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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tickets in the Nose-Bleed Section – Part 3


Up early and on to our last breakfast at Granny’s, we soon had loaded our destination into Lady and were on our way to East St Louis, IL.

After making a pit stop—my two compatriots need many—Dilin, no longer riding the shotgun seat was required to serve up the pimento cheese sandwiches and peppers. Eating on the roll saves a lot of time—ya gotta make up for those to-numerous-to-count pit stops. I gonna get me a big Coke bottle to carry with me when I go with these two again.

Half way to St Louis, I convinced the guys that we could make a quick side trip to Taylorville, IL. I was living in Taylorville as a small child the last time I had seen the Cardinals play. That was in the old Sportsman Park in 1951—Sportsman came prior to the now torn down Busch Stadium I, a long time ago.

Within no more than thirty minutes we had reached Taylorville, had taken a picture of the welcome sign, searched for the likely location of the trailer park next to the rail road where I resided in ’51 and were back on the road—all with no luck whatsoever. I can remember running to the rear of the trailer to watch out the big window as the trains would roll by. At times it felt like they passed forever.

I’ll probably never return to Taylorville also; there isn’t much going on there. I did see some oil wells pumping on the way into town but had no way of knowing if they were the results of my Dad’s exploration efforts in ’51—one can only surmise.

Taylorville, IL - my old, old home town (1951)!

Besides the trains of Taylorville and a trip to the capitol and statehouse in Springfield, the other main memory I have is the trip that August that my family and another family of close friends on my dad’s crew that we all took to St Louis to see the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cards play baseball. My dad and I discussed that trip over and over right up to the time that he passed away—it always felt just like it was yesterday. That day we only saw the Cardinals on the field—they won by the way—but while making our way to our seats in old Sportsman Park, the Dodgers came out of their dressing room and passed right in front of us—we coulda reached out and touched them. One by one as they made their way to the dugout tunnel my dad would point and name each one as they made their way by: Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Ralph Branca (threw the shot heard ‘round the world), Preacher Roe, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Dick Williams (rookie in ’51, but the A’s manager in ’72 & ’73 World Series) and the rest. I can still close my eyes, lean back and see them as they walked right there in front of me. You probably have a memory of the like that all you have to do is close your eyes and it’s right there—fantastic, huh?

We found the motel and decided to use our included-in-the-price drink tickets almost right away. We had a beer apiece (Dilin had a Mountain Dew wantabe) and talked with the guys at the bar for some time prior to heading back to the room to decide on the next day’s activities—lots of choices


Down to the breakfast buffet (also included in the room price), we load up and finalize our day’s activity schedule. Deciding last night that the St Louis Metro system is a pretty good alternative, we get directions and head that way. No parking fine today; we’re gonna take the Metro ($7.50 each) and park free at the terminal.

A cool ride across the Mississippi and we detrain at the arch metro station. A short shady walk and we can see the arch from the side—really impressive. We are missing the cooler temperatures of Chicago and Michigan already; it is a bit warmer in St Louis than we were expecting.

We do the tourist thing and get a lot of pictures of us and the Arch of the Americas. You’re there, ya gotta take pictures.

The Arch of the Americas - Gateway to the West.

That's my grandson, Dilin, leaning on the Arch.

We walk up the hill and circle the Old Court House; another impressive building right on the mall with the arch. Past the court house we find a bus stop and start our wait—the busses run every thirty minutes and we had seen the previous bus pull away just prior to us arriving. We just happen to be waiting on the corner that is the centerfield gate for Busch Stadium right behind our stop—just where we need to be in six or so hours.

A short wait and bus ride later we exit at the northwest corner of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery plant—this is a big place and we later learn that our tour will encompass seven blocks. We have three more blocks to trudge up hill to get to the welcome center, tour start and hospitality room (the tour end). Inside we find we have only ten minutes before the next tour.

Joseph & Dilin getting ready to tour the Anheuser - Busch Brewery

Our guides gather us and we’re off to see the Clydesdales; wouldn’t ya know they’d start there?

Beechwood aging vats.

Next comes the Beechwood aging room, a room kept at a cool 50ºF—this was really a relief as the further south we had come, the warmer the days. I think the guide said there were sixty vats in the room with each holding some 3600 barrels of beer. They asked the question if there was anybody in the group that thought they could drink that much beer. As you might expect there were some takers—maybe they thought they were gonna give one to them. Then the guide clarified the length of time required: each vat held the equivalent of 220,000 cases of beer and a body would have to drink one bottle of beer every hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 (6) days a year for 137 years to drink up the 3600 barrels in just one vat. Of course everyone gasp on queue. From the aging vats we moved on to the mash tanks, another impressive showing. As you walked through the yards you noticed that every thing had the Anheuser-Busch symbol on it—everything.

