What led me to become the St. Louis Cardinals fan that I am is that I grew up on the Louisville Redbirds.
The Redbirds were in my hometown from 1982 until they left for Memphis following the 1997 season. Because they left when they did, I had just missed out on the chance to see players like Matt Morris, Rick Ankiel, and Albert Pujols come through the system, to name a few. Technically speaking, Matt Morris did make one appearance in Louisville and that came at the end of the 1996 season.
I got to see Alan Benes come through the system before he made it to the big leagues during his injury-plagued career.
I was able to see Brian Jordan come up in the early 1990s when he was going up and down between St. Louis and Louisville.
After the 1997 season, old Cardinal Stadium was home to the Milwaukee Brewers AAA affiliate. Outside of Geoff Jenkins and Ron Belliard (who later played for the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series championship season), it was not that exciting to watch the Brewers affiliate even though they did win the division in the International League.
The Reds took over in 2000 as the team moved to the brand new Louisville Slugger Field. They have had some better stars come through the system over the years that I have enjoyed watching play. That doesn’t mean I’m going to root for them throughout their career but speaking as a passionate fan of the game, there are those players that have talent for baseball and have gone on to big success with Cincinnati or elesewhere.
Being able to see Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Jeff Keppinger play in the minor leagues is one thing–especially when you can get their autographs at a minor league game more so than at the Great American Ballpark–but it’s not the same as what could have been with the Redbirds in town.
I miss being able to see the Cardinals AAA affiliate play in my hometown each and every day.