’Twas the day before baseball, when all throughout Busch
Each seat was wet and empty, nary a tush.
The buntings were hung by the sections with care
In hopes that St. Louisans soon would be there.
The calm before the storm was, well, a storm. It rained here at Busch Stadium on Thursday, once anointed as opening day, an honor later given to Friday, which reduced poor Thursday to just a regular weekday, and a wet one, no less.
At 3:15 p.m. Thursday, the time originally scheduled for first pitch, the temperature was in the 50s, the sky was as gray as someone born in the ’50s. In the stands, the empty stadium was peaceful, the drips dropping into puddles, making a quiet clapping sound with each splash. The white tarp sprawled across the infield, covering ground like Ozzie would. Behind the center field wall, “Freese’s Lawn,” accustomed to pelting from a home run ball, absorbed the rainfall like an old pro.
Earlier in the afternoon, two Cardinals played catch, carefully, on the wet grass in shallow right field. But at this point, there wasn’t a person in sight. Yet, looking out at the Gateway Arch, and the Arch mowed into the outfield grass, you felt this sense of anticipation. The day was dampened, but the mood wasn’t. Soon enough, baseball would be played, and this stadium would stir.
The red-white-and-blue bunting decorated the stadium like ornaments on a Christmas tree. According to the tag on the back, the drapery was ordered from a company called Independence Bunting & Flag, and in all caps it said MADE IN AMERICA, as if Independence Bunting & Flag possibly considered making the red-white-and-blue buntings in, say, Botswana. There is something ceremonial, almost honorable, about bunting at a ballpark. If anything, it sure ties the room together.
The rain came stronger and then lighter, like Mother Nature working on different speeds with her deliveries. There were puddles upon the green seats in the first rows and the red benches in the Cardinals dugout. The scoreboard featured the list of stats leaders, which always look wacky in the early weeks — such as the National League batting average leaders hitting in the low .500s and high .400s.
Walking on the perimeter of the field, on the brown ground behind the backstop, you could hear the soft crunch with each step. With no other sounds, this must have been what it was like in Houston, back in 2005, when Brad Lidge allowed the famous homer to Albert Pujols — and with the crowd stunned silent, onlookers said all you could hear was the crunch of Albert’s feet, rounding the basepaths.
On Thursday, even on a gray day, the yellow on the foul pole just seemed to gleam. Colors popped here. Reds and greens and browns and blues (“baby” or “powder,” of course, not Cub or Royal). In Section 139, a lone ladder stood in the entranceway, and the hall walls smelled like fresh paint. Another paint job occurred in the no-longer-drab space where the opposing teams arrive via bus. That hallway is now decorated with painted pennants for Cardinals’ postseason achievements, as if to remind the visitors — you’re not in San Diego anymore.
Around the main concourse, there was a cacophony of hammering and horn-beeping and the humming of a power-washing device, sluicing the walkways to erase last season’s footprints. The backs of T-shirts were on display above the souvenir stands, including MOLINA 4, MUSIAL 6 and GOLDSCHMIDT 46. In the big concession coolers, the colorful bottles of beers lined like soldiers waiting to deploy into guzzling esophagi.
Occasionally, the omnipresent voice of John Ullett would fill the stadium. They were testing different recorded advertisements on the video board. But it was good just to hear Ullett’s voice — it takes you back to the ballgame. And on Friday, he’ll be welcoming everyone “to baseball heaven,” and the in-house organ will play, and you’ll be in heaven or, if anything, a haven. Or a virtual circus tent or a hiding place or a congregation or whatever form of a forum Busch Stadium serves for you.
At 4 p.m. sharp, a person walked out the part of the right-field wall, which opens like a swinging door. Could this be what I think it could be? No way! A Clydesdales run-through?
Alas, out came a few more men — it was members of the grounds crew, wearing rain jackets and out to attend to the tarp.
Outside the stadium, Stan withstood the storm. The statue of Stan Musial loomed during the gloomy day, sideways rain coming at him in his batter’s stance. Someday, maybe even as soon as Friday, the sun will spill upon Stan, and people will come. They’ll meet at Musial, as visions of home runs dance in their heads.