Bottle Line #34 - there's some beer being bottled here!

Eventually we made our way to the bottling building. This is where we saw the speed at which the finishing machinery could move. This was very impressive. From bottling and casing the product went into an underground 10 acre warehouse which by-the-way held only an eighteen hour capacity of inventory. This place never shuts down and the lead time through the factory of a bottle of Budweiser is between thirty and thirty-one days. They said: “Not to worry. There’ not gonna stop.”

Loaded onto busses, we were transported back to the start where we were invited to sample two glasses of any of the product produced at the facility—and try it we did (Dilin had a Pepsi). Next we hit the gift shop—ya gotta get stuff for those that didn’t come along—do that we did.

On the street again, we walked around the massive facility and found our bus stop to wait out the heat that continued to develop. It took a full forty minutes for one of those busses that run every thirty minutes to show.

Waiting on our ride!

We found seats together but couldn’t hold on to them long as they were designated for removal should a wheelchair rider need access—five minutes into the ride, there was one. We had a map showing the route and thought we were in great shape. About twenty minutes into the ride—stopping at almost every corner—I saw the edge of Busch Stadium out the window about two blocks away. Joseph said we were gonna circle around and drop off right beside it. That’s the way the route map looked also.

Well, that was just the most wishful thinking of our day. The ride continued on and on; continually getting farther from our destination the longer we were aboard. We saw some parts of town that the St Louis Mayor has never seen nor the sanitation department or the police department I am sure. We stayed right in our seats until we had a chance to gather closer together. At that point I am not sure where we were but we still had some thirty more minutes until what I figured was the turn around. We’d just ride it all the way back if we had to do so. On and on we rode—Mr. Toad would have been envious; he surely hadn’t had such an adventure.

Mr. Toads wild ride.

Just about the time we thought we were at the end, suddenly we were. The driver pulled into a Metro stop where we could board the train back downtown. We were just about worn out and completely at the mercy of the St Louis Metro System—I think they knew they had us by the short hairs all along. In any event, we beat feet to the train platform and stood in line to board. Back in the air conditioning, we were again happy and cool campers.

No more than fifteen minutes later we were standing across the street from the Stan Musial statue waiting on the light to turn so we could cross the street and go inside. First I had to have a picture of me and the statue of my favorite ball player of all time—actually a tie between Stan and Willie Mays.

Howard in front of the Stan the Man statue

As soon as the gates opened, we were in and looking for the best stand to buy a stadium bought ball cap. We decided on the fan store and spent much more in there than we should have, but what the hell, it’s only money? Decked out in our new finery, we head for the other side of the stadium where our seats are located.

Climbing the escalators we go up. Second deck and another escalator. Third deck and there’s another one. Finally we arrive at our fourth deck destination and now we have to climb to the next to last row of seats. I looked over the row behind us and nearly had my head taken off by a jet that had recently left the St Louis airport. If you squinted your eyes just right, you could just barely make out the trains and cars below us on the street.

One row from Heaven.

But our view of the playing field was fantastic. It was gonna be a great night for baseball.

The view of St Louis skyline from our seats. Notice that we're above the scoreboard line!

We watched batting practice and didn’t miss anything. Not a sole showed up to sit on our row, making it all the better. The guys went down to get some eats and brought me back a couple of dogs and a souvenir cup. It’s sitting on the counter behind me as I peck this out.

Just before game time the Farmers Blimp flew by just below us. There was a good breeze blowing but we ended up being blocked from it when several ticket holders showed up with seats in the row behind us—just this side of Heaven.

Farmers Blimp was at the game

Here we are to see the Los Angeles Dodgers play the St Louis Cardinals. I hadn’t been to a Dodger-Cardinal game since that time back in 1951. But I’m here now and ready to see it.

The Dodgers started off like they were on fire, scoring three runs in the top of the 1st inning. The Cardinals put up a goose egg.

Another hit for Pujols - see the ball off the bat.

The Dodgers came out in the 2nd and scored another four runs. Again, the Cardinals put up a goose egg. I began to really look forward th the 3rd inning—things just had to get better; the Cards were still in striking distance. In the top of the 3rd, the Dodgers only got one run and now lead 8 to 0; but things looked just a bit better—they only scored one run.

7 to ZERO going into the bottom of the 3rd inning!

In the bottom of the 3rd, the Cardinals put up another goose egg. The 4th was still better; the Dodgers failed to score but so did the Cardinals. In the Dodger 5th, they managed to get back into form and scored three runs. The Cardinals managed another goose egg.

