Fall & Winter 

 Spring Training 

'07 Opening Series
Fall & Winter
Every year I'm used to following the Cardinals until they are eliminated. Looks like I'll be following them the entire offseason! I continue to savor the title throughout the fall and winter.

I had mentioned to my Linear Algebra class that if they watched the World Series, it "could possibly be benefit to you." But I cautioned them, "Only slightly, though. It's still more important to focus your efforts on Linear Algebra." They have an exam one week after the World Series clincher. At the end of it, I put an extra credit question. When they turn in their exam, I hand them an Answer Key.

I wanted to thoroughly chronicle my experiences as soon as possible. But I had so much to do! I used the idea of making this website as my "carrot" for when I finished everything else. This incentive pushed me through my job application process, the end of the semester, job interviews, finishing my dissertation, defending it, and turning in the final version on March 23rd. It was a very useful motivational tool.

Election Connection
[Sorry to be political, but I'm a Democrat (especially considering the current administration) and—like I said in the intro—this is from my perspective. Don't worry, it's brief!]   I don't think I've ever done so much cheering over the span of a month. One month to the day after attending my first playoff game, the Democrats one-by-one take back control of the House and Senate. Missouri is huge, and when it is called for Claire McCaskill because of the St. Louis vote, I proudly put on my Cards hat. Of course, I make sure to put on the ROAD hat! :)

A day or two later, Bill Maher is on Larry King, and is the first person Iíve seen on TV bring together the two most thrilling events of the year for me. He compares the Democrat victory to the Cardinals winning the World Series. ďThe Democrats didnít really win this, the Republicans lost it. Itís like the World Series. I watched that, Detroit was throwing the ball all over the infield, over peopleís heads. The Cardinals didnít win the World Series, the Tigers lost it.Ē

You know what, Bill? Iíll take it. Iíll take Ďem both!!

Facial Hair
So now I've got this patch of hair under my lip. I haven't shaved there since September, and I shaped it to approximate Spiezio's look before game 5 of the NLCS. The red dye easily washes out, so I kept the look all through October. But now the Cardinals have won the World Series, what am I gonna do, shave it off now?

I keep the look and it kind of grows on me. I am 30 years old, but this is the first time I've been able to grow reasonable-looking facial hair. I keep it shaved everywhere except for the little path from chin to lip, occasionally trimming it. This is not exactly how Spiezio does his. He shaves the chin and everything but the patch of hairs just below the lower lip, and lets that patch grow down to the chin. If I tried the literal "soul patch"—even without the red dye—it would look a little too punk for me. So mine is a modified version.
In January, it becomes decision time. I have my job interviews at a conference in New Orleans. But you know what, I'm going to be a math professor—nobody is concerned about a math professor wearing facial hair! I interview with it, get a job with it, and defend my thesis with it. We've started to attend a new church, and people are now identifying me because of it. So I really like it, it's kind of a new persona for me.

Spring Training '07         [Snapfish link to my full set of Spring Training pictures]
Shorty after the celebrations end, I decide that I will be making a trip to see spring training 2007. Now, people who know me know that Florida (in particular, the Naples area) is not my favorite place to go. It's annoying to see the rich people take over the coastline with homes that they only live in a few months a year, if that. Plus, I think the nice weather is a substitute for having actual fun things to do: people wouldn't put up with nothing but malls and restaurants in Chicago, for example. But in March, there is something to do in Florida: watch the World Series Champs prepare to defend their title. So I check the schedule and make plans. I talk to Nana, and it turns out that several people have the same thing in mind, including Linda and Betty Jo. So I get tickets for the same games: March 13th, 14th, and 15th.

The Cards have a road game against the Twins in Fort Myers, then two games at home in Jupiter. So I fly in and stay at Nana's in Naples Monday night the 12th. We go to Tuesday's game against the Twins and stay at Nana's Tuesday night. The announcer at the Twins game was gracious at his team's own expense: "Welcome to today's game, as the World Champion Cardinals take on the AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL DIVISION CHAMPION TWINS!!"

