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BenFred: This year’s Thanksgiving column goes best with a John Denver accompaniment

BenFred: This year’s Thanksgiving column goes best with a John Denver accompaniment

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STL Sports on Tap at Ballpark Village

Geno Iberg (left) and Don Urbanek, both of St. Louis, attend STL Sports on Tap, presented by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, at Ballpark Village in St. Louis on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.

I love the power-play dance. The wave that wraps around Busch Stadium drives some crazy, but I’ve never protested, not even when the rippling of humanity comes at a terrible time, like a pressure situation late when the Cardinals are trying to close out a win. I’m a sucker for the Kiss Cam, half-court shot contests and the ridiculous hamstring-threatening display at halftime of Mizzou football games, when someone from the crowd tries to beat the motorized helmet cart in a footrace.

I present this as evidence before sharing a confession.

I was once the world’s biggest hater of Blues fans coming together at home games to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It made no sense. A song about West Virginia — or is it western Virginia — at a hockey game?

Unoriginal. Cheap. Tacky. No thanks. Hard pass.

But those were the old days, back before the COVID-19 pandemic introduced me to the cold and quiet world of covering games with no fans or with limited fans, back before the lifeblood of our St. Louis sports scene — fans — was pulled from our shared sports venues. When I sat down to write my annual Thanksgiving column, the one thing I kept coming back to was how thankful I am that we are all back together again. So much so that I don’t even mind hockey fans in St. Louis singing about one of the Virginias. It sure beats eerie silence.

Some of the other things I’m thankful for this year . . .

I’m thankful for the lawyers who have spent countless hours working on the Rams relocation lawsuit. Yes, they will be rewarded handsomely if the city, county, and dome authority accepted the $790 million settlement, but that option would not have been possible without an airtight case that was rooted in the law instead of angst. This lawsuit, from the start, was about holding the league accountable for the lies it told and the relocation guidelines it broke. I bet the NFL will conduct relocation differently the next time around. That is worth celebrating, and now it's on the city and county to make good use of the money.

I’m thankful for St. Louis City SC’s progress. The downtown soccer stadium looks great. The youth teams are in action, and playing well. 2023 is going to be here soon.

I’m thankful for Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.’s distaste of tanking. We will spend this offseason hollering about what moves the Cardinals should and should not make — Steven Matz does not have the same ring to it as Max Scherzer  — but we can do so while appreciating an owner who detests losing now to hopefully winning big later. Agent Scott Boras cracked wise recently that 17 teams might really be trying to win in 2022. The Cardinals are of course one of them. Every year.

I’m thankful for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s confidence. He sounds so certain that this likely looming lockout is no big deal, and that it might even help the regular season start on time. A shortened spring training is nothing to fret about. But a damaged regular season would be awful for the game. I hope Manfred is as effective as he is sure of himself.

I’m thankful for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong’s patience. He handled the Vladimir Tarasenko offseason standoff better than most would have, and now the team is in a much better position because of it. Whatever happens with Tarasenko moving forward, Armstrong refused to sell low, and Tarasenko’s play since has proven that call correct. The Blues can now deal from a position of strength, or decide to not deal all over again.

I’m thankful for Travis Ford’s resiliency. The Billikens lost their go-to scorer in Javonte Perkins before the season started. Brutal blow. But they’re up for the challenge. They get their toughness from their coach.

I’m thankful for Mizzou’s basketball schedule. It includes a game against Illinois and a game against Kansas. That’s how it should be. Even if the Tigers are looking like longshots to be competitive in either contest at the moment.

I’m thankful for Nick Ragone’s vision. The executive vice president for Ascension didn’t just bring the Ascension Charity Classic to town for years to come, but he turned it into a fundraising powerhouse for great causes in North County. A lot of good can be done through golf. St. Louis is becoming an event city for golf, as evidenced by Bellerive landing the 2030 Presidents Cup.

I’m thankful for Curtis Francois’ commitment. The owner of World Wide Technology Raceway first toured the facility when it was two weeks from being sold for scrap metal. Look at what he’s done with the place. The NASCAR Cup Series is coming in June 2022.

I’m thankful for Mike Shannon’s years in the booth. Raise a cold, frosty one for him this holiday season.

I’m thankful for Mike Shildt’s precision. The former Cardinals manager didn’t get any credit for it from the organization when he was fired, and that was a shame, but everyone who was paying attention knows the Cardinals were a ragged mess defensively and on the basepaths when Shildt got the gig. The Cardinals need to hold onto those traits under new manager Oli Marmol.

I’m thankful for the longevity of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. What a pleasure it is to watch them compete.

I’m thankful for the Atlanta Braves’ lessons. They reminded the baseball world of two important facts. One: A team that can get in can still win it all. And two: Teams that win it all lately have found bold ways to improve their team over the course of the season.

I’m thankful for the support of St. Louis sports fan Geno Iberg, who has been to just about every single one of our Post-Dispatch Sports on Tap events over the years. It was a blessing to see Geno’s face in the crowd last week during our first in-person Sports On Tap gathering since the start of the pandemic. He introduced me to his friend, Don Urbanek. There is something special about shared sports experiences, and I’m so glad we are having them again. Country roads, take me home.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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