ST. LOUIS (Baseball STL) — It's not as though a young Cardinal embarking upon his first taste of an Opening Day in St. Louis could do so without having at least some idea of what it entails beforehand. Even a peripheral awareness of the Cardinal organization lends itself to the knowledge of just how much Opening Day means in this city.
The Clydesdales. The red jackets. The parade around the warning track. The sea of red.
Somewhere along the lines—one way or another—the baby birds are informed before it’s upon them just how special this day is in Cardinal country.
But if any of them didn't know—if somehow the majesty of it all had evaded their consciousness before arriving to Busch Stadium Thursday—they’d need only ask someone like Adam Wainwright to get the gist. Even after more than a dozen of these things, St. Louis’ favorite unofficial holiday still has meaning for him.
“I try to look up and enjoy a little bit of it,” he said. “I have tremendous respect for all those red jackets and I get out there on the field and I wanted to look up and see the crowd a little bit, feel that a little bit. Feel that emotion. Just see how excited the fans are. That kind of stuff gets me fired up.”
In a 3-1 loss to the Diamondbacks Thursday, several young Cardinals took in their first home opener experience on a picturesque spring day. For outfielder Harrison Bader, it was a moment he had been building toward ever since joining the Cardinals organization.
“I actually recall when I first got drafted, kind of looking on YouTube about the Cardinals,” Bader said. “The first video I saw, I remember seeing like a big horse, a Clydesdale horse, and I just remember telling myself—and I didn’t really know what that was, I didn’t understand it—but seeing it now, seeing it up close and everything, just being a part of it, it really does make the journey to this point worth every second. It’s amazing, and the support from the fans is what makes it so special.”
Bader’s moment is made even more noteworthy by the fact that it very easily could have had to wait at least another year. If not for a little help from the schedule makers—the Cardinals played two road series to open the year before coming home for Thursday’s celebration—and for a hamstring injury to Jedd Gyorko leading to his call up, Bader wouldn’t have been on the roster for Opening Day. As it happened, he got there just in time.
“It means the world,” Bader said. “I’ve been in a Cardinal uniform within the organization since 2015. I’ve been working behind the scenes for this exact moment, so to get that call does means a lot. But at the same time, you kind of flush that and go out there and take care of business.”
That’s the key in balancing the emotions of Opening Day; the temptation to get swept up in the pageantry is considerable, but even the fresh faces recognize the importance of preparing for this game just like the rest of them. Bader, who drew a walk in a pinch-hitting appearance, said afterward that he treated his Opening Day moment like any other at-bat.
Reliever Ryan Sherriff had a similar focus on his role when he entered the game in his first Opening Day, and said it was the best he’s felt on the mound in a while.
“I thought my ball was moving well, everything went as planned,” Sherriff said. “Got my lefties.”
Sherriff was struck by the realization that the same Opening Day festivities he recalls viewing in his childhood were now ones in which he was directly involved as a player.
“I remember as a kid going to Dodger Stadium, my dad taking me, and I’d get the see the flyovers and stuff,” Sherriff said. “And now like, being on the field and doing that. It’s just—Blessed, man.”
Another reliever got his first taste of a St. Louis Opening Day a little earlier than anyone outside the organization might’ve anticipated just a few short weeks ago, as 21-year-old Jordan Hicks continued his major league coming-out party with numerous triple-digit fastballs in a scoreless ninth inning. He was yet another new Cardinal for whom Opening Day marked the realization of just how far he’d come.
“When I came in (to Busch Stadium) three years ago, I knew I wasn’t going to be playing,” Hicks said. “Today I knew I was going to be playing. So a really cool experience.”
Hicks shared that in his brief interaction with the Hall of Famers during the pregame ceremony, the greatest Cardinal pitcher of all-time gave him a little advice. What wisdom did Bob Gibson impart on the young Hicks?
He told him to keep the ball down.
Not a bad introduction to what Cardinal baseball is all about.