For a day with an itinerary reading “ribs, Cardinals game” today we managed to cobble together a full slate of St. Louis-iciousness – and one that again left us both thoroughly exhausted. Again we found ourselves walking more than we expected, although we didn’t come anywhere near the 12 miles (Lindsay did the math) that we’d covered in Chicago. And, mercifully, it didn’t rain.
It started with a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, or as I’ll now think of it – the Emperor of Beers. Having only been on brewery tours of small Boston craft brewers, this thing provided quite a contrast. I’m pretty sure the lobby/gift shop (of course there’s a gift shop) is larger than the entire Sam Adams brewery. This place had everything – wrought iron, hops-themed chandeliers, decorative fence posts, and kitschy Americana to spare. I’m glad I got to see the place, but I left scratching my head and thinking that a huge multinational corporate firm had just tried to convince me they were actually a mom-and-pop artisan.
It also had horses. I do not understand the horses. Apparently they were once used to transport beer to the President and so now they’re used for… something, I guess? And it somehow involves a Dalmatian too? In any event, these horses had the nicest stables I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen all that many stables). First off, there was no hay on the ground where us people went. Second, there was another chandelier – brass this time. There was also stained glass. And gilded carriages and saddles. And the inexplicable Dalmatian. In a room smaller than the aforementioned lobby, at least 6 Clydesdales were stored, along with the Dalmatian who was constantly crying because he was in an 8-by-8 fenced cage that allowed him to stand up and see all the people who weren’t allowed to touch him. Fortunately, one woman on the tour decided to break the rules against crossing the rope line and went over to pet him anyway to calm him down. I’m pretty sure that when I have an opportunity to buy any Anheuser-Busch products, I’m going to think of that dog.
Despite its close association with the Emperor of Beers, St. Louis redeems itself by being so closely tied to barbeque that a style of ribs is named after it. After choosing one of the several BBQ locations with 4+ star reviews on Yelp within 2 miles, I enjoyed the best half rack of ribs I’ve ever eaten (sorry, North Carolina).
I also learned that my travel partner has never had ribs before. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I resolved that this would be taken care of by the end of the trip. After all, Memphis also has a style of ribs named after it.
After eating one animal, we decided to go see some other animals of the not-easily-edible variety at the St. Louis Zoo. Unlike a lot of zoos I’ve seen, this one seemed to focus just on letting the guests see the animals. It knows that although education is a good thing, no one’s reading an informative sign when there are 4 Asian elephants in front of them. All you need to put out is a sign saying “Elephants” and we’ll figure out all we need to know. And I know that today we saw hippos, elephants, sleeping hyenas, fornicating mongooses, and sea lions.
From there, it was time for baseball. Busch Stadium was pleasant enough and I didn’t really have any strong feelings about it, but I did promise to compare it to Wrigley. Both parks are definitely designed as venues for watching baseball games (as opposed to my Mets’ new home, which does everything it can to prevent fans from realizing the horrors occurring on the field). Wrigley seeks to help you watch a game the way fans did it 100 years ago – by sitting in your seat and paying attention to the field. No fancy distractions on the scoreboard (since it’s manual, thereby making videos pretty difficult), and no compelling reasons to spend any time away from your seat. Not that any of this is intended as criticism – Wrigley Field preserves the old-time baseball experience in a way that only it and Fenway Park can.
Busch Stadium wants you to watch baseball the way that fans in 2014 watch baseball. There are good views of the field from every seat and the 9 electronic outfield scoreboards provide instant answers to any statistical questions you might have. The concourses are wide, so that getting out after the game is well-organized and quick. There are plenty of food vendors, although from what I could tell, it was all just your classic ballpark fare (which is a good thing – sushi and fresh fruit have no place at a baseball game). Most importantly, the menu boards are each accompanied by a video feed of the game. There’s no way to forget you’re at a Cardinals game here.
As for the game itself, it had the arc of a concert. For the first few innings, fans trickled in, showing mild interest in the game once they arrived. It probably didn’t help that the Cardinals were down 2 runs before they came to bat. But as the venue darkened, the crowd grew more focused on the action in front of them. When the Cardinals tied the game in the 6th, the entire stadium was on its feet. When they took the lead for good in the 7th, the entire crowd was rapt with attention and no longer needed the calls to “Make some noise!” that the scoreboard had futilely attempted earlier on.
The Cardinal fans tonight were mostly friendly nonconfrontational Midwesterners who appreciated baseball done right. A bunt base hit, a bobbled throw home, two consecutive throws over to first followed by the pitcher stepping off, and the game’s final batter all received the appropriate responses. While Red Sox fans are more passionate and Yankee fans are more knowledgeable (particularly about how much their players make), Cardinals fans respect the game. Their new stadium – a true baseball stadium – and row of championship banners in the outfield are well-deserved.
But, to be honest, I’ll still never root for the Cardinals again unless I’m in this city.