Thursday, May 3, 2018

Joey's World Tour: Missouri Madness (Part I - Busch-whacked in St. Louis)

Meet me in St. Louis, preferably in front of the home plate entrance.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Greetings, baseball and travel enthusiasts.  I'm Joey Beartran, your favorite roving reporter/culinary expert for Studious Metsimus.  Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Missouri, which is the home of two Major League Baseball teams.  Unfortunately, both of those Show-Me State squads have caused great suffering to Mets fans, as they each contributed to two of the team's most heartbreaking postseason defeats in the 21st century.

As much as I can never root for the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals because of what they did to the Mets in 2006 and 2015, respectively, I can put aside my differences with the teams for just a moment to discuss their cities, ballparks and cuisine, which I will do in this two-part installment of Joey's World Tour.  (You can read the second part by clicking here.)  We begin in the Gateway to the West, St. Louis.

After taking two out of three games against the Cardinals at Citi Field to open the season, the Mets appeared to be on their way to winning another series when they traveled to St. Louis and took the opening game, 6-5 in 10 innings.  The Studious Metsimus staff and I didn't attend that thrilling contest, but we did have tickets to the final two games of the series.  So how did the Mets reward us for traveling halfway across the country to see them finish the job against their hated rivals?

They got blown out in the first game we attended, then dropped a 13-inning heartbreaker in the series finale.  Thanks for nothing, guys!

The games might not have been anything to write home about (or devote more than two sentences about in a blog post), but Busch Stadium and the immediate vicinity around the ballpark were something else.

Behind me is a village within the city, all devoted to food, fun and baseball.  (EL/SM)

Directly behind the left field fence is Ballpark Village, which is a complex that houses several eateries and bars.  From Drunken Fish (sushi) to El Birdos Cantina (Tex-Mex) to the Fudgery (you figure it out), dinner and dessert can all be had a hop, skip and a jump away from the ballpark.  For those who like entertainment with their food and drink, there's the Budweiser Brew House, which is three stories of adult beverages, dancing and live entertainment.  And if you like sports, there's FOX Sports Midwest Live!, which is 20,000 square feet of sports, sports and more sports.  There's also a stage for concerts and a VIP area for people like me.

I didn't visit any of those places, mainly because I had two Mets losses to attend.  But I did enter the Ballpark Village complex for one other thing; the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum.  And what an experience that was!

The floor design as you exit the elevator to the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum (EL/SM)

The first thing you see (besides what's in the photo above) is the wall of Hall of Fame plaques.  Similar to the Mets Hall of Fame, each player given the highest individual honor by the Cardinals has a plaque mounted on a wall, depicting his career highlights.

To the left of these plaques are the players who will be inducted this year.  For 2018, those players are Pepper Martin, Mark McGwire and former Mets broadcaster Tim McCarver.  In addition to their own plaques, each new inductee has a display booth featuring the jerseys they wore and other memorabilia from their career with the Cardinals.

Lots of red in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.  And lots of legends as well.  (EL/SM)

In addition to celebrating their best players, the Cardinals are also proud of their ballparks.  There is a room dedicated to the previous Busch Stadium, complete with a model of the ballpark St. Louis called home from 1966 to 2005 and one of the dugout benches from the dearly departed venue.

The Cardinals also haven't forgotten the other team that used to call St. Louis home.  Until they moved to Baltimore for the 1954 season, the St. Louis Browns shared the city with the Cards.  And in 1944, the two teams squared off in the Street Car Series, which was the first (and only) World Series featuring both teams from the Gateway City.  A display in the museum proudly remembers that Fall Classic, which was won the town's National League squad.

Speaking of the Browns, probably my favorite artifact in the museum was the actual jersey worn by Eddie Gaedel, the 3-foot, 7-inch "athlete" signed by owner Bill Veeck as a publicity stunt.  Wearing the number 1/8 on the back of his uniform, Gaedel walked in his only plate appearance for the Browns in 1951.  Why is it my favorite item in the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum?  Because it's the only uniform that would probably fit me!

Actually, Eddie Gaedel's uniform still looks too big for me.  That's okay.  I'm still growing.  (Photos by EL/SM)

So now you know my favorite display in the museum.  What was my least favorite?  That's easy.  It was the display on the 2006 Cardinals, also known as the team that took the pennant away from the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Featured in the disgusting display of devastating disappointment was the World Series trophy, a World Series ticket, the championship ring won by the victorious Cardinals and one game-used bat and jersey.  But it's not just any bat/jersey combo.  It's the lumber that was wielded by Yadier Molina along with the threads he wore when he hit his infamous home run off Aaron Heilman in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the National League Championship Series.

It's like they knew we were coming and wanted to pour more salt in the 12-year-old wound.

