ST. LOUIS — For the first time in four years, St. Louis Cardinals' fans can say there's a playoff baseball game happening at Busch Stadium.
Less than 100 hours after the St. Louis Blues raised their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at Enterprise Center and nearly a week after the Cardinals clinched the National League Central Division, October will turn red again just as the blue is getting underway.
It's a long time coming for a Cardinals' fan base that lives and dies with this baseball team, packing Busch three million full only to watch other teams engage in postseason activity. Offseason after offseason, seeing free agents or coveted talent go elsewhere or simply say no to St. Louis.
In January, Kris Bryant made headlines merely by calling our Midwestern town "boring." That's it. It's okay to admit that a kink in the armor showed up in the past few years, with championships keeping their distance and playoff success being fleeting and potentially a thing of the past.
It was a couple weeks before Bryant's comments that the Blues sat in last place, looking forward at a disastrous season gone wrong. It was around the same time that fans wondered if Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller were enough for a comeback campaign further towards the Arch. For the first time in a while, St. Louis teams were long shots.
Between New Year's and today, a lot has happened, and St. Louis has rebounded in a big way. The NHL announced the Blues would get the 2020 All-Star Game, which follows up a recent hosting of the Winter Classic. Alexander Ovechkin and company will descend on St. Louis in January. The best of the best lining up at 14th and Clark for a premier showcase.
The St. Louis Billikens, led by Travis Ford, made it into the NCAA Tournament, marking the beginning of a comeback for the program. Ford and his recruiting team are making big moves, so expect that to continue.
The Blues ended a 52-year drought on June 12 with their first Stanley Cup, a miraculous 16-win journey that included a double overtime defeat of St. Louis native Ben Bishop and the Dallas Stars, and a thrilling Game 7 take down of the Bruins in Boston. The party started at OB Clark's and seemingly never stopped until the puck dropped on Wednesday. Brett Hull may still be hung over.
But that's not it.
Vince McMahon and the XFL announced the city would be one of the eight teams in the new league, launching in 2020. On Aug. 21, the team was formally called the BattleHawks. For the first time since 2015, football will take place at the Edward Jones Dome.
In August, after a few false starts and lots of rumors, the MLS formally announced that St. Louis would get a soccer team. Thanks to maverick work from Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle Betz and the Taylor family, a legion of local soccer addicts would finally receive their own team. Amsterdam Tavern in Tower Grove South will never be the same.
In early July, John Mozeliak urged the Cardinals, who were stuck toying around the .500 mark, to play better baseball. The team responded by going 47-27, outscoring the opposition by 100 runs. After an exhausting yet thrilling September, the Cardinals wrapped up their first division title since 2015, bypassing a tricky wildcard matchup with the Washington Nationals and stamping their return to prominence in the division.
Sunday, Adam Wainwright will make his first postseason start since Oct. 16, 2014. The 38-year-old will take on a pitcher 16 years his junior, but that only enables the charm and power of the situation. It's fitting that #50 is taking the ball and throwing it to Yadier Molina, his longtime battery mate. These two guys once leaped into each other's arm on that Busch bump and celebrated together five years later. They are two birds fighting off the beckoning call of the winter of their respectful careers. Two guys who don't want to do anything else.
What a pair to launch the return of playoff baseball in St. Louis, a place that is truly thriving. It's the best of times for a sports fan in this town, and the city needs all the help it can get. The Lou is far from perfect. It doesn't take much searching in the morning news or paper to notice the violence and overall chaos that takes place in this city. We are just another town, one with its own demons and setbacks.
That shouldn't diminish the growth taking place. Ballpark Village Phase 2 gets bigger by the week. That will only bring hundreds of jobs to the area and make downtown thrive. Union Station is being reborn, with a new Ferris Wheel and cafe opening up this past week and an aquarium coming soon. Numerous parts of the city are rebuilding.
For some, saying "I am from the Lou and I'm proud" isn't as easy as it used to be, but that doesn't mean it has lost an ounce of power or truth. There may be a bruise at the heart of this town, but the passion hasn't let up. People aren't hiding inside. In June, they filled Enterprise and Busch to watch a playoff hockey game on television. A little while later, they stuffed the city with blue for the first time in over a decade. Market Street was painted blue.
As I finished up an Uber shift on Saturday night, I was asked by a visiting passenger what the mood and feeling was in town with playoff baseball returning to the area. I replied shortly yet succinctly: "This town wants all the playoff sports it can handle."
That's the way it used to be, and that's the way it should be.
I am from the Lou and I am proud. How about you?
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