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12 April 2011

Why St. Louis Is A Baseball Town

Living in Arizona and being a St. Louis Cardinals fan gives me a unique perspective on what constitutes a true baseball town.  I lived the first half of my life in southern Illinois and a short time in the St. Louis area.  The second half as been spent in Arizona - mostly in Tucson.  Baseball fandom is as different as the geology.

Hard to play wiffle ball with this
standing where 2nd base should be.
In Arizona, baseball has plenty of devoted fans.  The problem is that so few are Diamondback fans.  Most are like me - relocated and distanced from their childhood team.  The D'backs have no adults that grew up rooting for the hometown team, because there was no team when they grew up.

Arizona is full of Red Sox fans, Cub fans, Tigers fans, Yankee fans, and Cardinals fans.  The Dodgers are the true kings of the area.  For generations, every Dodger game was broadcast here.  If the native Arizonans talk about their father's team, it is almost always the Dodgers.  Most everywhere you go in this country, you will see the colors of the above six teams.  It is no different here.

Despite a long and valued history of great college teams and the Cactus league for spring training, baseball is not ingrained in the very fabric of everyday life like it is back in the Midwest.  My father learned the nuances of the game from an old man that watched the kids play in a vacant lot near the house.  He taught me those lessons.  I have tried to expand upon them.  I rarely meet a native Arizonan with that type of background.  And we all have grandmothers and/or mothers who are devoted Cardinal fans.  There is no such animal in Arizona, because there was no team.  And Los Angeles is a long way away.  Vin Scully is great, but if you never go to a game, you just aren't the same sort of fan.

How I spent my summers growing up in the Midwest
I have been a Cardinals fan since before I can remember.  I really didn't have a choice.  Dad listened to Jack Buck announce the games every night on a transistor radio as the family watched TV.  He would turn it up for everyone to here when something exciting happened.  Our family vacations often centered around a Cardinals game.  St. Louis was a two hour drive.

Now I live in Tucson, a two hour drive from Phoenix.  I have driven that freeway to see a game a few times - always to watch the Cardinals.  Twice have I gone to see someone else, and both times the tickets were free.  I went because I love baseball, not to see the D'backs play.

Once, there was excitement for baseball in Arizona, especially for one magical October.  Every baseball fan remembers the 2001 World Series.  Arizona vs. Yankees.  The Diamondbacks were Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Byung Hyung-Kim.  Juan Gonzales, Steve Finley, and Miguel Batista were big heroes as well.  But the payroll was too much to bear, and the team was torn apart.  Without a historical fanbase, the fair-weather fans drifted away.  That would never happen in St. Louis.  Never.  The memories of our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmas won't allow it.  And that ever renewing legacy is the reason St. Louis is such a great baseball town.

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