I wasn't born a Cardinals fan. I'm not from St. Louis - I've never even lived in St. Louis. My parents weren't Cardinals fans. So why am I a Cardinals fan? I'm afraid the answer is more complex than I can explain, but I'm going to give it my best effort.
I was born in Chicago in 1990. My Dad was a Cubs fan. I never really liked the Cubs. Growing up, I watched the Cubs on WGN 9 with my Dad all the time, but I never got attached to them, I never got into them. For 10 or 11 years, I didn't even really have a favorite team. If I had to pick one, it probably would have been the White Sox, but I hate the American League almost as much as I hate astroturf. The Cubs just played such bad baseball. They played like an American League team - high priced homerun hitters, inept managers, a complete lack of defense, no concept of bunting - it was hard to watch. I never had the strongest arm or the most power growing up, I certainly didn't have great speed. I had to do all of the little things right to play everyday. How could I watch and cheer for a team that cared nothing about the things I worked so hard at - things like baserunning, defensive skills, and bunting? I was desperate to find a team that exemplified all of the traits I valued.
Then, when I was 14, I went to a Cardinals-Astros game in Houston. Chris Carpenter was on the mound against Andy Pettitte. Carp went 8 innings and didn't give up a run and the Cards won 2-0. David Eckstein played shortstop. You hear of a five tool player? Eckstein might have had two tools. He worked and scraped for everything. He never quit. He never stopped playing. Yadier Molina caught. Being a catcher, I noticed everything about him. The way he prepared before the game, playing long toss. How he blocked balls even when runners weren't on base. He was my kind of player. Then there was Albert. Everything was so effortless. He went 2-4 with an RBI and saved his infielders from two or three errors. My Dad and I listened to the post-game press conference driving home and he talked about how the defensive plays meant more to him than his double. That meant so much to me.
As much as I loved watching the Cardinals, I didn't become a fan that day. It wasn't instant, it was far more gradual. I started watching more and more games. I started waiting up and watching the 10 o'clock edition of Baseball Tonight to see how the Cardinals did. When I woke up in the morning, I'd get on the internet and check out the box score to see how Albert did the night before. I went to Hat World in the mall and bought an authentic Blue Cardinals Road Hat. A year or so later, I was sold. I loved how La Russa managed. I loved how business-like all of the players were. I loved small ball. I loved how Walt Jocketty built the Cardinals. He didn't go out and pay tens of millions for mid-thirty year olds, he grew a farm system. He developed talent from within. I loved how good of a defensive catcher Yadier was...I would so much rather have an excellent defensive, average hitting catcher than the other way around. I bought the extra-innings package so I could watch the Cardinals every night. It was so great - my summer team's games started at about 5:30 and we'd be done by 7:30 or 8. The Cardinals started at 7:05 Central Time, but since I lived in the Eastern Time Zone I could watch virtually every game, every night. I learned so much baseball watching the Cardinals and listening to Dan Mclaughlin and Al Hrabosky. I was completely hooked.
It hit me when Walt Jocketty was fired in 2007. What is going to happen when all of these guys who make the Cardinals what they are - guys like Jocketty, La Russa, Pujols, Molina, etc. - what's going to happen when they're gone? It truly made me question my Cardinals fandom. I was scared that I was merely a fan of Jocketty, and La Russa, and Pujols, and Molina, etc., not the Cardinals organization. After a while of thinking, I realized that as much as I am a fan of the aforementioned men, I am more a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals' culture. Every organization has a culture. The New York Mets have that second-rate, junior-varsity culture characterized by that goofy "Meet the Mets" theme song. On the contrary, the Yankees have a very dignified, prestigious, classy culture characterized by their facial hair policy and their pinstripe uniforms. The Cubs had a losing culture that I could not buy into, but the Cardinals, the Cardinals have a special culture.
The Cardinals culture is defined by success and loyalty. Cardinal fans are the best in baseball, and, because St. Louis was the most Westward franchise for 50 years, Cardinal fans are found everywhere. I'm a freshman on a college baseball team and two of my teammates are Cardinals fans. One is from Spokane, Washington, and the other is from Las Cruses, New Mexico. Cardinals fans can literally be found everywhere. It's more than that though. I was so concerned the organizational philosophy would change when Jocketty was replaced by Mozeliak...but it didn't. I shouldn't have doubted that they would find a guy who would carry on the same philosophy. For a while I worried the team would change drastically when La Russa leaves (which hopefully won't be for a long time). I am fully confident the front office will find the right guy to manage the Cards whenever Tony decides to hang it up. The people may change, but the organization doesn't. One of the most puzzling questions in all of baseball is how St. Louis can convince free agents to play for the Cardinals for less money. The answer is they love the Cardinals culture. They love playing in St. Louis. I am so convinced that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in St. Louis. Jocketty hasn't nearly replicated the success he had with the Cardinals in Cincinnati. Every year, Dave Duncan finds a washed up guy and transforms him into an above average pitcher - two years ago it was Joel Pineiro, last year it was Ryan Franklin. Who knows, maybe that guy will be Rich Hill this year. There is not a culture in baseball I am more in love with than the culture of the St. Louis Cardinals'. There is not a better culture in all of Major League Baseball than the St. Louis Cardinals'.
That's all for today guys. We're inside a month until pitchers and catchers report! The anthem of the day is "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky.
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