JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- It’s already 82 degrees at 10 a.m. outside Roger Dean Stadium. The plaza around the ticket office and main gate is a sea of red because the St. Louis Cardinals are playing a spring training game today. Hundreds of fans drift along the walkways, enjoying the shared experience. All parking lots are full. All 6,871 tickets have been sold, as well as more than 600 standing room tickets. The crowd of 7,500 this day will be the largest of the year.
The lobby of the Marriott across the street is jammed with adults wearing jerseys with the names of their favorite players embossed on the back with bright red tackle twill block letters. The common Wainwright and Molina jerseys are interspersed with the occasional Freese, Pujols and even a Van Slyke shirt. A little boy in a complete Cardinal uniform and red socks accenting white knickers robs a player of an imaginary home run with his diminutive glove. The line to get into the stadium stretches 200 yards toward an overflow parking lot. Ticket scalpers ask who has ‘em and who wants ‘em. Hundreds more fans occupy shaded tables in the row of restaurants adjacent to the complex.
This is the scene at the shared spring training site in Jupiter, Fla., but only when the Cardinals play. The Miami Marlins, with whom they share the facility, enjoy modest fan support. The Cardinals pack them in with over 7,000 fans at many games, dozens standing in designated areas between seating levels. To date, more than 47,000 fans have attended the seven Cardinal home games. As well as they draw at home, they pull more on the road.
Spring training used to be the place major leaguers came to get in shape. The games were an afterthought and for years, no admission was charged if anyone cared to watch.
Now, it is not just spring training to the thousands of fans who make the trip to see their beloveds play. It is a bucket list item for several, including Joe Mooney, of Florissant, Mo. The trip to see a pair of Cardinal games was a gift from his wife for his 60th birthday. “We’ve been Cardinal fans our whole life,” said Mooney, who works for LHM, a hotel conglomerate. But they aren’t alone. The Mooneys invited eight of their closest friends from St. Norbert’s and Sacred Hearts churches, all of whom flew down together for a week of baseball and sun.
Among them are Jim and Jan Mundlach, who have been to Roger Dean a few times, particularly when their daughter, Kristi Yehling, worked for the Cardinals as manager of season ticket sales, a position that carried a few perks for the family. They joined the Mooneys, along with Jeff and Janice Clapp, Dan and Kathy Flynn and Jim and Nancy Szczuka. The five couples rented a house for the weekend and, as of Friday, were all still good friends. “My dad took me to old Sportsman’s Park when I was 4 years old,” said Dan Flynn. “It’s my first time here.” Like all 10, Flynn has been a Cardinal fan his entire life.
Shirley Fisher, of Evansville, Ind., said the trip is an 80th birthday present she enjoyed with her sisters, Sue Kirgan, 76, and Donna Goldman, 70 – a true bucket list item she wanted to check off while the three could still enjoy it.
For others, like George Middendorf, 76, and his son, Neal, 50, of Wildwood, Mo. or Tony and Joe Venzon, the trip to Jupiter is the consummate father-son road trip. “We’ve been talking about doing it for years and we just decided it’s time to stop talking and do it,” said Tony, of Glen Carbon, Ill., as they inched toward the entrance gate, still two and half hours before the 1:05 p.m. start.
Fans said they liked the laid back atmosphere of spring training games, the fans’ proximity to the players and the ability to walk the grounds and watch the Cardinals of tomorrow work out on distant fields.
And, they liked the collective consciousness that has become symbolic of Cardinal Nation.