The postcard above was sent from St. Louis to an address in Connecticut back in 1971. The words written on the back refer to the “new baseball park,” even though it had been in use since the 1966 season. And the irony of that description is that it was a “dual use” facility, meaning that the St. Louis Cardinals football team played there, as well. If you look inside the stadium, you can see the yard markers for football games. It wasn’t only the baseball stadium, but the Cardinals had Brock and Gibson and were winning pennants and World Series in those days, while the football team never got a whiff of success. So it was characterized on the postcard as being the “baseball park.”
A number of years after this card was mailed to its recipient, and presumably kept somewhere in his or her possession, I attended my first baseball game at Busch Stadium with my father in 1975. It was a double header against the Mets, and I was introduced to something that would have great meaning for me ever since. So even though I didn’t care for the stadium itself, and I seemed to only go to games there when it was at least 110 degrees, I still recognized that the stadium was a special place.
In the 1980s or 1990s, the stadium underwent some renovations. The Astroturf was pulled up, and replaced with natural grass. That was a big improvement, but there were others, as well. And I went to the “new” Busch Stadium–which was still round like a batting donut or an ashtray–with my wife and older daughter in the summer of 2003. Almost 20 years after seeing it for the first time, it was still important to me, if only because I was introduced to the game in that spot.
But in 2005, the stadium was torn down to make way for a new, single use stadium literally right next door. The new park was asymmetrical, and opened up to embrace the Arch and other big buildings. The endless arch loop that ringed the top of the stadium was taken down, too. It sure seemed like progress to me.
Now move forward to 2010. My father and I attended a game, on another brutally hot day, in the new stadium. The amenities were nice, and the all-you-can-eat/drink section we were in was stretched to capacity. I didn’t really want to see the old stadium, but I noticed its absence when we arrived at the ballpark. And I began thinking about some things.
The first thought I had was that everyone who’s ever been to a baseball game has a “first stadium” as I do, but there aren’t so very many of the old ones left, anymore. If you’re in the same age range as I am, we’ve lost Tiger Stadium, County Stadium in Milwaukee, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Astrodome, Shea Stadium, Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Yankee Stadium, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, and the list goes on from there.
In 2012, years after my “first stadium” was torn down, and years after the 1971 postcard was sold or given away, I came across the postcard in a box filled them, from all over the world, in a bookstore in Evanston, Illinois. The bookstore itself is closing soon, proof once again that everything in life will come to an end, or at least morph into something unrecognizable.
When I found the postcard, I realized that I had to have it. A second chance at it wasn’t going to come my way. I bought the postcard, scanned it, and have now spent a few moments trying to make it come back. I can’t do that in a physical sense, but I can bear witness to the fact that it once did exist, and thousands–if not millions–were introduced to baseball on that spot. That by itself makes it worthy of some form of tribute, however humble this one may be.
Today, a Saturday in April of 2012, there are 15 major league stadiums (I know it’s actually “stadia” but I don’t want to use that term) that will become the “first stadium” of some number of people. And that ritual will repeat itself, every day, all season long. And then some day, one of these will be torn down, and some of the people I mentioned earlier will lose their “first stadium.”
Hopefully, these people’s attachment to the game will remain, even if their introduction point does not. And maybe some of them will also be fortunate enough to find a reminder of that place in a box some day. At least, I’m glad that this happened to me.