I'm writing this on a Thursday morning, about ten or so hours removed from last night's Cardinals victory in Game 5 of the NLDS. We don't have cable anymore, so I watched the game on an iPad, drinking Bud Light out of a commemorative Cardinals beer stein. This was the most St. Louis-y thing I could think of.
Game 5 joins a long list of Cardinals memories now, slotted in beside Carpenter's Game 5 in Philly, and Yadi's home run in New York, and three dozen diving catches by Jim Edmonds. They're all stored up in my head, these memories, like books on a crowded shelf. And every once in a while I'll pull one down and dust it off, read it a little, and think about the moment it happened, the people I shared it with, an unbroken line of nostalgia from the moment that I could remember anything at all.
But memory is an odd thing. I recall very little of the games I went to when I was a boy. (By the way, am I too young to start using phrases like "when I was a boy?" I defer to your judgment on this.) At least, I recall almost nothing of the actual games, what happened and who made what plays and who won. It's the other stuff I remember, the atmosphere, the environment, the people.
I remember the parking garage on 8th street and the aerial walkway that ran between it and the stadium, the crowds of fans we would weave through on the way to our seats, my hand in yours. I remember old black guys and young black guys and old white guys playing saxophones on the street corners, dressed in Cardinal red, and me always a little afraid of them, of their puffing cheeks and skillful fingers and open cases, lined with the scatterings of crumpled bills and bright silver coins, resting on blue felt. I remember the long, endless ramps that we walked up to our seats, the way I would always get distracted with counting the bars on the railing, or watching the cars on the Interstate outside, then run to catch up to you when I saw you had gotten ahead, like I was a dog in a park, and you my owner.
I remember tiny red plastic helmets filled with vanilla ice cream, and over-sized Cokes in souvenir cups, and paper boxes of popcorn, striped in red and white, boxes that always had the word "Popcorn" on them in bright red letters, so you always knew what you were getting into. I remember standing on the field in Busch Stadium 1, the grass perfect and green underfoot, the bases looking so much farther away from each other than they looked from above. I remember Ozzie Smith doing back flips, and Willie McGee getting standing ovations, and Brian Jordan smashing into the walls in the outfield to rob extra base hits. And I remember that every time Jordan would do this, someone nearby would make a comment about how he used to play football. Guaranteed.
I remember when Dad would pick me up from my own football practice in '98, and the first thing I would do when I saw him was demand to know whether McGuire had hit any home runs that day, and if so how many, and if not, how many Sosa had hit. The list goes on. I haven't come close to exhausting it (the organ and the kiss cam and the hat dance and the wave and the nachos and the beer vendors and...)
And every year, I add a few more memories to the list, home runs and double plays, wicked curve balls and screaming line drives, Yadi throwing laser beams to second, and the big "CS" flashed up on the video board. Paul going to a game on his 21st birthday and sharing his first (legal) beer at the ballpark with Dad, probably the first time I ever saw alcohol in Dad's hand. Photos of my new nephew at Spring Training, decked out in a complete designer line of Cardinals clothing, because of course he was. Dad taking me to Game 1 of the '11 World Series and buying me a stocking cap, like I was twelve years old again instead of a married man of twenty-four. And me feeling about as loved and happy as I could get when he did. Running around my apartment with Madelyn during Game 6, screaming at the top of my lungs after watching Freese go deep.
It's silly, in a way, to be that invested in a team, to care that much about the various adventures of a little white ball. But, really, it's not so much the game that I care about. And I think it's something I'm just realizing now, as I write this, why I love baseball so much. Because baseball is about family. And every time I say I love baseball, I'm really saying that I love my family. I love you, and Dad, and Paul and Katie and Grami and Grandpa and everybody who ever put on that "lovely shade of cardinal" with me, and stood in the stands or watched the TV or listened to the radio and cheered and thought, "This is just about as happy as I can get." I love thinking about baseball, because I love thinking about you. And so it will go with my family, if God blesses me more than I deserve. As he always has.
I hope that makes sense.
Remaining always, your loving son and Cardinals fan,
Jordan Jeffers writes letters to his mother in the Internet because stamps are a form of witchcraft.