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Heartland of America Post #5, Busch Stadium

“All the HOK stadiums have a ‘look,'” corwin said upon laying eyes on Busch Stadium. Then he thought for a second. “Well, except for Yankee Stadium. And I guess Kauffman Stadium is unique, too.” I reminded him that Miami had more similarities with the new Yankee Stadium than with Camden Yards, too. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that all the HOK “retro-style” ballparks a la Camden Yards share a specific aesthetic. “Retro-style” means red brick, green I-beams, and jauntily jutting decks and ramps.

I’d been to Busch once before, during the SABR convention in St. Louis years ago when the ballpark was still brand new. Since then “Cardinals Village” has been built, a mall-like structure outside the park that houses retail of various kinds including a fudge store, Cardinals merch store, a giant Fox Sports themed sports bar from which pregame festivities are broadcast, and also the Cardinals Museum. It costs $14 to get into the musem if you don’t have special Wrigley-esque seats on the roof or you’re not a card-carrying member of Cardinals Nation. We decided to buy a praline at the fudge store and skip the museum in favor of exploring around the outside of the ballpark before the gates opened.

Built on the spot where the old infield stood is now a brick recreation of home plate and the basepaths, filled with artificial grass on which the game of “cornhole” (it’s like horseshoes but with beanbags and a box with a hole in it as the target) is available to play. Around it are food stands (the Cardinals Food Truck), picnic tables, and a small stage for performances, though it wasn’t in use. The infield was in use, though. Some adult guys with beer in one hand and beanbag in the other were playing cornhole, a few kids were running around the bases, and a blond-haired pair of siblings about age 8 and 9 were playing catch with a ball and gloves.

Neither of them was gripping the ball right but the boy was throwing better than his sister just by arm strength, and he was trying to get her to throw straight at him instead of lobbing the ball up in the air. She was, as the saying goes, throwing like a girl, while he was throwing a kind of palm ball changeup (unintentionally, I think). All across the midwest people have been super friendly to us and haven’t been afraid to talk to us, so I decided not to be afraid to talk to them. I decided to give the girl some pointers, since her brother’s advice wasn’t really helping at all. I showed her how to grip the baseball across the seams with two fingers and to finish her throw with those two fingers pointing straight at her brother.

She got it right away, first throw was on a line right into his glove. His throws got a lot better, too, as he followed the same advice. Having done my good deed for the day, we moved on.

The Cardinals have an excellent collection of statues of their greats clustered together near the third base gate. Each statue captures the player in dynamic motion, Ozzie Smith’s being the greatest one on that score, showing him in full Superman stretch mode, having left his feet diving for a ball. Red Schoendienst is also in the air, in the midst of turning a double-play while avoiding a runner. Enos Slaughter is shown sliding into home plate at Fenway Park. If you know your World Series history you know why: He’s scoring on the play in which Johnny Pesky was later blamed for holding the ball (but he probably didn’t, actually). And of course there’s a Stan Musial statue.

As you continue further around toward home plate you come to another statue of Musial, a much larger one, with its own small plaza of bricks with booster names on them.

We made our way around to the home plate gate and then waited for the gate to open since we were still a little early. An usher asked us if we had club seats, in which case we could enter early, but I said we didn’t, and so we sat there for about twenty minutes while I checked Twitter for last minute ballpark food recommendations. Dinger Donuts and bratwurst in a pretzel had been suggested earlier in my feed when I’d asked for what to eat at Busch Stadium that was unique and delicious.

Once we got inside we located a bratwurst in a pretzel right away and we were not disappointed. Chewy pretzel dough surrounds a flavorful, juicy bratwurst. I could have eaten two if I weren’t saving room for other things.

We circumnavigated nearly all the way around the main level of the stadium, before we found the donuts, passing the Build-A-Bear workshop and children’s play area, many many many bars and drinking establishments (it seemed like more than usual), competing hot dog stands (Nathan’s as well as the Cardinals brand), “convenience store” type stands where they sold beer in cans out of refrigerators (can you tell the stadium is owned by a beer company?). There was one mexican stand, one “Asian Stir Fry” stand (“Asian?” really??) and one kosher stand.

But we found the donuts at last and they were glorious. Dingers Donuts are miniature donuts being fried on the spot (see video below) and served with hot white or chocolate glaze, or powdered or cinnamon sugar. The couple in line in front of us said they always get the helmet-full, which was listed as 50 donuts, and eat them all game long. The employee serving them didn’t count the donuts as she scooped them into the helmet and by my estimation they got more like 75 (possibly as many as 100) mini donuts in that helmet.

We bought the other size available, which was 14 donuts (a “dinger dozen”) and half and half on the glazes. These are the same glazes you get on a black and white cookie, only hot and liquid when served. Oh my goodness, what a treat. corwin keeps his carbs down to keep the specter of diabetes at bay which meant he ate two and left the other 12 for me. I had no trouble polishing them off while he got in line for a pastrami-topped knockwurst from the Kohn’s kosher stand and a meat knish.

