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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Baseball Is Coming…

Baseball columnist Rob Neyer once mused:

“It’s often said that baseball is life, or is like life, or that going to a baseball game is like going to church. Piffle. Baseball is like baseball, and that’s plenty good enough because nothing else is quite like baseball.”

Amen.

For some reason, the greater American public has decided to embrace football as America’s “favorite sport.” I mean, I get it…sure…the action, the collisions, the ravenous fans going topless in sub-zero weather during a blizzard – well, maybe I don’t get THAT. But I get the fascination with football. After all, I played when I was younger, and I enjoyed it.

But it doesn’t hold a candle to baseball.

The history, the tradition, the smell of dirt and dust rubbed diligently into a well-oiled leather glove…The hot dogs, the popcorn, the wax-paper cups filled with bubbling soda after every game…The weight of a bat in your hands, the smell of the grass in Spring…The sensation of sliding through packed earth as you steal second base…

There’s nothing quite like baseball to tickle the fancies of a young American boy.

At one point in time, young men worshipped cowboys and gunfighters, lawmen and outlaws. They would strap on toy six-guns and grab stick horses, leaping from the top porch step into sweltering Summer heat. The days would drag by as every new sunrise brought fresh battles and untold adventures. Legends grew, and women were won…and young men learned…to swagger.

Eventually, with the coming of such iconic titans like Babe Ruth and Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson and even the cantankerous Ty Cobb, men of a certain age began to look up to more accessible heroes with more attainable goals – professional baseball players, and all the fame and fortune that followed them.

Neighborhood children would gather together – perhaps on an empty sandlot, or even an empty alley – and strike up games played with mere stick and ball. Hours would be spent running and fielding, yelling and swinging, catching and throwing. A brand new baseball glove became a prized and treasured gift. A new bat something to tell the fellas about. And a new ball meant a new game to be played.

Games were won, and heroes were born…and young men learned…to dream.

As the decades progressed and the world was introduced to flight and space travel and exploration of the most intriguing sort, boys began to look up to pilots and astronauts and fictional captains who could brave the deep blue sea or soar among the stars. Soldiers departing for war or returning from combat were only the awesome incarnations of their idols made flesh among them.

But baseball remained.

Walter Johnson paved the way for Whitey Ford who surrendered to Sandy Koufax who stepped aside for Bob Gibson who looked ahead to Nolan Ryan who broke ground for Roger Clemens who held on until Chris Carpenter could become a fiery, intense figure that willfully burned a hallowed place in Cardinals lore.

All the while, fathers and sons carried on the tradition of every single one of them by “having a catch” in the back yard. Stories were told, and idols were preserved…and young men learned…to remember.

And young women emerged.

A game once reserved for young white boys and old white men became a heritage enjoyed by the whole of America. It became a vessel for the nigh-immortal American tradition. It endured as a shared experience between friends and family, whites and blacks, men and women, parents and children. It survives as a shining example of progress and perseverance, of joy and disappointment…of agonizing defeat and hopeful rebirth.

After all, there’s always next year.

And now, as we find ourselves standing in the twilight of these cool February evenings, the sounds of marching bands and raucous cheering behind us…we look ahead to the crisp crack of the bat, the bright sunshine of an afternoon game…and the heavy hearts of 45,000 silent fans receiving the gentle vibrations of a lone harmonica as it blesses a new season of expectations…

“Take me out to the ballgame…take me out with the crowd…buy me some peanuts and cracker jack…I don’t care if I never get back…”

Another season is near. Spring Training comes again. We say hello to the boys of Summer and goodbye to our heroes of old…giants among men.

It’s time for another season of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Break out your jerseys and get your red on.

GO CARDS!!!

My Heart Breaks…The Ace is Done. The all-but-official retirement of Chris Carpenter is heart breaking. He wasn’t the nicest guy on the mound – or in the street when you were trying to get an autograph…not always – but the man had the heart of lion and the fire-breathing intensity of a thousand suns. I know, I know…over the top. But that was Carp. He WAS over the top. He WAS legendary. To hear that his final contracted season as a Cardinal, perhaps in baseball – his farewell tour with an adoring fan base – is all but gone…it’s saddening. I feel as if the game will never see the likes of Chris Carpenter again. Of course, that’s exaggeration, and it’s more than likely untrue. But that’s the nature of Chris Carpenter. He demands exaggeration. He demands legendary remembrance. “Why, I once saw Chris Carpenter pitch every inning of a day/night doubleheader…and then he got in a fight with the opposing manager in the parking lot!!!” They just don’t make ‘em like Carp anymore. Thanks, Ace. It’s been fun.

Ronny Cedeno? Really? I don’t understand this move for an organization focused on the future. Unless Mo just absolutely, positively intends to further develop Ryan Jackson in AAA without disruption, Cedeno on the bench makes no sense. The dude brings no offensive upside, and his veteran “presence” is akin to asking Rosco to step in and run Hazzard while Boss Hog is away (Dukes reference). I just don’t get it. Between Descalso, Furcal, Kozma, Jackson, and now Matt Carpenter…and considering the fact that we traded Schumaker…how do we figure on improving the middle infield picture by bringing in a guy famous for bunting with the bases loaded????

Here we go again… Bob Nightengale of USA Today (you remember him, right? “The Tigers in 3…” circa 2006) has already posted the following tweet: “Yes, the #Reds certainly have become the clear-cut favorite to win the NL Central.” Why? Because Carpenter is out for the season? Are you even paying attention, Bob? Hmmm…lemme’ see, who shall I bring up from baseball’s number one farm system to take a spot in the rotation? Well, I guess I could go with Shelby Miller…or Trevor Rosenthal…or Joe Kelly…or what about Lance Lynn? Does Lynn have anything to offer? Come on, guys. When are you going to learn that counting the Cardinals out is just not a smart move? 2006 – Bob says, “Tigers in 3…” while chuckling about the Tigers struggling to keep a straight face. Cardinals win the World Series, defeating Detroit in 5 games. 2011 – Waino goes down with TJ Surgery and most of the national media cries, “The Cards are done!” The Cardinals go on to win the World Series against the favored Rangers in 7 games. 2012 – Pujols leaves, TLR retires, Carp goes down at the beginning of the season, Craig has knee surgery, Berkman lands on the DL for most of the year…and the Cardinals come within one game of returning to the World Series after taking a 3 games to 1 lead in the NLCS. The Giants – the team that defeated them? – go on to win the Series in 4…against the Tigers…the team Bob Nightengale AGAIN picked as overwhelming favorites. So…let’s refrain from making any rash predictions in the first week of February, mmm-kay?

Sheesh…I can’t wait for baseball.

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