Monday, October 31, 2011


The roller coaster has finally come to a complete stop and it is now safe to unbuckle your seatbelts.

The twenty-eleven Cardinals’ season will go down in history. Not necessarily as a knee-jerk reactionary thing, though, but because they won the final game of the baseball season and teams that do that get to forever go down in history (the NCAA isn’t around to revoke anyone’s titles in this sport). However, in a knee-jerk reaction kind of way, the Cardinals very well may be talked about for some time to come. There is no shortage of hyperbole to describe what that team of former somebodies, future somebodies, and Albert Pujols was able to accomplish- namely from mid August until late October.

Around February, this team had high hopes but was picked to finish no better than third in the NL Central by most. Then they failed to reach a contract extension with The Great Pujols. Then Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery. Then those hopes that had been high began to lose altitude and the faint predictions from experts dimmed to almost total darkness. Somehow, as the All-Star Break came and went, the team that almost never got out of an inning without grounding into a double play found themselves well within striking distance of first place in the Central and not far from the Wild Card lead. Then came the trade that sent shockwaves around the continent- at least the two biggest countries on it- sending Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays for an inconsistent starting pitcher, an outfielder who could barely remember his prime anymore, and a left handed reliever whose last name haunted substitute teachers all through high school. That’s the best MO could do? Yup.

As we all watched anxiously as they came plowing into the playoffs in a real life “tortoise and the hare” reenactment, you just couldn’t help but feel like something was different about this team. Those ragtag players that led to the “future of the franchise” being shipped out were logging key innings on the mound and in the outfield and the town had caught Scrabble mania and soon the whole nation would (almost) be able to pronounce his name- at least the fans in Philly, Milwaukee, and Dallas. This team did so many things that had never been done before and that no one who knew anything expected them to do. First and foremost, they survived two rounds of TBS coverage. This feat cannot be overstated in itself. No team should ever be put through such torture. And, in those two rounds, they knocked off the best two teams in the National League. Two teams that, if we’re honest, were a lot more complete than the Cardinals. They had better pitching and just as many quality hitters. These Cardinals didn’t care though. Even at that, there was no way they stood a chance against the vaunted Rangers, though. No chance. This team just refused to listen to anyone, apparently. They made us sweat it out but eventually pulled it out in a fashion that was an impeccable cross-section of the entire 162 game schedule that had led to that point.

But this wasn’t the first team to surge into the playoffs and win the World Series. This was far from the worst team to ever win a title. They were not the first to go back home facing a 3-2 deficit and pull the series out. They definitely weren’t the first St. Louis team to win a world championship. And Freese wasn’t even the first over-looked David to win the MVP this decade. So what made them different? What made them so special that you just felt like something magical was going to happen every night? Lots of things.

Maybe it was the fact that almost every player who donned the Birds on the Bat each game played above his normal potential. The baseball world was introduced to many new names that seem to be here to stay and was reintroduced to some old faces that seemed lost at sea. Whether it was Freese or Craig or Dotel or Berkman or Lynn or Rhodes, they all found some extra life and pop in the playoffs. It was the mix of young and old that changed the dynamic of the clubhouse and made it such a cohesive group. The young guys were just cocky enough to not be scared of the moment and the grizzlied veterans showed them to appreciate every ounce of the experience. It all added up to a team ready to take on the next competitor into the ring. But that couldn’t have been all it was.

This playoff run just felt different for too many reasons to list. The most significant one, to this particular fan, was the fact that Tony LaRussa genuinely appeared to enjoy this run through the playoffs (foreshadowing perhaps?). He smiled and joked and celebrated more than any other time in his sixteen years as the manager of the Cardinals that I ever remember. And that is adding all of the smiles I have ever seen from him. It was far from a perfect exhibition on his part, though. He had his fair share of mistakes or decisions that didn’t work out just as he calculated them but that is not the debate here. He just looked happy. Truly happy to see this particular team succeed. Maybe that’s because it was one of his more difficult managerial assignments, although the 2006 team presents a good argument. But TLR has always loved his players and defended them til he was blue in the face but you just got the feeling that he thought of these 28-29 guys (we’re counting a few guys who floated on and off the roster) as his sons who he’d take a bullet for. There were always personalities that butted heads with him in the past but there was no feeling of that on this squad. They loved him and he loved them. He clearly had the support of management and the owners, too, as was exposed when they sent Rasmus packing. Everyone was on board with him and his philosophy and they were ready to ride that wave as far as he could take them.

Maybe all of his smiles were because he already knew he was hanging it up after this season. Who knows? Better yet, who cares? The man was passionate about this team. You could see it each time Allen Craig drove in the go-ahead run or every time David Freese showed off his immense talent or every punch-out one of his misfit pitchers recorded and he got to go shake their hand and wave the next one out of the pen. And it was never more apparent than when the last fly ball was hit in game seven. As soon as it left the bat, he reverted back to his 12 year old self for a brief moment that seemed like an eternity to all engrossed. In a moment of pure joy he ripped his glasses off and hugged the closest man to him in a confused, panic-stricken state. It was great to watch. It will be the image that forever defines his career for this young fan.

