Anywhere But Busch
Submitted by Rob G. on Wed, 09/07/2005 - 7:07am
On the day of the Cubs' last-ever game at the current Busch Stadium, guest writer Justin Hamm checks in with his thoughts on the stadium. He's not misty-eyed about its impending demise, that's for sure. ---------- On the Implosion of Busch Stadium Sometime in late October or early November, not long after what is no doubt going to be another insufferable playoff run by the Cardinals, a demolition crew will gather in downtown St. Louis to perform a glorious and long-overdue act. Theyíre finally going to blow the complete and holy hell out of the ballpark-size Cubby-bear trap they call Busch Stadium. Yes, Busch is the place where shortstop/defensive artiste Ozzie Smith did his best and most memorable work, and the place where Big Mac hit dinger number 62. But itís also the place where the Redbirds keep the 9 World Series and 16 NL pennant banners to which their fans allude when lording it over Cubs fans, and the place where, 18 years ago, a certain chubby seven-year old with a missing front tooth and a haircut he still insists was not a mullet caught his first-ever glimpse of live big-league action. The rules of the traditional baseball-nostalgia-piece genre insist that he should proceed by describing what a grand and breathtaking night it was. He should employ lots and lots of hyperboles when referring to the field (the very green God himself intended when he made the color) and to the ballplayers (bigger than giants, bigger than really gigantic giants). And ñ oh, yeah ñ his old man ought to figure prominently into the story, too, particularly if he and his old man were at odds over some deficiency in their relationship at the time. That way, the ending can show what the traditional endings always show: how baseball heals all wounds. But the kid isnít a liar ñ or, at least not a habitual one. What he is, however, for better or for worse, is a lifelong Cubs fan, and what he saw that night ñ his favorite ballclub play as if the Tribune Company had decided to dish out paychecks based on some backward incentive scale (two-hundred grand for hitting into a double play, a hundred grand for making an error, fifty grand for every runner left on base) ñ did nothing to ingrain in him any affection whatsoever for the ballpark in which he was sitting. The Cubs lost. The kid cried. He spilled the last of his nachos and cried even harder (okay, so he was a very chubby seven-year old, if you have to know the truth). His uncle patted him tenderly on the non-mullet and promised the luck would be better next time around. But, of course, that wasnít true. Roughly once a year for the next 18 the kid would made the same trek down I-55 and over the river to catch at least one Cubs-Cardinals game behind enemy lines, and he would never ñ not one time ñ bring anything but disappointment back over the Mississippi. Maybe he was just very unlucky when it came to choosing dates to attend games. Or maybe the Tribune company really was paying its ballplayers on a backward incentive scale (that would explain a lot, such as the Cubsí 136-187 all-time record at Busch entering ë05). To be fair, Busch Stadium isnít the only place where the Cubs struggled to win in those years. Before Minute Maid Park, for instance, there was the Astrodome (where the turf roaches proved that, indeed, everything is bigger in Texas). But when the Cubs dropped road games to ëStros, the kid could flip off the TV in seventh inning, and that was that. He never had to sit quietly in his seat while 30,000 Houstonians in ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots fired off their six-shooters in unison to celebrate both an Astros win at the hands of the Cubs and the ever-rising price of a barrel of oil. Or whatever it is that Astros fans do. But he did go to Busch. And he kept going, this silly, silly kid. And he kept enduring the taunts of Cardinals fans, and he kept expecting the Cubs to do better. And he kept finding disappointment. The Cubsí record at Busch in games he attended? 0-12? 0-15? Worse? Itís hard to say. After a while, the losses all began to blur together. The same montage-esque recollection of diving stops by The Wizard and absurdly long homeruns by Big Mac still dominates his dreams to this day ñ broken up, occasionally, by the vision of a bases-loaded, game-ending walk by LaTroy Hawkins. I know. Youíre thinking, This kid, maybe he should see a therapist or something, get himself medicated. But therapists cost a pretty penny, and the kid, now a twenty-five year old with a student load debt the size of small countryís Gross National Product, doesnít have a pretty penny (or, for that matter, an ugly one). What he does have, however, is a cheaper, much more fun brand of therapy in mind. See, he plans to be there in the fall, after the ñ gag, gag ñ sea of Redbird-red seating has been removed and all of the ñ puke, puke ñ championship banners have been pulled down, to watch that demolition crew reduce the concrete bowl that was once his least favorite ballpark to a very large, very expensive pile of kitty litter. Though it makes for a more nostalgic piece if he was going so he could say goodbye to the place where he fell in love with live baseball, he isnít, and anyway, that didnít happen the first night at Busch, anyway; it happened a year later when he first laid eyes on Wrigley Field. Heís going so he can hoist a beer, and celebrate, and hope that whatever black magic keeps his team from winning in St. Louis wonít find its way into the Cardsí new digs. Itís going to be beautiful, and probably very loud, when those ridiculously dignified (some might even say pompous) arches come crashing down. There will be plenty of hometown fans around, of course, their eyes full of fat, wet tears ñ after all, Busch may never reach birthday number 40, but it is old enough to be the only nest under-the-hill Redbird fans have ever known. Who knows? Maybe the kid will pause for a moment and feel a bit of compassion for their loss. But probably not. In fact, if he has a Kleenex, he wonít offer it up, not to any of them. Instead, heíll say to those spoiled fans from the Gateway City what heís wanted to say since he was seven: Wipe your eyes with one of your precious banners, you, you, Yankees of the National League. After all, you have so many, theyíre practically disposable anyway. ---------- Justin Hamm grew up in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois, roughly halfway between Chicago and St. Louis on I-55. He has since been banished to Cardinals land -- he lives writes in the heart of Mid-Missouri. His fiction has appeared in Red Rock Review and Pindeldyboz, while his essayish opinion pieces and book reviews have been featured in the past three issues of Mudville Magazine. He also contributes regular columns and articles on fantasy baseball to Roto America, and "The Black List" his column on books past and present is a monthly staple of The Truth Magazine.