But I wasn't that bad of a sport.  In fact, the next people to enter the room got a clear view of the 2006 display, mainly because they saw it all under a full moon of my creation.

Is that a championship banner or bear-sized toilet paper?  I vote for the latter.  (EL/SM)

I almost felt like I was walking through a maze in the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum.  There was a room dedicated to the legendary Stan Musial.  Then there was one dedicated to the great 1980s teams that won three pennants and one World Series title.  From there, it was on to an area devoted to the great managers in club history.  There was also a timeline with all the uniforms the Cardinals have worn over the years (complete with a photo of Keith Hernandez), including the sweet powder blue jerseys from the '70s and '80s.

But wait, there's more!

There were Cardinals bobbleheads, a model of the new Busch Stadium and a beautiful photo of the construction of the new park with the old stadium still standing.  For some reason, they also had the World Baseball Classic trophy on display.  And there was probably a kitchen sink somewhere in there as well.

But just when you thought the Cardinals couldn't fit anything else inside their museum, they did.  I'm talking about an area dedicated to ex-Met and former teenage shortstop sensation Jose Oquendo.  That's not hyperbole.  The Oquendo space actually exists.

Makes me wonder why there's no Rey Ordoñez jersey in the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum (EL/SM)

If you look at the photo of the construction of the new Busch Stadium, you'll notice that the left field area of the new park overlapped part of the old Busch.  That part of the old ballpark is marked in two places at the new stadium.

In the field level concourse behind the left field foul pole is a painted white line, which is the exact spot while the right field foul line used to be at old Busch Stadium.  Then, on the sidewalk outside the new stadium in the Ballpark Village is a green and yellow line.  That represents the spot where the outfield wall at old Busch used to be.

Howard Johnson took Todd Worrell deep here.  Great memories from before my time.  (EL/SM)

Now that we're talking about the stadium, why not show you what's good there?  The ballpark itself is lovely, with Cardinal red seats on every level.  And if that's not enough red for you, the ballpark is made of red bricks, with small cardinals above every entrance and a pretty big cardinal walking around the ballpark insulting Mets fans in attendance.

Oh, wait.  That was Fredbird, the team's mascot.  And he tried to obscure my colleagues' Mets caps and jerseys when we met him.

My colleagues seemed to enjoy this photo op.  I, on the other hand, wanted to pluck Fredbird's feathers.  (EL/SM)

But seriously, there's red EVERYWHERE.  The ballpark is also decorated with pennants, retired numbers, statues of the greatest players to don the Cardinal red, an homage to a legendary broadcaster, large bricks that detail great moments in Cardinals history (including Steve Carlton's 19-strikeout loss to the Mets in 1969) and a scoreboard that's topped by reminders of each of the Cardinals' World Series championships - all 11 of them.  And the scoreboard on the field isn't the only one in the ballpark.  Located in the field level concourse is the old hand-operated scoreboard from the old Busch Stadium.

I have to say, the ballpark is quite photogenic.

Sweet view, right?  (EL?SM)

Busch Stadium offers beautiful views of the city if you're lucky enough to snag a seat behind home plate, like I did in the above photo.  And speaking of plates, many of the food options at the ballpark are served in containers that are shaped like home plate.  But unlike other ballparks that have unique food options, the fare at Busch Stadium is mostly what you would expect at a minor league ballpark.  You have the basic ballpark cuisine and not much else.  But they did have tater tots, which is always a plus for me.

I also had another potato product, but that was absolutely awful.  It was a potato knish and it pretty much looked like a bread bowl; a very dry flavorless bread bowl with nothing in it.  Don't just take my word for it.  Have a look for yourself.

At least the tater tots were edible.  And that's not saying much.  (EL/SM)

Thinking of how disappointed I was in the food, the fact the Mets lost both games we attended, the stress-inducing artifacts in the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum and the fact that I couldn't convince Fredbird to wear more orange and blue made me glad this was only the first stop in our tour of the two Missouri ballparks.  Surely, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City had to be better by default.  (Spoiler alert: It was soooooo much better.)

So that's all for the first part of my recap of the two Show-Me State stadiums.  Remember to click here to read about my adventures in Kansas City and also remember to bring your own food into Busch Stadium the next time you visit the park.  Unlike Aaron Heilman's pitch to Yadier Molina, you won't regret that decision.

I regret attending these two losses by the Mets.  (EL/SM)

For previous installments of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago (NL)
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
World Tour Stop #13: Baltimore (again) and Pittsburgh (part deux)
World Tour Stop #14: Cincinnati
World Tour Stop #15: Colorado
World Tour Stop #16: Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame)
World Tour Stop #17: Detroit
World Tour Stop #18: Atlanta
World Tour Stop #19: Miami


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