I stop short of calling this the greatest World Series ever or the greatest game 6 ever. I’ve only been around for 23 of them. I can say without a doubt that it was the most intense Series I’ve ever witnessed though and game 6 was the craziest game I’ve ever gotten the pleasure to watch. And I’m not even trying to say that it was the best World Series of my lifetime, it was just the most tense I’ve ever felt watching one. Things like that just don’t happen every year. I’m not sure if it was the baseball gods or fate or Bud Selig, but someone clearly wanted these Cardinals to win the World Series this year and this group was able to make it happen. A group that will never look the same again, and that rarely looked the same from one night to the next, but it was a group that came together at the right time under the right manager and made just the right plays to accomplish their goal: 11 in ’11.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Change of plans

So, the economy is effecting all of us these days. Due to rising gas prices, "No Greener Grass" has now moved to Please go check it out. I am now carpooling with my best friend (who happens to be a far better writer than I am, too), Matt.

And, as always, enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by.

It's been real.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hope Rises

This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite times of the year. I am, after all, intrigued by the anticipation in life. There are bubbles being blown and others being burst. You’ve got bats cracking in Florida and Arizona and pinging all across the country. Pucks are being dropped on the ice and balls are being tipped on the hardwood. And don’t forget about the 40-yard intervals being dashed.

This is, indeed, a great time to be a sportaholic. This is one of the only times of the year that ESPN can run every one of its specialty shows (NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, NBA Live, & College Basketball Live) on a nightly basis and not get repetitive. Barry Melrose, Jalen Rose, Tim Kurkjian, and Todd McShay are all fighting for position on the ten o’clock Sportscenter. The madness truly has begun already.

The outstanding theme, though, is hope. March brings hope in so many ways. From the promise of longer days to the greener pastures that lie just beyond the horizon, it is impossible to ignore the hope this time of year.
In the sports world, I do not know that there is a more hope-instilling time, across the board, than this. If basketball or hockey is your preference, there is either hope for the postseason or next season. Baseball fans, even on the North side of Chicago, are hopeful that this will be their year. College football fans are hoping that spring practices will translate into January games and NFL enthusiasts are eager to see whom their team will draft and if he will be the answer to the team’s problems.

From a personal standpoint: I sure know I’m hoping the Cardinals can find someone to replace Adam Wainwright; the basketball Hogs find the right man to replace Pel and get them back to NCAA relevance; the football Hogs can replace Mallett and DJ Williams and repeat last season’s success; and that the Cowboys can figure out how to not find themselves in the top 10 of the 2012 draft….assuming there is a season at all.

I am no fool. I know there are plenty of reasons to think there is no hope these days. Honestly, there may be more reasons to fear the future than to embrace it. But, for now, I say bring on the future and all of the uncertainty. Let’s just hope the NFL gets things figured out so we can avoid a painfully boring Fall.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Check out that elephant over there...

Pitchers and catchers finally reporting this past weekend can only signal one (or two) things. Baseball is almost almost back, no matter what that groundhog saw. And that the Cardinals are running out of time to re-sign a man who may go down as the best player of our generation. In fact, they are down to 13 hours and 30 minutes according to my clock (I’m guessing it will be less than that by the time anyone sees this). Granted, players have set “deadlines” in the past only as smoke and mirrors to give themselves leverage but Pujols is hardly just “another player.” Heck, he is hardly a human at all most of the time. He has shown his true colors too many times to count throughout his ten year career. That is usually not a compliment you would pay to someone but, again…hardly human. Everything from actually running his charity rather than just having his name on the letterhead to stopping a game to assist a father who fell on his face while chasing a foul ball for his downs syndrome son, Pujols has continued to show his larger than life character. I, for one, don’t see this contract negotiation showing anything different.

It’s hard to find fault from either side of these particular negotiations, too. From Pujols’ camp, of course they want 10 years and the biggest dollar amount in the history of the world. From the Cards’ side, he is (listed as) 31 already. Ten years down the road is a lot to commit to. There are a lot of variables that go into playing that long. There is a reason that we know all of the names of players who kept their production levels high when they hit the big four-oh. Because they are the exception. Not the rule. But…for the third time…Albert Pujols is hardly human. There seems to be a theme developing here.

Now it is time to put my emotions back into this debate. If the team does give him the, reported, 10 year $300 million contract that he wants, who in the world will blame them if he gets hurt halfway through the 9th year of the contract? Or if he hits .299 with 29 HRs and 99 RBIs in year 8 of the deal? Not me. Some will but those people will complain no matter what happens. They will continue to call for new management because “MO is just a greedy, good-for-nothing moron.”….On the other hand, who is going to blame the front office if they fail to get a deal done and Pujols goes to, oh I don’t know…the North side of Chicago this November? EVERYONE! A hundred years from now when the “lovable loser” title belongs to the once powerful St Louis Cardinals, our great grand children will look back and point to these negotiations as the reason for the demise of the organization and city. This could hurl St Louis down with the likes of Cleveland before you have time to turn around three times and give a good “CHARGE” cheer.

Maybe that is being a little too emotional. However, I do not see the platoon of Lance Berkman and Jason LaRue providing quite the production that Albert Pujols offers. I have been wrong before, though. They could always bring back Chris Duncan, too, I guess.

Unfortunately, as it stands at the current moment, it appears that we as Cardinal fans will be left with these fears for 8 or 9 long months to come. Unless, of course, this was all just a big publicity stunt and there is a deal ready to be signed already.

Hey, it could happen.