NY Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO – August 25

The flight from Minneapolis to St. Louis was smooth and uneventful. I received an email that morning from Russ, an insurance executive I had met the prior day on the Southwest flight into Minneapolis. When Russ saw that I was reading the “Ultimate Baseball Road Trip”, he surmised I was going to the Twins game. He indicated that he and his son-in-law, who’d been seated in the aisle across from him, were also headed to the game with some clients. Their seats had been in the 100 level, behind the plate – so they must be good clients… In any event, I was sorry I was not sitting with them or other folks who could have been more fun than Belching Beer Guy.

Upon landing in St. Louis, I took the light rail train which connects the airport with downtown. I had originally believed that my hotel that eve, the Hilton at the Ballpark, ran a complimentary shuttle service to & from the airport, but I was mistaken. The train took only about 30 minutes and proved to be a great way to get back and forth.

When one exits the station, Busch Stadium is literally right in front of you. I passed by a collection of bronze statues in what is known as the Plaza of Champions – which immortalize some of the many great players in St. Louis Cardinals history. Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter and Lou Brock are among the figures which stand at the corner of the ballpark in various action poses. There is also a statue paying tribute to a famous Negro Leagues player from the St. Louis Stars – Cool Papa Bell.

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Cool Papa Bell and Stan Musial are among the statues on the Plaza outside beautiful Busch Stadium in St. Louis

Cool Papa Bell and Stan Musial are among the statues on the Plaza outside beautiful Busch Stadium in St. Louis

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After a short walk I arrived at the Hilton. The front desk clerk who checked me in studied my driver’s license which I had provided along with my credit card as identification. He exclaimed – “Oh, Mr. Forish, I see you’re from Clearwater. I have relatives in Tampa and in St. Pete. That’s a beautiful area. I’d love to move there if I could find a job in the Tampa Bay area”. We exchanged contact info and I agreed to make some inquiries – both at the local Hilton property on Clearwater Beach and within other hospitality and sports venues in the area.  He thanked me and ungraded my room to one in the East tower with a stadium view and invited me to access the Executive Lounge on the top floor of the West Tower and also provided a voucher for complimentary breakfast in the 1st floor restaurant. He encouraged me to take breakfast there the following morning as the selection was much better than that which is provided in the Executive Lounge.

I thanked him and encouraged him to send me a resume. It always pays to be nice to hotel clerks and airport check-in agents. They can often provide special perks or upgrades and all too often travelers treat them shabbily. When Marie and I took our 40th Anniversary trip to Asia (10 cities in 35 days), we stayed at Hilton properties at almost every stop and I normally informed the desk personnel that we were on an Anniversary trip – staying at nearly all Hilton properties along the way. In nearly all instances, this little bit of “schmoozing” resulted in upgrades, Executive Lounge privileges, fruit, flowers, or chocolates being provided to us.

Conversely, I have seen some really bad behavior by other customers – which is pretty stupid when you consider that the representatives with whom you are talking have considerable capability to either help you or make your life more miserable if they wish to do so.

My favorite episode occurred several years ago when I was on an overseas business trip returning via Chicago. My onward flight to Boston had been cancelled and I was waiting in line at Customer Service to rebook a flight. The passenger in front of me had similar issues in his effort to return to NY, but he was giving the desk agent a really hard time, elevating his voice and indicating that her efforts were worthless since he couldn’t get on the exact alternative flight he wanted. She was so calm and professional in dealing with this jerk — it was amazing. Finally, after the guy went on and on about how crappy their airline was, she said the following: “Sir, I understand you are frustrated. However, at this very moment, there are really only two people in this airport who care one iota whether you get back to NY tonight or not…. And one of them is rapidly losing interest…”

That brought him some perspective. He apologized and was much more civil to the agent. When he left the counter, and I stepped up as the next customer, I told her I thought she handled the guy superbly. She said thanks and added; “If he had been calmer, he may have been in an aisle in the exit row seat I had available, but now he’ll just have to make due and enjoy his middle seat in the last row of the plane…” The morale is – always treat customer service folks as you’d want to be treated.

