the third base side.  Seems to me they could’ve placed one of the big boards over in left field where there’s nothing going on so everyone in the stadium can see at least one of them in full.  I expect better planning than this in a state-of-the-art stadium.

Okay, so where’s the mythical "Ballpark Village" that was supposed to replace Busch Stadium I after its demise?  All I see here is a big void with a half-assed parking lot and a big mud puddle, so far.  From what I’ve heard, the grandiose plans they once had for this thing were all shot down because they ran out of money while building the stadium.  In the process, St. Louis lost the National Bowling Hall of Fame, which was originally located next to Busch I, and was slated to be part of the Ballpark Village complex, but they got a better offer and moved to Arlington, Texas (with its rich bowling tradition, naturally), and the Cardinals Hall of Fame is in a state of limbo as well.  What I wish they had done was leave the remaining superstructure of Busch Stadium I standing and develop it into a mixed-use complex with condos, shops, bars, restaurants, etc., with the Cardinals Hall of Fame right smack dab over where the infield was, with the pitcher’s mound and home plate as its centerpiece.  Could’ve been really cool, but noooooooo!  Better be careful St. Lou, or Arlington will outbid you for the Cardinals Hall of Fame too...

As for Busch I, I miss that place a lot.  I saw more Major League games outside of Kansas City at Busch I than any other park, and of all the so-called "cookie-cutter" dual-purpose stadiums built in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was far and away the best.  I loved the scalloped roof that mimicked the Gateway Arch all the way around.  The Cardinals did a nice job of retrofitting it in the late ‘90s after it ceased doubling as a football stadium by installing real grass and giving it more of a "ballpark" feel.  It still looked nice on the outside in its final years, but the stadium’s infrastructure (plumbing, electrical, etc.) had serious issues and the team was running out of duct tape and band-aids.  Before going ahead with Busch II, though, they even gave serious consideration to doing a total overhaul (a la Kauffman Stadium here) in lieu of replacing it, but it proved to be unfeasible.  I still say they could’ve at least left part of the grandstand intact.  I trust the good people of St. Louis will someday erect a historical marker when they finally do fill the void left behind.

One feature I really liked were these bay window-like extensions of the exit portals along the upper deck façade.  They allow a bit more space for people to walk without ruining the look of the place.  Brilliant idea…

If you like statues, Busch Stadium II’s got ‘em.  This would be venerable St. Louis play-by-play man Jack Buck, whose likeness is mounted into the wall outside the park behind left-center field.  I hear some horse’s patoots keep making off with his microphone—no class!  All of the other Cardinals Hall of Famers are honored in bronze just up the block at the corner of 7th and Clark at the left field entrance, including Ozzie Smith, Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and many more.  Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols will no doubt be joining them one of these days.  Too bad Mark McGwire probably won’t be…

Having watched numerous games on TV from Busch II and seen it in person from the outside already, it always seemed to me that the place was missing something, but I could never quite pinpoint what it was.  I do like the place a lot better after actually attending a game in it, but I still can’t quite put my finger on what it’s lacking.  They righted a wrong by aiming home plate toward the Gateway Arch, and the view of the surrounding skyscrapers is spectacular, but there’s just nothing real distinctive about Busch Stadium II.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice ballpark, no question, but it kinda looks like all the other new stadiums out there.  Overall, I would give the place an A-, but I have to take points off for the scoreboard setup I detailed above, so Busch II gets a B+.

WARNING:  Religious commentary ahead—if you’re easily offended, then skip the rest of this post.

Hate to end on a bad note, but I have to get this out my system.  My ballpark visit was partially tainted by some tag-team street corner messiahs squawking on a bullhorn and waving signs outside the stadium, all the while quoting scripture and telling people they are going to hell if they aren’t "born again".  I don’t mean to offend youse believers out there, but it really grinds my gears when these impudent self-appointed jackasses force-feed their unsolicited religious dogma upon innocent baseball fans.  I’d fully expect this kind of crap outside of a heavy metal concert or Gay Pride festival or something, but not at a freakin’ ballgame!  And, yes, I tried to ignore them, but this bullhorn blowhard was so bloody loud, even my iPod cranked up at full blast couldn’t drown him out—you could clearly hear every word he said from a block away!  People on their cellphones couldn’t even carry on their conversations amongst all the cacophony, and I could still even hear this Neolitihic dipshit clear as day once I got into the stadium itself (from the upper deck, no less).  It’s unfortunate that some fools choose to spoil everyone else’s good time, and unfortunately, the Cardinals couldn’t do a thing about this public nuisance because these goomers weren’t on the stadium property itself.

Ironically, as I viewed this farcical spectacle with my iPod in shuffle mode, almost right on cue the song "I’m Alive" by heavy metal band W.A.S.P. popped up, which is all about phony "men of God" and features the line "Damn you, holy man, alive."  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  Another line goes, "Tell me, what’s in it for you?", which is what I always wonder about these arrogant boobs—I mean, do they truly think they’re actually making a difference, anyway?  If so, they’re legends in their own minds.  Holy Rollers like this are a big reason why I’m a non-believer—if there really is a God, I find it impossible to believe that He would send small-time bozos like them to spread His word—come on, Mr. G, surely you can do better than that!  As for all this "born again" business, I subscribe to Dennis Miller’s take on it:  "Pardon me for getting it right the first time."  Organized religion is a very thorny issue with me, and I have no doubt my good friends who are church-goers look down on me because of my agnostic attitude, and in some ways, I also feel I've been kicked to the curb by them because of it.  I am what I am, and I make no apologies for it, and I just don’t get the whole God/Jesus thing, nor do I really want to.  At least give me credit for being honest and true to myself.

End of sermon.

1 comment:

Mr. Mike said...

Thanks for the travelblog, I've never been to St Louis but if I go now I know what to look for. Nice photos!