If you include my college years, I have lived in St. Louis for just over 11 years now. Coincidentally, that's the same amount of time that Tony La Russa has been the skipper in town. In that time I have seen the Cardinals play postseason baseball seven times. Compared to the two times my Cubs have been in the playoffs during the same timeframe, that's a lot. So consider yourselves spoiled, Cardinals fans. If math serves me right, only the dreaded New York Yankees have had a better run in that timeframe (interestingly enough, under the guidance of La Russa's predecessor in St. Louis, Joe Torre). Though I guess one could argue the Braves have had an equally impressive run. Still, in those seven Cardinal playoff runs, the Redbirds advanced to at least the National League Championship Series six times. That's a lot of October baseball, folks.
Having lived my entire adult life in St. Louis, a good chunk of my friends are diehard Cardinals fans. And let me tell you that we have a great time when it comes to the Cubs vs. Cards rivalry. When the Cubs were in the playoffs in 1998 and 2003, I can say that although my buddies razzed me something fierce, they weren't opposed to a Cubs miracle that involved popping the champagne and celebrating a World Series crown. Obviously, in hindsight they had little to worry about.
I must admit, though, that as I watch the Cardinals play in the postseason each year, for whatever reason I just cannot bring myself to cheer for them. And I don't quite understand why. What is wrong with me?
Am I that guy up in the tree in the Tommy Lasorda commercial, so jaded as a Cubs fan that I can't stand for anyone to enjoy baseball happiness around me? Is it that I'm naturally a fan of the underdog, and because of that, I just can't bring myself to cheer for a Cardinals team that is just so damn good each year? Is it that I'm jealous and envious of what the Cardinals fans have – the history, the championships? Or is it simply that certain players and coaches in the Red and White jerseys rub me the wrong way that I simply don't want to see them win?
It's probably a concoction of them all.
Considering the buzz that resonates from Busch Stadium each summer in St. Louis and my love for the game of baseball, you'd think I'd fall right in with this red-clad crowd. I'd wear my red t-shirt or Cards jersey to work almost every day they were scheduled to play. I'd sell my soul for season tickets. I'd go to all the pep rallies in Kiener Plaza and collect loads of free stuff. I'd attach those little flags to my car windows so that they'd whip in the wind on Highway-40. I'd buy an old Busch Stadium seat for my basement. I'd even subscribe to the local newspaper just to read the latest and greatest news about the Cardinals everyday.
But even though I don't fall into the true fanaticism of being a Cardinals fan, you'd think I'd at least find some enjoyment in cheering for them in the postseason. After all, playoff baseball clearly benefits the city economically and brings the national excitement right here to my home town, which is far better than it being in some other city like Miami or San Diego, right? And I know that it would bring so much joy to my good friends if the Cards were to win that seemingly elusive World Series Championship.
But for whatever reason, I just can't do it. I can't find a way to cheer for them, no matter how much I've tried. And I don't understand why.
This 2006 playoff run has been somewhat different though. I can honestly say that I haven't been wholeheartedly cheering against the Cardinals. I've been cheering for good, exciting baseball. And if the Cardinals happen to win, so be it. This is a significant change from the recent years for me, and I think it's because of four factors.
One, the buzz in the city has been low. I'm not sure why, but people haven't been talking about the Cards as much, and definitely not talking nearly as much smack to me. So with the buzz low, the annoyance factor for me is also low. I gather it's because the expectations for the club seem low. After so many bad stretches during the regular season, a near collapse in September, and a media blitz that has just ripped the Redbirds apart this season, it appears as though the Cardinal Nation psyche has been battered – at least until now.
Two, this Cardinals team is the underdog this postseason. Few so-called analysts have picked the Cards to win anything. Yet they found a way to beat the Padres convincingly and trump those formidable Mets. And for this underdog fan, well I can't justify rooting against the underdog even if they are the Cardinals.
Three, there are too many seemingly good people on this team to cheer against them. Albert Pujols is about as exciting and dominating a baseball player as I might see in my lifetime, and he plays the game clean, hard, and with respect. Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan have been leading this pitching staff to glory, and well, they are two individuals who you can't help but be impressed with how they conduct themselves both on the field and in every interview. Relief pitchers Adam Wainwright and Josh Kinney are just two fabulous stories, and it's always an enjoyment to watch young, unproven talent shine on the big stage. Scott Rolen is a defensive genius and all-around good guy, who you can't help but cheer for in everything he does. And finally, David Eckstein might be the one player in Major League Baseball that embodies everything that is good and pure about the game.
Four, so many Cardinals fans have bashed this team throughout the season and postseason. As usual, La Russa and his staff have received plenty of criticism, never mind the winning ways he has brought this town. A new player like Juan Encarnacion wasn't even given an opportunity to succeed before he was booed. And an old mainstay like Rolen was put under the microscope while fans seemed to focus on the "what have you done for me lately?" argument. So many fans have had poor, cynical attitudes all season long, so it would be fitting that this would be the year that the Cards win it all – a year where so many fans were too foolish to see what a great club they had in front of them and too spoiled from recent success to enjoy the excitement of a topsy-turvy championship ride.
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