Here’s the view from my room which I got as a bonus…

View of the Stadium from my room at the HIlton at the Ball Park

View of the Stadium from my room at the HIlton at the Ball Park

I did not have a lot of time before the 6:15PM start time for the game, so I got organized and made my way up to the Executive Lounge at which they were serving “hors de oeuvres” from 5-7PM. The menu consisted of salad with all kinds of toppings and chicken fajitas – so I immediately decided this would be dinner vs. taking my chances with food at the ball park. Another bonus of this detour was the view of the famous Gateway Arch which it featured. After the tasty meal, I made the short walk over to the stadium

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

St. Louis fans really support their team – and the team often plays hard so as not to disappoint its fans- and they have a great winning tradition. Some of our friends in Florida are St. Louis folks and I had originally hoped that our neighbors right across the hall – Bill and Michele Jones – might join me at the game or meet for a drink before the game. However, Michele is still recovering from back surgery and Bill has been undergoing chemo and radiation treatments for a cancerous growth on his tonsils which he had removed last year. They were not able to come as Michele had a doctor’s visit that afternoon – but at least I got to chat with Bill and hope to see them back in Clearwater when we return in late September. Good people…

I met more good folks when I got to my seat in Section 131, Row 2 – very close to the Right Field foul pole with a great view straight down the 1st base line. The stadium was a sea of Cardinals red and white but I “sort of” blended-in with my white USA shirt and a red Phillies cap. If nothing else, I confused some passers-by when they saw the big “P” rather than their familiar “STL” on my hat. Seated in my row were Bill and Paulette – a couple about my age who indicated they’d driven 2 ½ hours from southern Illinois to come to the game for the 4th time this summer. They are committed Cardinals fans. Bill was decked out in his Red Birds Home jersey and Paulette had the full Cardinals ensemble – bright red Cardinals shirt, STL earrings, and a bracelet adorned with little red birds… True enthusiasts for their home team.

New friends and avid Cardinals fans - Bill and Paulette from southern Illinois

New friends and avid Cardinals fans – Bill and Paulette from southern Illinois

The Cards opponents were the NY Mets and both teams are contending but are trailing their respective Division leaders. The Cubs in the NL Central are well ahead of the Cards and the Mets are behind both the Nationals and the Marlins in the NL East. Both teams had the incentive to win in this battle for a ticket to the post-season. Another similarity between the two team is the fact that both have been plagued by a ton of injuries this season with losses of key starting pitchers and several position players.

In fact, that very morning the feature story in the sports section of USA Today was an interview with Mets Manager, Terry Collins, who indicated that notwithstanding the losses thru the year of key players who had figured prominently in their trip to the World Series the prior year, the Mets never give up. The list of losses includes pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler as well as 3rd baseman David Wright, Lucas Duda, and even slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who had multiple trips to the DL during the season. The same could be said of the losses from the Cardinals lineup, yet in both instances, others on the bench have stepped-up to keep thier teams in the race.

I decided to do my loop around the stadium, and get my MLB Pass-port stamped,  hopeful to find some breeze since it was really hot and still. The sun was not yet down and the scoreboard thermometer read 91 degrees. And it was buggy. I hadn’t seen so many bugs since I’d left Florida in May. The usher suggested I head up to the 400 level and walk around the top rim of the park. The breezes were certainly better at this altitude and one vantage point gave a very good view of the Arch as well.

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A lone Phillies fan among all the Red Bird rooters at Busch Stadium

A lone Phillies fan among all the Red Birds rooters at Busch Stadium

Across the top of the scoreboards and throughout the stadium, the Cardinals proudly display a host of flags commemorating their various Divisional (13), National League(19) and World Championships (11).  They are one of the most wining franchises in all of baseball. The most recent World Series Championship for the Cards came in 2011 when they rose from being an underdog wild card team to take the NL Pennant and then beat the Texas Rangers in 7 games. In Game 6 of that series, the Cards twice were down by 2 runs and came back to eventually win it in a dramatic 11th inning comeback by a score of 10-9.