Through the 5th inning I had not been feeling well at all and thought just maybe I was suffering from altitude sickness—we were sitting just one row below Heaven. The longer I thought about it, I realized that it wasn’t anything to do with altitude; the Cards were trailing 11 to Zero; it was the Cardinal pitching staff that was making me sick—tonight they stunk! From that point on, it was just any old ball game—an important one to me, but still just a ball game. Nobody scored for the next three innings and the both teams put up two apiece in the ninth—the Cardinals even using one of their shortstops, Schumaker, to throw the last inning. The game ended 13 to 2 and had an attendance of 37,062. Come to think of it, the wishful thinking of our earlier bus ride pretty much matched the wishful thinking of the Cardinal pitching staff!

With the last out, we were down those escalators, across the street to the Metro stop and on the very next train to leave. We did draw a couple of strange cohorts to travel with. One guy was positive that the illuminati was in control of all the money and was out to get all us poor people. He was a real trick to have a conversation with and talked to us through the windows of the train even after we got off at our stop. No more than thirty-five minutes later we were loading into our vehicle for the short ride to the motel and a good night’s rest.

Wrap-up & parting comments

During the trip to the motel a thought struck my mind. Think of the differences of that Cardinal-Dodger game of sixty years ago and the games we had seen during our Grand Stadium Tour. It was a far, far away galaxy off from the games we saw in the previous couple of days. The times, they were different. In 1951, the President was from Missouri (Truman) and in 2011, the President is from Illinois (Obama); can you imagine that? In 1951, the game was played in old Sportsman Park and this year in the new Busch II as they refer to it. The scorecard I bought the first time cost a dime; this year it was $2.50 and still just a scorecard. I did buy a Cardinal yearbook the first time—only $0.50; this time, should I have wanted one, it would have cost me $15.00—that’s right, fifteen dollars and I hardly know anybody in the darn thing. In 1951, there was no 4th deck or luxury boxes; in 2011, both are present. In 1951, the scoreboard was completely manual with real people on the back side hefting numbers into the spaces; in 2011, it’s all electronic was visuals (What would Enos Slaughter say about that?). Oh and yes the ballplayers of today make a quadrillion times more today than back then and most of them aren’t worthy to carry the shoes of those playing in 1951—most of whom had taken off time to go on that WWII field trip.

Significant differences, maybe; but the bases are still ninety feet apart. Even with all the conditioning and speed in the game today an infield out is still by about a step and a half—tell me that Abner Doubleday didn’t know what he was doing? The pitchers may throw in the 90MPH range and over 100MPH at times, but I will bet you that if any of the old timers were here to comment they would still fear Bob Feller or Sal Magile just as much as anybody throwing today.

But, in my judgment, the major difference is the number of quality ballplayers on any one team or in the majors totally. The additional teams has had a lot to do with the watering down of the available talent. In 1951, there were eight teams in either league; in 2011, the National League alone has that many and the American League has fourteen more—then 16 and now 30.

Consider this fact—I could be wrong but I bet ya I’m not far wrong if I am at all—I would venture to guess that in the five games we saw in the last few days, on the teams involved (New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and St Louis Cardinals—all quality teams and organizations) I would bet you that we saw only two future Hall of Famers—Derek Jeter (NY-Y & 3000+ hits) and Albert Pujols (StL – currently 442 home runs, 2000+hits, a real talent that is not questionable and just 31 years old). There might be a budding start that was not yet recognizable—just maybe I missed him. Maybe Josh Hamilton (TX Rangers) can continue to put up stats and move into this realm.

Hall of Fame inductees on left field fenced.

But in that August game of 1951, I saw for the Cardinals: Stan Musial (6), Enos Slaughter (9) and Red Schoendienst (2). A few other names you might recognize that was there that day was the backup catcher Joe Garaoligo (17), Harry Walker (38) and Peanuts Lowery (37)—recognize any?. On the field for the Dodgers that day was: Roy Campanella (39), Pee Wee Reese (1), Jackie Robinson (42), Duke Snider (4) and Dick Williams (38) (eventual inductee as the manager of the great Oakland A Teams of the 1970s). A few other names that might be recognizable from the Brooklyn team that played that day are: Gil Hodges (14), Carl Furillo (6), Wayne Terwillger (34), Don Newcombe (36), Ralph Branca (13), Carl Erskine (17), and Preacher Row (28)—all some great ballplayers.

All in all, I enjoyed every minute of the time I was able to spend with both my son and grandson on our little adventure. It was very special to have seen the Cards and Dodgers play in St Louis again after sixty years to the month.

I had such a good time that I have decided to make it a tradition and go see the Cards and Dodgers play every sixty years in August. I’m looking forward to the next time already; so much so that I have also decided that the next time the entire deal is on me.

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