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.
The history museum is the place to learn about the history of St. Louis and the World’s Fair. The current special exhibition, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, runs until Aug. 17.
History also was on full display at our hotel, the Doubletree at Union Station. One of the nation’s great railroad stations, the 1894, Richardson-Romanesque structure was designed by architect Theodore Link, who took inspiration from the historic French walled city of Carcassonne. A great arched ceiling soars over the grand lobby, which is adorned with elaborate ornamentation. Several times a day, the ceiling becomes a massive screen for light shows.
Although it is no longer a part of the national rail system, the property’s new owners will be using the facilities to run special excursion trains. A Polar Express event will be a Christmas season highlight, and there are plans for wine and fall foliage excursions. (Information will be on the website www.stlunionstationhotel.com.)
History also can be found at the Missouri Botanical Garden founded in 1859 by English immigrant Henry Shaw.
Another St. Louis first is the Climatron, the world’s first climate-controlled geodesic dome designed as a greenhouse. Through Sept. 7, the Climatron plays host to “Nature Connects: Art With Lego Bricks.”
History and hilarity ensue at the City Museum. Don’t be fooled by the boring name: There is just no way to describe this attraction in a couple of words. It’s a child’s idea of heaven and an insurance nightmare. Air conditioner coils, catwalks, an old airplane and much more go into an outdoor playground area atop an old shoe factory. Inside the building, recycled materials abound — conveyor belt rollers make great balusters for stair rails, while architectural pieces of demolished buildings provide a great display. A three-story slide provides a quick exit. A small circus is headquartered here with periodic displays of circus skills. Created caves offer opportunities for exploration, but beware, mythical monsters may lurk in the dark.
Other exhibits include sideshow oddities like an alien baby and the world’s largest pair of men’s underpants. An undersea fantasy features a giant walk-through whale. I could spend hours in this place — and I’m not even a kid!
Another spot for a full-day adventure is the famous St. Louis Zoo. Rated one of the top zoos in the country, the zoo is continually adding new features. New last year was Sea Lion Cove, a great exhibit with an underwater tunnel for a fish-eye view of the animals. Just opened in the River’s Edge area are exhibits featuring Andean bears, sun bears and painted dogs. Also known as African wild dogs, these endangered animals have beautiful spotted coats with red, brown, black, white and yellow fur.
St. Louis has so much to do, a weekend isn’t adequate to do it justice. I haven’t even touched on the Arch, Grant’s Farm, the Delmar Loop, the Science Center, the Magic House, Ted Drewes unbeatable frozen custard, Italian food on the Hill, beer and — for swingers, the Circus Harmony Flying Trapeze Center.
If you go
Go to www.explorestlouis.com.