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I tried to look disappointed when the Cards wewre trailing the Mets... not sure it worked well...

I tried to look disappointed when the Cards were trailing the Mets; Not sure it worked that well…

During the game, I’d asked Bill and Paulette about their thoughts on food at Busch Stadium – since I was not going to sample it personally but have to be prepared for those who ask about it (right, Jim…). They said that it is pretty much your “usual” ballpark fare but that the BBQ was probably worth trying. Not for me… since I was still digesting my chicken fajitas.

The prior night, the Cards with a season record of 67-58 had beaten the Mets (63-63 on the year) by a score of 8-1 and they were hoping to further solidify their claim to a wild card spot. The crowd of over 40,000 was twice the size and generated about 10 times the noise volume of what I had seen the prior night in Minnesota.  Adam Wainwright was the starter for the Cards with his 9-7 record and 4.71 ERA – not typical of his more stellar record in recent years. He was facing Mets starter Seth Lugo – a recent call-up from the minors with a record of 0-2 and an ERA of 3.04.

After a scoreless 1st, the Mets plated 1 in the 2nd on a single by James Loney, a double by Curtis Granderson and a Sac fly off the bat of Wilmer Flores. The Mets got to Wainwright again in the 4th when Alejandro DeAza hit a single to score both Granderson and Flores, who had reached on an error and a double respectively. They added 4 more in the 5th with the big blow being a 3 run HR off the bat of DeAza following an untimely Cardinals error.  By the time the Cards managed to have 2 runs cross the plate in the bottom of the 6th on a single by Jeff Gyorko and a HR by Brandon Moss, the Mets had a relatively comfortable lead of 7 to 2.

Mets Right Fielder Curtis Granderson was pretty close to my section.

Mets Right Fielder Curtis Granderson was pretty close to my section.

One cool feature of this particular game was that my daughter Risa and son-in-law Jim (a big Mets fan) were watching the live broadcast of the game back at their home in Cooperstown, NY. Although it is probably a capital crime according to the Unofficial Phillies Fan Code to root for the Mets, I saw them as the lesser of 2 evil rivals on this particular night. True, the Phillies and the Mets are NL East Division foes; yet depending on the year, we beat the hell out of them or they kick our butts, so it’s more like brothers who squabble all the time.

I suppose I am still smarting from way too many sweeps which the Cardinals have enjoyed over the Phils, and the arrogance of some St. Louis fans who told me they were rooting for the Yankees – yeah the bloody Yankees, for God’s sake – when the Phils returned to the World Series in 2009 after winning it all in 2008. After catching some strange glances from Cards fans who saw the big “P” on my cap when I applauded a Curtis Granderson hit or a Lugo strike-out – I decided it was probably more sensible to simply text my cheers to Risa and Jim back in NY… After all, I was not sure about the gun laws in the State of Missouri and these were pretty rabid fans all around me. If things got testy I probably might have had both Cards fans and Mets fans trying to take it out on the lone Phillies fan in the place.

I asked Risa if she could see me when Brandon Moss hit his 2 run dinger off the right field foul pole, just a few feet from where I was sitting, and she said they had indeed watched the play, but it went by too quickly, and she had not been recording the game on her DVR. So without a slow-motion replay, I’m sure I just looked like any other of the thousands of guys in red and white.

Both starters – Lugo and Wainwright were out of the game after 5 innings but the Mets had a comfortable cushion, especially after adding an insurance run in the 8th and 2 more in the 9th. The Cards tried to battle back, scoring 2 runs in the 8th paced by a second HR from Brandon Moss and adding 2 more in the 9th off solo shots by Jeff Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty, but the rally fell short. This night belonged to the Mets and they walked away with the victory. Final score: Mets 10 – Cardinals 6

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I made the short walk back to the hotel and packed to ensure I was in good shape to depart early the following morning. My next destination would be my last on this trip before heading back home. It was a fun night of baseball, but I could do without the bugs and the muggy weather.

Next stop: Dallas, Texas