Our next stop: our seats. The escalator up the loge level was labeled Redbird Club only so we climbed up and up and up the ramps and then… hmmm. The tickets were mobile-only, not “print at home” so they were in the Ballpark app. (Aside: Dear Ballpark App, why is it so damn hard to find the tickets to the game? Why do I have to reconnect the app every time I buy tickets from MLB.com merely because the tickets are from a different team from last week? Even the gate usher couldn’t believe I had to go through three levels of menus before the actual tickets came up. This shouldn’t be this difficult, especially when you have geolocation on and the app automatically “checks in” and knows which stadium and game I’m attending. WTF.)

Having the ticket inside an app and on a screen meant I didn’t really look at them carefully — and I’d bought them back in April so I didn’t really remember what I’d bought. I usually go for the upper deck behind home plate in any given stadium, if I can get it, so I can see all the action and not break the bank. This time, judging by our section number — 250 — I’d bought in the loge level.

We got up to the top of the ramp at the loge level, though, and the signs were to sections 255 and up. An usher asked me if we needed help and I said yes. I showed her my phone screen. “Oh, you’re in the Redbird Club,” she said, and opened the door to an airconditioned paradise. Well, okay, this particular day the weather was sunny and dry, with relatively low humidity and temps (80% humidity and 82 degrees) compared to the day of the eclipse (high 90s humidity and temps, with a heat index of 105), so we weren’t in need of the AC. But on those days when it’s sweltering, it must be great. There are a plethora of food options inside the club for purchase, as well as large, clean restrooms.

To be clear: there were large, clean restrooms everywhere I went inside Busch Stadium. And I’m used to the restrooms staying clean throughout a game when we go to Yankee Stadium, but I only just learned, from corwin, that unlike the women’s rooms at Yankee Stadium, the men’s rooms aren’t continually cleaned by an attendant throughout the game. By the late innings, he says, “they get disgusting.” Huh. Learn something new every day. Apparently the Yankees keep the women’s rooms pristine because if women are grossed out by the bathrooms, they won’t come back, and as MLB discovered years ago (about 20 years ago, when one of the first things Bud Selig did was study women and baseball) not only are about half of all attendees at MLB games women, they purchase far more than half the tickets sold (presumably because women are in charge of social planning in many couples and families). Men, though, are still expected to put up with things getting gross. Jeez, Yankees, really?

Anyway, I can’t vouch for the state of the men’s rooms throughout the rest of the league, or at Busch Stadium. Your mileage may vary.

As we made our way to our seats I began to remember why I’d bought the club seats: the last time I saw a game at Busch Stadium, a massive thunderstorm had forced us all to take shelter midway through the game. Having a place like the Redbird Club to retreat to would have been fantastic. Likewise if we’d been having the heat advisory we’d had the day before.

So of course being prepared for terrible weather meant that instead we had the most beautiful weather imaginable. The air was dry, the breezes gentle, and by the time of first pitch the temperature was nicely cooling down. Throughout most of the game it was in the mid-70s and the skies were clear. Truly perfect weather for sitting outside and watching a ballgame from the perfect vantage point.

The only thing that wasn’t perfect about the evening was the Cardinals bullpen. Yadier Molina keyed the offense for the Cards with a two-out double in the fourth that was followed by back-to-back homers from Jedd Gyorko and Steve Piscotty, tying the game at three, and it was Yadi again with a solo shot in the sixth to once again tie the game, 4-4. But the bullpen pretty much imploded, with Matt Bowman facing three men, recording zero outs, and then all three of them scoring, and the man who relieved him, Zach Duke, not only allowing all three of them to score but then letting in another three runs before the inning was out. Josh Lucas wasn’t much better, giving up a two-run homer in the eighth. The offensive star for the Padres was former Yankee Yangervis Solarte (Sterlingism: “never nervous Yangervis”) who capped off what was already a four-RBI night with that two-run shot.

Ah well. Root, root, root for the home team, but when they’re not your team you can still enjoy the ballpark. One thing that struck me was that most of the advertising signage you can see in the ballpark is a lot of pretty neon. Unlike the outfield of Yankee Stadium which just looks like giant highway billboards plastered one after the other, Busch has each thing tightly themed. (My assumption is the Yankees sell a lot more of these billboard ads and that they change more frequently.) I also really liked the display of the World Series flags in right field on top of a side scoreboard.

All in all a very nice ballpark experience. Afterward we caught a bicycle pedi-cab back to our hotel and were ensconced in the bar there by 10:45 pm. If the Yankees ever play the Cardinals in a World Series I’d 100% endorse going there to see the games.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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