Until the mid-1950s, baseball was mostly an Eastern game — except for St. Louis, the westernmost team in the National League.
Thanks to the Cardinals’ radio network and a clear channel designation (for national emergencies), Cardinals’ games were broadcast nationwide. Across the baseball-starved Southwest, little boys flopped on their stomachs, pencil and homemade scorecards in hand, to hear Harry Caray and Gabby Street call out the heroics of stars such as Stan “The Man” Musial and Enos Slaughter. My husband, Jack, was one of those boys. So, as often as we can, we travel to the Gateway City to pay respects to the Redbirds and ghosts of the Gas House Gang.
We find plenty to do in St. Louis, but we always start with a ballgame. This year, there’s something new. Ballpark Village, a mixed-use entertainment and retail area adjacent to the ballpark, offers a variety of eating opportunities, some shopping and an amazing outdoor space.
That space, Busch II Infield, is on the spot where the game was played from 1966 to 2005. The diamond is outlined, and the pitcher’s mound sits in the middle. It’s a venue for festivals and family-friendly events — or folks can bring a blanket and watch the Cardinals game on a huge outdoor screen.
Inside the building, FOX Sports Midwest Live!, a central atrium, provides an area for eating, drinking and watching sporting events or live concerts. Amenities include five stages and plenty of TV screens.
Businesses on the perimeter include Budweiser Brew House, Cardinals Nation Restaurant and Bar and the official Cardinals Authentics store. The Brew House and the Cardinals Nation have upper-deck viewing areas where guests can watch games. The view is best from Cardinals Nation. The price, $75 to $270, includes a ticket to the game and unlimited food and beverages.
My husband’s Ballpark Village highlight was the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum goes back in baseball history to the late 1800s. Then known as the Browns, the team joined the National League in 1892. The name changed in 1899 to Perfectos, and in 1900 became the Cardinals.
Among the oldest artifacts are a pair of 1880-era quilted pants and some odd-shaped bats. Branch Rickey’s 1919 road uniform is there, as is the first ball pitched in the 1926 World Series, a series the Cardinals won.
There also are wonderful exhibits on Musial, not only a great baseball player but one of the finest gentlemen to play the game. On loan this year is the Medal of Freedom presented to Musial by President Barack Obama two years before the star’s death in 2013 at age 94.
My husband’s biggest thrill: donning plastic gloves and taking his place at home plate holding Musial’s bat. Visitors have a choice of bats used by five other players — Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Allen Craig. Jack also posed with a bat used by our current home-state favorite, Matt Holliday.
For a baseball fan, specifically a Redbirds rooter, this is Nirvana.
More than baseball
There’s more than baseball history to enjoy in St. Louis. This year the city celebrates its 250th birthday. From its start as a French trading post to becoming a mighty metropolis, the town claims many “firsts.”
The 1904 World’s Fair in Forest Park introduced iced tea and the ice cream cone to the world. Remnants of the fair include the St. Louis Museum of Art and the Aviary at the St. Louis Zoo. The art museum, zoo and the Missouri Museum of History in Forest Park are free attractions, but parking, special exhibits and events may have an admission charge.