Busch Stadium: Section 270, Row 9, Seat 16

By Chris Rewers on Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A road trip to watch the Cubs play in St. Louis means having to endure a boring five-hour drive down less-than-scenic I-55 and scorching heat.

But it also enabled us to experience a beautiful, clean modern stadium with many of the amenities that are absent at Wrigley Field and the pleasure of talking baseball with Cardinals fans.

I can't speak for all Cubs fans, but I've had many unpleasant encounters on Cubs road trips with fans in Florida, San Diego, Los Angeles, and of course on the South Side. But my experiences with Cardinals fans - at Busch Stadium and at Wrigley Field - have been pleasant. There's usually plenty of good-natured ribbing, but also mutual respect. The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is intense, but not nasty.

And I've always been impressed by how knowledeable even casual Cardinals fans seem to be. They can appreciate a good play, recognize a stupid play or a lack of hustle, and are always glad to share their informed opinions about the Cardinals and baseball in general.

My wife, Denise, and I attended Friday night's Cubs-Cardinals game with our Cardinals fans friends, Andy and Stacey.

It was my first-ever visit to the new Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006. My previous Cardinals game in St. Louis was a game against the Braves at the old Busch on Aug. 6, 2005. My previous Cubs game in St. Louis was on May 10, 1995 - a forgettable evening in which the late Kevin Foster was shelled for six runs in less than four innings and Cardinal Todd Zeile blasted a pair of homers in an 11-1 St. Louis win. The only highlight for the Cubs that night was a homer by Sammy Sosa.

On Friday, we parked across the street from the ballpark for a reasonable fee of $15. As we stepped out of the car, it felt like we were stepping into a sauna. The gametime temperature was listed as 92 degrees and the thick humidity and still air made it seem warmer than that. By the time I reached the turnstile, I could feel sweat dripping on my lower back and beads of perspiration covered my arms.

The new Busch is located on the east side of downtown St. Louis right next to the space that was once occupied by its predecessor. There are several hotels, restaurants, and bars within walking distance.

There are markers on the sidewalks outside the park to signify where the outfield walls of the old Busch once stood. Outside of Gate 3 stands the giant Stan Musial statue that once stood in front of the old ballpark. Monuments devoted to past Cardinals world championship teams that were featured outside of old Busch have been removed, but small statues of former Cardinals greats Musial, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Enos Slaughter, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, and Ozzie Smith; former St. Louis Browns star George Sisler; and former Negro Leagues standout "Cool Papa" Bell now greet fans as they approach the park. There is also a statue devoted to late Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck.

The statues were beautiful and were a wonderful acknowledgement of the Cardinals' rich and successful past.

Busch Stadium allows outside food but prohibits all beverages from being brought in.

We entered the park at Gate 3, near the corner of 8th and Clark and upon entering, I was struck by the wide concourse, the many TV monitors that hung from the ceiling, a huge Cardinals team store, and the many concession and beer stands that were available.

The food selections sold at stands like Dizzy's Diner and the Gashouse Grill included typical ballpark fare, barbecue items, Mexican food, and Hardees (really??). I had a hot dog that was nothing special. I also shared a plate of beef nachos with Denise that was piled high with toppings. The nachos were messy, but also tasty and satisfying.

A 24-ounce beer will set you back $7.75 and the selection of brew is not surprisingly limited to Anheuser-Busch products.

I bought an overpriced scorecard for $2 and was shocked by how bad it was. I figured that the Busch scorecard would reflect the sophistication of "baseball's greatest fans" but it was pathetic, especially when compared to the fine $2 scorecard that is available at Wrigley Field.

The Busch scorecard included three flimsy pieces of cardboard. The cover art - a Cardinal waving a 2009 NL Central Champions pennant and soaring above the mascots of the Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros, and Pirates - was attractive. The contents, however, were crap. The middle and back panels were full-page ads. The inside panels included a page of statistics from the previous six Cubs-Cardinals matchups, and two crummy scoresheets crammed between ads and team rosters.There were only nine lineup slots and no spaces provided for substitutions.

I was wearing my gray Cubs road jersey and 1945 Cubs fitted cap as I ventured through a sea of red-clad fans. My attire caused a few to smirk seemingly out of pity, but most of the home team's fans chose to ignore me. It was quite a contrast to the hostility that was hurled my way from every direction when I attended a Cubs-Sox game on the South Side in June.

Our $50 outfield loge box seats (with no amusement tax included) were in the second deck, just outside of the left-field foul pole. Our seats offered a wide bird's-eye view of the action. The only portion of the field that was obstructed was the left-field warning track. Derrek Lee's home run in the eighth inning disappeared below us.

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One of Denise's complaints about Wrigley Field is its lack of kids activities, and like most modern ballparks, Busch offers plenty of diversions for young fans with short attention spans who are unable to sit still for nine innings.

The U.S. Cellular Family Pavilion opens two hours prior to gametime and a half-hour after the game's completiuon. The pavilion includes a batting cage, speed pitch, a play area, picnic tables, and a seating area with a view of the field.

The game itself may have been the Cubs' most boring effort of the season. They scored twice in the first but squandered a golden opportunity to add more. The early 2-0 lead went up in smoke as Cubs rookie starter Thomas Diamond proved to be overmatched by the likes of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.

A group of children from the Community Music School of Webster University led the crowd in the singing of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in the middle of the seventh. It would be nice to see kids or regular fans perform the song at Wrigley Field instead of the endless parade of "B" celebrities that we are too often subjected to.

As the innings passed, I enjoyed talking baseball with Andy and was pleased to learn that he we both find Tony LaRussa to be an arrogant, pompous ass who regularly makes unconventional moves like batting the pitcher eighth simply to demonstrate to all how smart he is. Andy told me that the matchups-obsessed LaRussa once summoned a lefty reliever to face a left-handed hitter in the eighth inning with his team ahead 9-1.

After the game, we were continuing our conversation about LaRussa as we exited the park. I asked Andy about the origins of the feud between The Genius and Scott Rolen in the 2006 postseason that eventually led to a Rolen trade to Toronto.

"Why did the LaRussa-Rolen feud start?" I asked.

Before Andy could answer, a middle-aged looking woman butted into our conversation and gave me an answer.

"Because LaRussa's an ass!" she said.

It's comforting to know that a Cubs fan and Cardinals fan can agree on something.

The Cubs will make one more trip to Busch this season, for night games Sept. 13-15.

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