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Conversation makes Cardinal Nation a reality

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 8, 2009 - Folks outside the Midwest probably think the Cardinals are known for having the best fans in baseball because of what they see inside Busch Stadium.

Many games are sold out and those that are not draw crowds larger than are seen at any single game in some cities all season.

Then of course there is the “sea of red” created by thousands of fans of all ages dressed in some combination of red and white.

When I lived elsewhere, this scene made me feel at home. I was at the game, even if hundreds of miles away.

But I know the heart of Cardinal Nation does not beat at Busch Stadium.

It’s here, there and everywhere around this region.

On Friday, we had a family gathering at my mom’s house in Kirkwood. My sister and her recent college-grad daughter were here from the Washington, D.C., area and two of my uncles were also on hand.

As we dined on pork steaks, fried catfish and traditional side dishes, the conversation turned to the Cardinals. Trust me, it didn’t matter that I have covered the Cardinals and written about the team for years. Cardinal baseball talk has been part of our family since I was a child just as it is a part of countless meals throughout the year in St. Louis.

What the team is doing now, what the team has done in the past and what it will be doing in that night’s game are as much a part of family gatherings as cold beer or soda and good food.

Later Friday evening, the Reid clan moved on to Mehlville High School for the Relay for Life event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. If you are ever asked to participate in a Relay for Life, make the choice to do it.

Like us, you or your family might not have been touched by the hideous disease of cancer. But sharing a night with those that personally endured or shared the battle with cancer is uplifting. Along with the fun and food, money is raised to fight cancer and family’s can share grief for lost relatives or share the triumph of those who have survived.

As we walked many laps around the Mehlville track, you could sometimes hear the buzz of a radio and the distinct sound of a Cardinal baseball game.

You also would hear the common question, “what are the Cardinals doing?” On this night, the Redbirds were being thumped by the Colorado Rockies.

But that didn’t matter. In fact, tough times for the Cardinals often lead to even more discussion. Those of us who host sports talk radio shows can certainly attest to that fact.

On Saturday, the Reids visited the 35th annual Meacham Park homecoming on an absolutely perfect sun-splashed day. As a band filled the air with old-school R&B and soul music, I stuffed myself with more barbecue, bratwurst and potato salad. The Cards’ game started in the late afternoon, but the Cards’ talk was going on in the midday sunshine.

The chat included whether the team was going to make a trade soon, what was wrong with the offense and – of course – when is manager Tony La Russa leaving? By the time we began heading for home, the game had started and the Cardinals were again on the short end of the score.

“We need pitching,” said one gentleman. “No, we need somebody to play third base,” another offered. I’m sure the talk went on into the night.

Saturday ended with me covering a mixed martial arts event at ScottTrade Center. Among the dignitaries who were recognized was La Russa. I doubt he was there, though, because the game had ended about 30 minutes earlier and the Cardinals had lost 10-1. But the skipper received the loudest ovation

It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are with during the summer in St. Louis. Invariably, the talk will turn to Cardinals baseball. Sitting in $150 seats or having the latest in Redbird fashion isn’t what makes this the home of the nation’s best baseball fans.

It’s the stories we share and the opinions we have about our team. That’s what is special. That’s what it’s all about.

Alvin A. Reid is a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.