David Eckstein taking batting practice
Tim Kirkjian Peter Gammons Chatting with Tony

Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers

Wednesday we drive across the state to Jupiter to see the Cards take on the Nationals. We stay at a hotel in Jupiter Wednesday night, and get up early to see practice on Thursday before the game against the Dodgers. I mistimed my flight slightly when scheduling, so I end up leaving after the 8th inning of the last game. The unimportance of spring training does not beg for a blow-by-blow account (the Cards lost 5-2 to the Twins, tied the Nationals 2-2 in 10 innings, and lost 3-2 to the Dodgers), so I will instead give my general reflections.

Former Cy Young winner Johan Santana Eckstein leads things off Albert

Albert chatting with the ump Me, my crooked shades, and Nana Human Bowling

It is fun to relax, hang out close to the players, enjoy the weather, and observe the action on the field. This is the complete opposite experience of the intensity of the playoffs. In the playoffs, you were hanging on every pitch. Here, you sometimes missed a few pitches (or even batters) by looking around. In the playoffs, the weather was cold and nasty. I think the obvious October weather added to the focus and intensity. Here, it's lounging-around weather, and watching palm trees sway is nearly as exciting as watching a guy you've never heard of take warmup tosses. In the playoffs, there was a consant buzz. Here, it was so quiet during play that I could have communicated with someone on the opposite side of the stadium. People did cheer for great plays. For routine plays, there would occasionally be applause from fans seated near to where the play occurred. There was also cheering for things like seeing our familiar starting pitchers (Carpenter, Reyes, Mulder) jog past us and head out late in the game. But there would be stretches of maybe several minutes where there was nary a peep from the crowd. And not the same kind of silence as was in Shea Stadium after Adam Wainwright's last pitch in the NLCS. More like how children are quiet when they watch clouds.

Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter

Speaking of children, they sure get a treat at Spring Training. In Jupiter, there is a section of grass seats ("the berm") that are for families only. At the front of this section is a row for kids only, and it is right behind the bullpen. I mean, these kids are literally breathing down the necks of the pitchers in the bullpen. They are allowed to ask for autographs between innings. Boy, I'll bet that gets old for those guys.

I get my Spiezio doo on before each game. Wednesday, I drive us across the state to Jupiter. On the way, there are several tolls to go through. At each toll, the attendant does a double-take upon seeing my red-splashed chin. In fact, one time the lady's startled reaction causes a chuckle in our car, which distracts me and I miss our exit. So I have to turn around, but in order to get back on the road we need, I have to go back through the toll again. I'm kind of hacked off about it, but Betty Jo suggests, "Go to the same one." So I do, and the lady says "Oh, you again," to which we all burst out laughing.

Warmups What's going on over there? Oh right...a game. Bullpen

It's funny, but I think that it is actually harder to follow a baseball game in this setting. Being at field level in daylight, it is really tough to pick up where the baseball is when it leaves the pitcher's hand or leaves the bat. Big stadiums maybe allow for a better view because you can look down at the field. And at night, the baseball really seems to be lit up. But here it's not about whether the pitch was a strike, whether the runner was safe or out, or even how the shortstop made that play (there are no replays). It's about being close to the players, and for me, continuing the denoument of savoring the championship.

We heard a lot of different pieces of information from other fans. Much of it turned out not to be true—things like Cards' roster moves, the team's daily ritual, and how we could get autographs. It's cool, though— everyone's just chill and wanting to share with other fans. Nobody's really sure about anything—it's just spring training. No wonder Cub fans love this time of year!

The practice field area is quite a complex, encompassing 12 fields. We watch several groups of Redbirds doing stretching, running, and drills. The minor leaguers—we were told—had the gray pants, while the main roster members had white pants. (This information turned out to be accurate.) We mingle among a couple hundred red-clad supporters, and I recognize many 5-month old shirts that are also now in my wardrobe.We gaze at some player groups from afar and watch the minor leaguers take batting practice. When it came to autographs, we were like Carlos Beltran: we struck out looking. But oh well, it's still nice to enjoy the weather and watch people play ball. In fact, we did see a family of Mets fans at the park—decked out in their gear despite their team not playing here, just as I was decked out in Cards gear to see the White Sox-Yankees in '05. One of the kids had a Beltran jersey. It's funny how seeing that jersey now makes me smile, and probably always will.

