Needless to say, I didn’t know what baseball fans were like in cities that fielded professional teams until I moved to St. Louis. When I started my work-study job as a freshman at Wash U back in ’99, one of the first things a 60-year-old secretary said to me was about baseball. The details escape me, but I believe it was something like:
“McGwire just hasn’t been hitting for power lately. His OPS is down 40 points from early August, and his follow-through just isn’t what it used to be. He needs to hit the weights, increase his bat speed, and try to get a little more lift on the ball.”
And then she went back to being old.
So right away I knew I was dealing with a completely different fan base than what I was used to. This whole town follows the Cardinals, and they love them whether they’re winning or losing.
Even though I’ve lived here for almost 9 years now, it’s still fascinating to me when I see how loyal and encouraging these fans are. Case in point: A Cards game I went to last Friday. They were playing the Phillies, and they were getting crushed. The Phillies were winning 13-1 at the top of the fourth, and they were still at bat. Journeyman pitcher Ron Villone was pitching, and pitching poorly at that. Everything he threw was either a ball or a monster hit.
At some point, I can’t remember exactly when, he threw a strike. Up until then, the crowd had been very quiet. No one likes to see their team get crushed. But when Villone threw that innocuous strike, it’s like everyone in the stadium got an urgent memo telling them to stand up and clap. And they did. The entire stadium stood up and cheered that their pitcher had gotten a strike. A single strike! Maybe I was on the outside of a private joke, but it didn’t seem like a sarcastic or mocking gesture. The crowd was genuinely supportive of the strike that Villone had just thrown in the midst of the Phillies onslaught.
I wish I could say that the crowd’s support inspired the Cardinals to tighten their pitching and come back to make the score respectable, but I’d be lying. The Cardinals lost 20-2. There was no gleeful honking or rabblerousing in the streets as we walked out of the stadium, but that’s okay. I was proud to be a Cards fan that night.