The Sunday Magazine: St. Louis Cardinals

When people ask me why my favorite baseball team is they are usually surprised to hear me answer the St. Louis Cardinals. It would be easy to expect after living in Connecticut and Massachusetts that it would be one of the teams from the Northeast. That might have been true but what made the Cardinals my baseball team is easier to explain, they were my father’s favorite team.

Because they were my father’s favorite team we would always take trip up to St. Petersburg to watch Cardinals Spring Training. This was back on the 1960’s and when we went to spring training games we could stand just outside the foul lines. You could hear the players. They were accessible I was able to get autographs signed with a smile. Things have changed so dramatically from those times now. I wonder if I was a child now if I would be as big a baseball fan as I am. Those years were great as this was a cherished father-son tradition. It also turned into one of those times I disappointed my father in a deeply emotional way.

1967-Cardinals

We had gone to spring training in March of 1967. Like every other spring training I had brought a new baseball to have all of the current Cardinal players autograph it. I was able by the end of our week to have a ball with all of the signatures on it. The Cardinals would go on to win the World Series that fall. My father would proudly look at that ball and remark that that is the entire Championship team there.

Sometime after that we were playing baseball in the street out in front of my house and it was a tie game when our game ball ended up on top of the warehouse roof. We didn’t have an extra. Except I remembered there was a perfectly good ball on my bookshelf. Yes this is going where you thinking it’s going. I went and got the autographed ball and we played with it. On an asphalt street. You can imagine what the ball looked like after we were done with it. I replaced the ball in its customary place and didn’t give it a second thought.

It would be a couple of days until my father was talking to me and his eyes drifted over to where he expected to see the autographed ball. Instead he was greeted with a chewed up ball where there was maybe a few lines of ink still visible. He looks at me and asks where the ball is. I point at it and say right there. I could see all of the dominos falling in my father’s mind as he put it all together. It was one of the rare times when he looked at me I could see the emotion in his eyes as he wondered if his son was a fool. I would say I was a child and he was an adult and leaving that ball in the hands of a child leads to poor decision making.

For many years afterward that ball would come up in conversation accompanied by my father’s shaking head. All of this made me a die-hard Cardinals fan because they were our team. Every year as another season begins I think of my father….and about that ball.

Mark Behnke