Baseball Memories Can’t Be Demolished

One of the things they don’t tell you about getting older is much of the structural part of the world you experienced in your youth will be demolished before your very eyes. Movie theaters, bars, bowling alleys, stores, schools, sometimes even the residences where you once lived. This change is most obvious when you leave your hometown and return for a visit a decade or two later. They knock things down to make way for new things.

One of the places that holds (held) fond memories for me as a child was Busch Stadium in St. Louis. My father and I would travel 90 minutes down Route 66 (now I55), cross the Mississippi and settle into our red plastic seats to watch the Cardinals play ball. What fabulous memories. The hot summer midwest sun beating down on the diamond. Air so thick that what seemed like for sure home runs would be snagged at the warning track. Every so often a merciful breeze would circle around the park and we would go “ahhhh.”

Busch Stadium was criticized for being “cookie cutter” in design. An unapproachable fortress of concrete pillars and ramps. Certainly it didn’t have the charm of the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field from the outside, but it was absolutely not pre-fab once you were inside. The fans were safely encased in a ring of arches guarded by the glistening “gateway to the west”, confidently situated on the banks of the mighty river. Somehow the sophisticated knowledge of baseball that has always been a hallmark of Cardinal fans, transcended anything that might be considered ordinary about the space.

The Redbirds had so many great seasons and exciting moments in that park, and I was there for many of them. Lou Brock stealing bases with ease. Bob Gibson polishing off yet another confused visiting team in less than 2 hours. Orlando Cepeda lacing rockets into the stands, and Joe Torre ripping apart opposing pitchers on his way to hit .363. For me the 1967-68 Cardinals will forever be a highlight in my boyhood memories. The great Yankee Roger Maris played for the Cardinals during those years. A more dangerous hitter with two strikes on him there never was. I remember watching the stadium’s opening game on television with my father, May 12, 1966. It was a marvel then, marking the second phase of the modern sports stadium. During those golden days I didn’t even consider Busch Stadium might some day be gone.

I was a witness to the first game of the 1968 World Series at Busch. Bob Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers. Thrill of my life at that time. But change is inevitable, and so the new Busch Stadium opened for business in 2006. In its inaugural year the Cardinals won the World Series. Hopefully this is a foreshadowing.

One of my uncles lived in Michigan and was an avid Tigers fan. He took me to a game at Tiger stadium in 1969. That park closed in 1999 and sits abandoned and deteriorating inside the city. Thankfully, Busch came down quickly and and was able to avoid this fate. Below is what Tiger Stadium looks like today. Overgrown, neglected and robbed of nostalgia.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

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