Cardinals: Chronicling my first Opening Day experience at Busch Stadium
By Josh Jacobs
Growing up a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan, 2022 was the year my dad and I went to our first opening day. Oh, it didn’t disappoint.
Arriving in Ballpark Village with my dad, a fellow diehard Cardinals fan, you could feel it in the air.
“How can you not be romantic about baseball?” – Moneyball
The sea of red filling the streets, the crisp, cold air on an April afternoon in St. Louis, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about what today was. Opening Day. The best day of the year. This was not just any Opening Day, though. Not this year. Not after prolonged offseason due to the lockout. Not after the excitement that came with the last month of Cardinal baseball in 2021. Not with this likely being Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina’s last Opening Day start together. Certainly not with the return of Albert Pujols.
This year has the potential to be special. And everyone that day knew it.
As 2:30pm came, the stadium was packed as the Clydesdales galloped around the field. Then came car after car filled with Cardinals legends. Jason Isringhausen. Jim Edmonds. Whitey Herzog. Mike Shannon. Mark McGuire. Ray Lankford. Willie McGee. Scott Rolen. Ted Simmons. Bruce Sutter. Joe Torre. Ozzie Smith. Generations of Cardinals represented as the current guard readied to continue the Cardinal Way in 2022.
Then came that video. “A Match Made in Baseball Heaven” narrated by Jon Hamm. Clips from the iconic careers of Pujols, Wainwright, and Molina filled the screen as we remembered the careers of future Cardinal and Cooperstown Hall of Famers. Personally, these were the three Cardinals I grew up watching. I was eight years old when St. Louis won in 2006. I remember jumping around my living room at 13 years old watching David Freese walk it off in Game 6. I remember the heartbreak I had when Pujols signed with the Angels.
And now, I got to stand and cheer for my heroes as they begin their last ride. As Tony Stark once said, “Part of the journey is the end”.
But as the 2022 Cardinals rolled out onto the field to join the current and past legends, I remembered that’s the beauty of baseball. As past players stood on the field in their red jackets, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill took the field. Just a few of the guys I believe will dawn the red jackets in due time. The Cardinals have a rich history, but what makes them so special is that history is still being written.
As the game started, it beautifully reflected how the Cardinals have always played: with passion, hustle, and respect for the game. Adam Wainwright started the game off with a 1-2-3 inning against the Pirates lineup. Dylan Carlson led off the game with a bloop hit that he extended into a double. Goldschmidt worked his first of four walks on the day. Then O’Neill smacked a ball so hard to second baseman Hoy Park that it became an infield single and Carlson scored on the play. 1-0 Cardinals after manufacturing a run.
Although Pujols was unable to record a hit on the day, the ovation that he and Molina received in their first at-bats is something that I will never forget. For Molina, he has represented the Cardinals in now three different decades and will go down as one of the most beloved in franchise history. For Pujols, it feels a bit like the return of the prodigal son, coming back to St. Louis, the city where he belongs.
This 2022 Cardinals have a deep lineup, and it proved so as the game went on. Tyler O’Neill really got his MVP campaign rolling with a 3-run blast to left field in the second inning, and the runs piled on all game long to the tune of a 9-0 victory. Looking around the crowd, nobody cared that it was against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball was back, the Cardinals were rolling, and there was hope in the air.
It was pretty special to be able to experience all that with my dad as well. Throughout the day we remembered past Cardinals teams and moments, reflected on the current state of the club, and allowed ourselves to be caught up in the moment that Opening Day was.
As Ryan Helsley capped off the game with clean top of the 9th, those who endured the final few innings of rain stood and applauded the St. Louis ballclub. For all of the frustration Cardinal fanscan have at times, deep down we all understand how lucky we are to root for such an incredible organization. With 23 National League Pennants and 11 World Series titles, this club continues to inspire both young and old fans about what the future has in store.
As much as I will miss the trio of Molina, Wainwright, and Pujols come season’s end, I know that St. Louis had decades of memories ahead in store for me. That’s why we buy the tickets, watch the games, and ride the roller coaster of the Cardinals organization. No matter who is wearing the Birds on the Bat in each season to come, somehow, someway, they always fine a way.