I was against it from the moment I heard that a committee of genius city planners in my hometown St. Louis were tearing down the fabled Busch Stadium, archetype of 60s stadium modern architecture with a rim made of arches resembling the city's iconic sculpture.
Though it represented an opportunity to build a completely unique piece of urban architecture for the city -- built behind a 60-story modern sculpture by Eero Saarinen -- the committee totally blew it. They replaced it with a faux old-fashioned park, one reminiscent of ballparks of an era long gone -- like the new "old" parks in Baltimore and San Francisco. And I care! Because to be born in St. Louis is to be born a Cardinal fan, with Cardinal-red blood.
Luckily for me, my family had season tickets to the games. I was there when Lou Brock was stealing bases and they were giving out Brock-a-brellas. I was there when they won the series in '82 and the entire city danced to Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" for a year. I was there for many more pennant races and playoffs and World Series and Ozzie Smith flips. I was there when Mark McGuire brought the home run derby to St. Louis and (sadly, fleetingly) brought dignity back to the game. I was there last September with my family in those same seats on the 3rd base line to say goodbye to that great park.
So they tore down the park with all that history and built a new one to resemble one with a lot of history. They lost about 5000 seats in the process but apparently made a shitload of money on box seats and package deals. And I was there on Friday night to check out the new "olde fashionede ball parke."
We had "green seats" which are unbelievable, located right behind home plate. They go for a whopping $170 a ticket, that's 70 bucks more than prime seats for a Broadway show. For that you get special parking and waiter service to your seats with all the free food and beer you want. Besides the amazing views, the "Cardinal Club" is a big perk associated with green seats. The Club is a hideously nondescript restaurant with buffet that's all free too. I would say it looks and feels like a Westin hotel but that might actually be insulting to the people at Westin. Let's settle on calling it a Sheraton. There are many varieties of "fine" and "fancy" fish, which I for one am certainly in the mood for at a ballgame. Stadium fish, I never thought I would live to see. During the game, you don't have to pee with everybody else, you go in bathrooms that are located inside the Club. Once inside the park, I was loving the open outfield, providing clear views of the great Gateway Arch. The scoreboard is cool, too. That's about it.
The rest of the place feels like a flipping mall. There's a Build-a-Bear. There are food courts. There's a Hardees. In the city that built Budweiser, where we all clap like lemmings to the freaking Anheuser Busch theme song between innings, the beers sell for EIGHT BUCKS. Every single damn moment of the game is sponsored. They branded stuff you never thought of -- way beyond the 7th inning stretch and replays. We're talking small print on the scoreboard sponsored by Pearl Vision, spontaneous pizza deliveries to fans in the stands broadcast on the big screen and brought to us by Little Caesers, and the text messages on the scoreboard which my nephew Jeremy hilariously read aloud throughout the game, sponsored by I forgot.
I just kept asking myself "why?" Why did they have to tear down that other great stadium? People said it was falling apart. Was it really? Who exactly was getting rich? Who can I blame!? Where's the "spirit" in the new stadium? Can you hear the people cheering when you're not all in a round "bowl" configuration? Is a 3/4 "wave" fun?
On opening day my mom was in an elevator somewhere in town. She was probably wearing Cardinal Red (everybody wears it on game-days). She turned to a man and asked him if he was excited for the game and the new stadium. He said he'll never see the inside of it. "Why," she asked, "aren't you a baseball fan?" "I'm the biggest fan there is," he said, "but baseball is a rich man's sport." I know it's easy for me, Mr. Limousine Liberal, telling this story when I sat in $170 seats, but it's just undeniably sad food for thought. I'd be happy in the bleachers in the old stadium, trust me.
At the end of the day, it's not about your house, but who lives there. Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen and the gang will make the new Busch Stadium great. The spirit of the Cardinals will overcome their house. The ballplayers are working overtime making memories so you leave remembering something other than how much the town got screwed building a mall where a ballpark ought to be. And when I walked out, I was indeed thinking about Jim Edmonds' home run, not unimaginative architecture. I just hope the genius squad doesn't tear this one down in 30 years when 60s style stadiums are all the rage.