In the last 25 months, I have now been to the World Series championship parade twice (including the White Sox in '05), and to Spring Training for the defending World Series Champs twice (including the Red Sox in '05). It's much better when it's my team.

Overall, it was a great experience to take in, especially to reminisce about last year. As a player or manager, you can't be satisfied with success. But I'm a fan, and I am satisfied. Even if the Cards never win it all again the rest of my life, I'll be happy to have had 2006. Attending Spring Training was a way to extend the memory. I don't think I'll go every year, just years after championships. So yeah, maybe I'll be there next year.

'07 Opening Series
This year, baseball decides to have a National League game in the prime time season opener. That's right, the Cards have put the NL back on the map! We open up against the Mets, which is perfect for us Cardinal fans to reminisce.

2007 Opening Day April 1st
This is the most interest I've had in opening day since I was a kid. I deck out our Townhouse in Cardinals memorabilia and host an Opening Day party for Cards fans only. This requirement of course greatly restricts the number of my Chicagoland friends who might come, so it is a small gathering. During the commercial breaks, we watch the extras from the 2006 World Series DVD. Next to our main television, I use a small TV to monitor the live game. Toward the end, we watch more of the DVD, because the live game is not that interesting—the Mets win, 6-1.

Ring Night April 3rd         [Snapfish link to my full set of Ring Night pictures]
Nana has a seat for me for the second game of the season, which is Ring Night. She gets Brandt's tickets for this game, so we take the limo and I get to sit in the sweet seats. Man, I'm really getting spoiled!

I've got my Spiezio doo on—I really like this "splash of red" look for Cards games, plus I've learned to throw it on very quickly. It's a rainy, miserable day, so we wonder if the game will be played. But we drive through the dark clouds and by the time we get to St. Louis, the rain has mostly let up. The gates have not yet opened when we arrive at the park, so people are lined up all around the stadium and even down the street.

We get in with about an hour and a half prior to game time. There is no batting practice, perhaps because of the rain. We grab some food and I buy a gameday program. Then they start setting up the stand for the ring ceremony. Mike Shannon is the MC, calling the name of each recipient one-by-one. They give rings to a whole bunch of people nobody knows like equipment managers.

Former Cardinal greats like Lou Brock and Bob Gibson also get rings. Then the 2006 players each get theirs. Scott Spiezio's ring is given to him by his father Ed, a member of the Cards' 1967 World Series Champions. They are the first Father-Son combination ever to win World Series with the same team. So Taguchi removes his hat and bows upon receiving his ring. Throughout the presentation, the right field video board does a continuous loop of Wainwright's strikeout of Inge and the ensuing celebration. That's awesome.

Yadi Albert Eck

The Spiezios

Rolen Rolen & Carp Carp

Wainy with a big smile Wainy at the table So polite

Near the very end of the ceremony, the sun peeks through.

This game is another loss for the Cards. The offense can't do much, and we hear that Carpenter is going to miss his next start. That's OK, I'm still thinking about last year. The most exciting part of the game is in the bottom of the 8th. Trailing 4-1, the Cards get 2 on with 2 out and Albert at the plate. Unfortunately, he flies out to end both the inning and our reasonable hopes. Lots of fans take off then. We make our way to center field (closer to the exit) and watch the uneventful 9th.

I also get to go the next night. It's flag night, and I get a sweet five-foot championship pennant that I think will look great on our patio in Arizona. The Cards offense continues its struggles, including Pujols. It's fun whenever he comes to bat, but it's interesting when he makes an out—particularly to end an inning. That's when so many people head to the bathroom or to the concession stand. It's like, "Well, that was our chance for now, we'll come back later." I'd like to know the proportion of people leaving their seats following a random inning vs. the proportion getting up after Albert ends an inning. I'd bet there is a huge surge.

This game also turns out horribly, and the Mets have enacted a small measure of revenge. In terms of meaningful games, the Mets have now played the Cardinals 10 times in a row. Fortunately the Cards were able to win 4 of the important 7. And our luck as fans so far in 2007 is not too good. This is my fifth game counting Spring Training and I have yet to see the Cards win.
But that's OK. I'll take losses in March and April since I got to see wins in October.     Lastly, to

Little Boy's Dream


Past Decade

Pennant Race



World Series