It probably has something to do with living in St. Louis, but I always find myself writing a post on the occasion of Major League Baseball's opening day. As usual, humor me.
Whether or not she meant for the opportunity to coincide, Megan scheduled a tour (via Groupon) this past Sunday afternoon of Busch Stadium III. It had just snowed the day before and there were at least a dozen people on the field trying to dry things up; otherwise, we and the 20 other people on the tour pretty much had the place to ourselves.
As you may know, St. Louis is a great baseball city with the second-most World Series championships to its credit (10; only the New York Yankees have more at 27). Somewhat unrelated (but interesting nevertheless), we've also had a fair number of official logos during this time (Slugger Bird – fourth from the left – was always a favorite of mine).
The history is rich, and some of it is represented at different locations throughout the stadium: vintage uniforms encased with pennants and other timeless memorabilia; a tribute to former Cardinals radio announcer, Jack Buck; various World Series programs and trophies scattered here and there.
The Redbirds aren't the only ones who open their season this week; Westminster's baseball season started for us as well. This is my second year coaching the junior varsity/freshmen at WCA and I have an unbelievably talented group of guys who really love the game. It's also a treat to be part of a coaching staff under head coach Rich Van Gilst (now in his 28th season) and with pitching coach Andy Benes, former Cardinals pitcher who spent 14 years in the big leagues.
Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ranked WCA's varsity team number one for small schools in St. Louis. My part in that (along with stellar assistant coaches Slade Johnson and Micah Gall, two guys in their twenties who were both solid players in high school and college) is to build guys into varsity-level players during their freshmen and sophomore years. While we're certainly not the only ones investing in their baseball skills (many of our guys play baseball year-round for other coaches), it's fun to see "our boys" do well when they get the chance to play up.
For instance, two days ago, Ben Lovell, my top pitcher from last year as a freshman, started his first varsity game as a sophomore, going six innings and getting the win against one of the big Parkway public schools (check out his post-game interview). Last night, due to some injuries with some of our seniors, Mark McFarland, another sophomore, got "called up" to do some varsity relief pitching and threw two innings and also got the win. Today, a third sophomore, Davis Vanderslice, is making his first varsity start, and I'm confident he'll do well, too.
Sure, I hate to lose the guys from the junior varsity team, but it's fun to both help prepare and celebrate with them before and after their "big break." It's also fun to "call up" a few freshmen to help out on the junior varsity level in replacement (having lost two of my sophomore starters, I'm starting two freshmen pitchers in games later this week). Finally, it's very enjoyable to win games with guys at the junior varsity level (we won our first game 7-0 by playing really good defensive against another of the big Parkway schools).
Tonight, after our JV and Freshman games were canceled due to rain (the joys of playing baseball in March in the Midwest), I came home and played catch with my two youngest, both of whom are learning to love baseball as much as their two older sisters. It's amazing how much they've improved in their catching and throwing since last year, all from simply growing one year older. We laughed, we talked, we threw, we caught. It was fun.
At whatever level – half-pint, freshman, junior varsity, varsity, the Majors – baseball is the same great game that gets the entire city of St. Louis excited when the boys (and girls) of summer show up and start playing in the spring. It's as perfect a game as there is, and I'm glad to relive my love for it as a former pitcher/player and now as a coach.
Play ball! And go Redbirds!