When I think back to my many Cardinal game experiences, there are two particular games that come to mind.
The first was game 3 of the 2011 NLCS against the Brewers. I was on fall break and flew out to St. Louis to catch the game. It was great. The Cardinals blew Milwaukee out of the park, but more important than the result was the atmosphere. You could tell, even from the top of the third section, that the players were loving it on the field. And that translated to the fans. Each bad call was met with boos, each opposing strike out with cheers, and it seemed like in each moment the team and the fans were one unit, collectively, working toward the same goal of giving St. Louis a World Series.
My second vivid memory was Game 5 of the 2013 World Series. I flew out to St. Louis with my dad to catch the game, and it was one of the saddest experiences I have ever had. The players looked lethargic, the crowd felt lazy, and the atmosphere was not very Cardinal-esque. There was no fire in the team or in the fans, and it showed on the field.
You all know what happened in 2011 and 2013. And last night, at my first game of this season, I got a piece of those 2011 feels again. Yeah, the team lost, and yeah the stadium was more empty than usual due to the Blues playoff game, but the players and fans were locked in. The atmosphere was upbeat, and there were two particular moments that stuck out to me during the game demonstrating so.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) April 14, 2016
First, was the solo shot by Brandon Moss in the bottom of the 8th to tie the game. The game had gotten into a little bit of a rut, and Moss came in as a pinch hitter and blasted one to deep right center. The grins on the fans faces weren’t unique, but the joy in the grins were. St. Louis is starting to get that taste of what it’s like to watch the Cardinals again, and boy do we love it.
The second moment was in the top of the ninth. Rosenthal had already given up a two run homer to blow the tie game. Then Maness came in, and with two outs Ryan Braun hit a hard ground ball that looked like it was going to get through the gap between second and third. Aledmys Diaz laid out for the ball, stopped the momentum and threw to first to take the game into the bottom of the inning. The Cards were already down 2, and the game was looking out of reach (which ended up being the case), but Diaz still went for the play.
As the season begins shifting into the long haul of the summer months, it’s the diving stops and pinch hit home runs that differentiate a team between wins and losses. The Cardinals have a long way to go, and a lot of places to grow, but at the core of the 2006 and 2011 teams wasn’t unbelievable talent. It was heart. It might be too soon to say, but with the Rams gone, and the Blues on their way to finishing up the season (hopefully it will end well), St. Louis has a lot invested in the Cardinals this year, and it seems like the Cardinals are going to invest a lot back.
Despite the top record in the Majors last season, the team fell short, and that’s not something that the clubhouse easily forgets. The team is mixed with seasoned veterans and raw rookies, seemingly united by their desire to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to its rightful home.
It was just one game. And there are 154 more of them. But as each one passes and the Cardinals continue to learn, connect with each other and grow, they will be putting themselves in the position, and I truly believe this, to have a remarkable year.
It should be fun.