I was born and raised in St. Louis. I spent a year in Columbia and I spent five years working on an English degree in Springfield, but my heart has always been in Nellyville.
I've also been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. I watched the Chris Miller-led Rams walk in to town in '94 and embarrass themselves until '99, when Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Torry Holt led them to the Promised Land, before becoming a team full of also-rans again by 2003.
I was born into one of the darkest periods in Cardinals history in the late 80's/early 90's and watched the team go from cellar dweller to the Mark McGwire Show, to MV3 to the juggernaut it is now. I bled blue at the Old arena, and when Scottrade was The Kiel, and The Savvis center, too. I screamed holes in to my lungs for Curtis Joseph, Brendan Shannahan, and of course, Brett Hull.
I survived the MLB lockout in '94 (It was easy enough, I was seven years old and had the ninja turtles to entertain me for the summer) and didn't foresee myself losing interest in the Blues over the lost season that really had little to do with my team specifically in the first place.
But when the gates opened for hockey again after the lockout, something was different. My Blues team was in the playoffs every year. My Blues had epic postseason battles with the team from Motown that seemed to last for days. My blues had Al Macinnis's 400mph slap shot. The team that emerged after the lockout had none of these. Macinnis hung up his skates, and the kids that rushed on to the ice with new uniforms and new faces meant little to me. They meant even less when the Blues posted the worst record in the NHL and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1978-'79. There was no McGwire, no Sammy Sosa, no Tony LaRussa era to pull me back in and I relinquished all my concern over the result of any Blues game for the next 7 years.
In the meantime, the Cardinals were becoming the darlings of baseball. They had a generational superstar in Albert Pujols. They had the best mad scientist/manager in the game calling the shots. Jim Edmonds was diving into the gap to take away RBI doubles from Brad Ausmus and, Adam Wainwright was throwing the nastiest curveballs since Koufax to the quintessential Cardinal Killer in game seven with the bases loaded to send a team that barely squeaked in to the playoffs to the Fall Classic; they would ultimately hoist the trophy twice in five years.
With the Cards providing enough entertainment to get me not only through the summers, but winters as well, hockey fell by the wayside. But this season felt different. My friends started telling me last September that this was the year. They told me that I needed to re-acquaint myself because this was the Blues team that would change the way I thought. These guys would break the "curse" and deliver St. Louis it's first Stanley cup. I believed them all season long while the Blues were dominating the Central, and I believed them even more so when Ryan Miller showed up in late February. I believed them when the Blues jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first round of the playoffs, and then when Brent Seabrook knocked David Backes' lights out, I had the catalyst I needed to not only root for a team full of hard-nosed, talented individuals, but also a reason to genuinely hate an opposing hockey team for the first time in ten years.
But it was all fleeting, and within a week, the magic had come to a halt. As everyone knows, the last four slipped from the Blues grips, with three of those games being completely winnable.
It hasn't left a hole in my heart. It's a bummer, but after Wednesday or so, I probably wont think about it for a few months. And why is this? Because we don't expect the Blues to win. We want them to. We pack the Scottrade center for every home game, we wear hockey sweaters all over town. We run blue water at Keiner Plaza, and we let the playoff games control our emotions, equilibriums, and bank accounts. But we don't expect anything. We may want it really, really bad, but we don't expect it.
That's what this series has opened my eyes to. I know how I think about the Birds in my mind, but rarely do I have a reason to put it in perspective. We're lucky enough to have a baseball team here in our hometown that is run by people smart enough, talented enough, and maybe just lucky enough that they will produce a product of which we can take comfort in knowing it will make the long odyssey that it takes to go deep in to the post-season and prove it is the class of the league.
We've become the new Atlanta Braves, a hotbed for pitching talent that develops good enough hitters to supplement it's arms and remain sustainable for an extended period. We've come to a point, as Cardinal Nation, that we wont accept anything less than dominance. A first-round exit against a third place team that you had a 2-0 lead on would be unacceptable to a Cardinals fan, just as the way we ended 2013 was unacceptable, although we could take solace in the fact that we were just one win short of the World Series, and the team that beat us would become the champions.
It may sound like we're becoming greedy as Cardinal fans, but we aren't. We are being responsible. We are recognizing a high point in franchise history and we want to take advantage of it to the fullest. If you let your son or daughter think that it's okay to get C's in school as long as there's an occasional A or B mixed in, they will become an average student who shows flashes of potential. If you drive home to them that they need to get an A in every subject across the board, and then make that an expectation rather than an outlier, it becomes the norm.
Blues fans, don't settle for a C student. Your team has all the talent necessary to achieve straight A's, but they have to develop the kind of calluses that only form from cutting your teeth in the post-season and know that it not enough to just get there. Even the early 2000's Cardinals had to suffer hard playoff losses at the hands of the Diamondbacks, Mets, Giants, Astros, and Red Sox before they took home the title in 2006. This is an excellent hockey team and smart people are running it. Know that while the short term was disappointing, events like this can pave the way for future success.
Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to KSDK.com during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.