When the St. Louis Cardinals clinched a spot to play the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS with a thrilling comeback win against the Washington Nationals, the first thing I did was make a call to my friend and teammate Kyle Walenga. In it, all I said was, “We are going to one of the games in St. Louis.” One hour and $90 later, we had tickets to Game 5 in St. Louis. At this point, the idea had spread to others, leaving us set for a roadtrip to remember. Here is our story.
The players: Me (Cardinal Fan), Walenga (San Francisco native and Giants Fan), seniors Gabe Ayers (Cardinal Fan) and Nate Williams (Cardinal Fan) and juniors Bryan Leslie (Giants Fan) and Mike O’Connell (White Sox fan but to even things out a Giants fan on this day), Dan Feldman ’09 (San Francisco native and Giants Fan) and Elizabeth Deschamps ’10 (Dan’s girlfriend and Giants Fan)
The places: Nate’s house, Hardee’s, Busch Stadium and far too many middle of nowhere gas stations
Noon: Gabe, Bryan, Mike, Kyle, Nate and I load into two cars, juniors in one, seniors in the other. Nate and I are the co-captains of this endeavor as drivers of the respective cars.
1:05: We make a pit stop in Nate’s hometown of Canton for two reasons. One, he needs to put the new stickers on his currently expired license plates. Two, and more importantly, it is his mom’s birthday. Upon entering the Williams home, Gabe proclaims to Nate’s mother, “We came to sing for you!” As Gabe begins to sing, we all join in, and though severely off pitch the effort is there. When we are done Gabe states, “I can’t believe that actually worked.”
1:20: We return to the road. Next stop Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
3:15: My inability to set cruise control at nice round speeds combined with Nate’s desire to go 75 mph the entire way results in a constant yo-yo effect in the distance between us. On separate occasions, I nearly rear end him and almost lose him around a turn on the interstate.
4:15: We arrive in St. Louis. Getting here three hours before first pitch is a smart decision, as the parking garage nearest to the stadium still has spots open.
4:30: Knowing the outrageous prices of stadium food, we all agree to eat something downtown before going in. My plan, having not eaten lunch, was to stop at a fast food place. I mention that there is, either a Burger King or Hardees around the corner, but as we walk down the street, the guys spot an independent hot dog stand. Realizing that I just want a burger, and that this establishment is not selling them, I express my desire to continue to Hardee’s. The group follows me.
4:45: After doing a complete circle around St. Louis’ main square, we finally find the Hardee’s. Before ordering, I turn to Mike and Bryan asking them if I should say “for here” or “to go.” 20 seconds of blank stares leaves me no choice but to say for here. I go to the restroom and when I come back I see the rest of the group glaring at me. “For here!” Nate says, “Are you kidding me? You know we want to go back to the hot dog stand, right?”
This is news to me, and thankfully the woman at the register notices the conversation and hands me the food in a bag.
5: The guys order food from the hot dog stand, making it a point to mention me sitting with my corporate-bought meal. The woman in charge of the stand joins in the ridicule, at which point I can only respond, “I really wanted a burger.”
5:15: With that ordeal over, we decide to enter the stadium. We hit up the gift shop, but with Nate and Gabe the only ones interested in buying anything, the rest of us head out to look for seats. We discover that standing room only tickets gives us access to any of the designated standing room areas, but it is first come first serve.
5:30: I am given the position of spot saver, and I am able to claim a significant set of space literally behind the plate. Six spots is a lot to ask for in standing room, but I’m able to solidify the room with the help of a Cardinals fan named Michael. Michael has been to many Cardinals playoff games, showing me pictures and video from Game 7 last year, and is a baseball fanatic, having been to games in Houston, New York and Kansas City in this season alone.
6: The rest of the guys join the party, and Kyle alerts me that former Knox baseball player Dan Feldman is on his way from Carbondale with his girlfriend Elizabeth. Both are Giants fans. Gabe, Nate and I are not pleased about the potential shift in the group dynamic. More specifically, we now need to save two more spots.
Top 1st: The game begins. On the mound are Lance Lynn (STL) and Barry Zito (SF). By all accounts, the Cardinals have the advantage.
Bottom 2nd: In what would be an omen for the rest of the series, the Cardinals get men on second and third with nobody out and fail to score. Lynn grounds into a double play to end the inning, and when a team misses opportunities like that, it does not bode well.
Top 4th: On the flip side, the Giants’ luck is beginning to turn for the better. With men on first and second and one out, a would-be inning ending double play turns into a rally when Lynn throws away a groundball. The ball hits second base and bounces into centerfield. Later in the inning Zito, the last player the Giants would expect offense from, bunts for a base hit to give the Giants a 4-0 advantage.
Bottom 4th: After arriving to the stadium late, and apparently getting scammed with a fake ticket on their first attempt to get inside, Dan and Elizabeth find a way into the game. More cheering Giants fans is the last thing I need.
Top 6th: Not content with producing on offense, Zito has decided to be Sandy Koufax for a game. With stuff many DIII college pitchers use on the mound, Zito has baffled the Cardinals hitters all night, and there seems to be little hope of a comeback.
Bottom 9th: The score now 5-0 and the unhittable Zito now out of the game, it is time for that Cardinal magic. But the team that rallied from being one strike away from being eliminated on multiple occasions the previous week against Nationals has nothing in the tank tonight. Final score Giants 5 Cardinals 0.
10:15: The parking garage is packed. Nate and I agree to meet at a gas station outside St. Louis in order to get out of the city faster.
10:45: I take the first exit that lists a gas station, failing to recognize it is in wrong direction and that the gas station is about the size of my thumb. There are two cars’ worth of guys that need to use the restroom, and this gas station does not have one.
11:15: The search for a better gas station or at the very least an open restaurant continues to Alton, Ill, but as we drive through the town, everything seems to be closed or without a restroom.
11:30: We finally find a place that looks open, and what do you know, it’s a Hardee’s. As we walk to the door, Mike mentions to Kyle how nice it is that we finally found a place to stop, but before he can finish his sentence Bryan grabs the door only to find it locked. The search must continue.
11:40: Finally, a gas station with a restroom. The saga is over and we can finally head home.
1:30 A.M.: Pouring rain makes it so I can barely see out the window. At this point, the classic rock stations of western Illinois are the only thing keeping me awake.
2:45: I am dead tired, and Gangnam Style is being blasted through the speakers. That pretty much sums things up.
3:30: We finally arrive back in Galesburg. Final trip tally: 15 hours, 30 minutes, 402 miles, $113 dollars spent. My team did not win, but it was one heck of an experience.