Like any vacation, my trip to St. Louis seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.
My mom and I got in at about three in the afternoon on Friday and left at about noon yesterday. It wasn't a terribly long trip, but we managed to pack a lot in and had an absolute blast.
As I saw when we were arriving, the St. Louis skyline is beautiful. The Gateway Arch is probably the city's most famous feature, though we didn't make the trip to check it out this time. (I saw it the last time I went to St. Louis ten years ago.)
The hotel we stayed at was great, and there just so happened to be a casino across the street. I played a few losing hands of video poker at about one in the morning before calling it a night.
Both of the meals I ordered in St. Louis came with a side of tater tots, which I loved. I'm a big tot guy, and it's surprisingly hard to find them in restaurants around Chicago.
And, no, I didn't buy any baseball cards during my stay. I didn't find any promising leads on card shops around the city. I doubt we would've had time to hit them even if I had.
Stray observations aside, the big event of the trip...
...was the Cardinals-Dodgers game my mom and I attended on Friday night.
The hotel had a shuttle that took us directly to and from Busch Stadium, so that worked out perfectly. There hustle and bustle around the area near the ballpark reminded me a lot of Wrigley Field.
My mom and I were handed rolled-up posters as soon as we walked into the stadium. I had no idea there was a stadium giveaway going on that night.
That's me with the giveaway there, an awesome poster commemorating the Cardinals' 1964 World Series victory over the Yankees.
It'll get a spot of prime real estate in my room.
Like any baseball fan would be, I was eager to see the ballpark itself.
The Cards were still playing in the old Busch Stadium during my last trip to St. Louis, so this was my first look at the (relatively) new yard.
Our seats along the third-base line gave my mom and I an absolutely perfect view of the beautiful ballpark.
I personally think some clubs have overdone the whole jumbo-sized scoreboard thing in recent years, but the one at Busch is stunning. I just so happened to snap this shot as they were featuring a Bob Gibson highlight reel on the screen.
I looked around the ballpark for three hours and found something new to admire each time.
On top of that, the stadium gives a breathtaking view of the St. Louis skyline.
Like the rest of the city, the Arch is once again front and center. Oh, and did I mention that it was a perfect evening for baseball?
Barely a cloud in the sky.
After taking in the beautiful scenery, I noticed an inordinate number of fans crowded around the visitor's dugout as my mom and I were getting to our seats.
I realized what all the commotion was about as I neared closer to the field.
There, just a few feet from where I was sitting, was Clayton Kershaw himself signing autographs. I didn't try to get anything signed, knowing I would be crowded out of the pack anyways.
Simply seeing the greatest pitcher in baseball in the flesh was enough for me.
It was definitely one of the biggest moments from my trip.
Just a few minutes later, Yasiel Puig emerged from the dugout for his pre-game stretches.
As I saw from all the blue shirts scattered around the ballpark, Dodger fans do indeed travel well. I was caught off-guard by all the "PUIG!" shouts that erupted from around me as he ran to the outfield.
Guys like him are good for baseball.
After finding our seats, my mom and I decided to head down to the concourse for a little pre-game grub.
I've learned that most ballpark food around is pretty similar. I actually look forward to seeing the names of the eateries themselves more than anything else. We passed by Broadway BBQ and the Gashouse Grill before setting eyes on the best of them all.
The place is appropriately named after Dizzy Dean, a Cardinal legend and one of my favorite players of all-time. I got a hot dog and fries and a neat little souvenir Cardinals cup. The red hot was a little below Chicago standards, but the fries were better than most you'll find around the Windy City.
I don't know what it is with St. Louis and potatoes, but I like it.
By the time we got our food, the game was just about to start.
I quickly penciled in the starting lineups for each team as they were announced over the PA. Keeping score is a dying art amongst baseball fans. I've done it for as long as I can remember. Nary a game goes by where I don't get a scorecard.
I was even commended by the nice lady sitting next to me for keeping score, which I greatly appreciated. To me, scorecards are mementos from all the games I've attended over the years.
Plus, at only $3.50 for the card and a pencil, they're a lot cheaper than anything you'll find at the souvenir shop.
The game itself was a good one.
Lance Lynn toed the rubber for the Cardinals against Dan Haren and the Dodgers. Since it was the first game back after the All-Star break, I was hoping to see Clayton Kershaw and/or Adam Wainwright. No luck on that front.
I'm sure we've all heard the claim that the Cardinals have The Best Fans in the World. Now, I can't speak to whether or not they're the best in the world, as I have limited ballpark experience.
That said, I definitely got a different vibe from the St. Louis fans. Most of the conversations around me were about the game at hand, a grand departure from the mindless dialogue I seem to hear at every Cubs game.
The whole stadium seemed to cheer after a Matt Adams sacrifice fly in the first, which was comforting to hear. Only a handful of fans left after the seventh and eighth innings, which, again, is a grand departure from Chicago and a lot of other cities.
There's little doubting that St. Louis is a baseball town. Cardinals shirts, posters, and pennants were strewn all around the city.
Heck, even the blackjack dealers at the casino were wearing Cards jerseys.
A first-inning RBI double from Matt Holliday gave the Redbirds an early 1-0 lead.
Both Lynn and Haren took over for a while after that, shutting down each lineup with minimal traffic. Around the fourth inning, darkness set into St. Louis. Night baseball is a thing of beauty. If you've never seen the National Pastime under the lights, I'd highly recommend it.
After about five innings of Dan Haren dominance, Matt Holliday once again came to the rescue, cranking a two-run bomb to center to put the Cardinals up 3-0. (I later found out that it was Holliday's 1,000th career run.)
Lance Lynn pitched shutout ball into the 7th before being removed for Seth Maness. Maness allowed two runners to score in the inning, though both were charged to Lynn.
The Cards held a slim 3-2 lead going into the eighth.
That's when the highlight of my night happened.
It's tough to tell from this shot, but that's Pat Neshek on the mound for the Cardinals. The man is quickly turning into my favorite player in baseball. If you haven't heard his story yet, do so now. Or, at least, after you're done reading this post.
Neshek signed a minor league deal with the Cards in spring training, not expecting to make the club with all the bright young arms in the St. Louis organization. He shocked everyone by not only making the club, but also being elected to the All-Star team this season.
His ERA dropped down to a sparkling 0.68 with the scoreless inning he tossed on Friday night. His herky-jerky windup is right up there with the likes of Chad Bradford and Hideo Nomo, which makes him all the more endearing to me.
After the tragic death of his one-day-old son in 2012, the Nesheks welcomed another baby into the world earlier this year. Though he was born 13 days premature, the little tyke is happily doing well now.
The toddler's name is Hoyt, by the way. Yes, as in Hoyt Wilhelm. The Nesheks named their baby after the man behind my most expansive player collection.
Oh, which reminds me. Pat Neshek is also an avid baseball card collector.
How could I not like this guy?
After a tense last couple innings, the Cardinals ended up holding on for a 3-2 victory.
Trevor Rosenthal picked up the save as Lance Lynn got the win. Dan Haren took a tough loss. Matt Holliday drove in all three for the Cards on Friday, the unquestioned MVP of the contest.
All in all, I couldn't have asked for a much better night of baseball. Or a better trip altogether, for that matter.
St. Louis is definitely my kind of town.