Kirk Wessler: Baseball not meant for March
For about two hours Monday, opening day went according to script.
The Budweiser Clydesdales pranced. St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famers paraded. Albert Pujols homered.
And then the wrath of God was visited upon Busch Stadium. The Almighty threw lightning bolts, thundered in a loud voice and whipped up a gully-washer to wipe out the Cardinals' 5-1 lead over the 2007 National League Champion Colorado Rockies in the third inning. The message seemed pretty clear:
"Thou shalt not play baseball in March!"
Or something like that.
Even Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, a young man of substantial religious faith, understood the first opening-day start of his career was not meant to end with a victory on his record. For whatever reason.
"I really would have liked to win that game," Wainwright said. "Opening day in St. Louis, there's always a vibe, a buzz going around. It would've been neat to deliver a win for the fans, but it's like God had a different plan for us."
This was the plan: Come back tonight, when the calendar has turned to April, and we at least can pretend it's baseball season, despite wind chills that will remind us the endless winter has not gone away.
This was not the first time Major League Baseball has attempted to open the regular season in March. Commissioner Beelzebud, it seems, will not be satisfied until he has transformed the Boys of Summer into the Trolls of Four Seasons.
It is true that baseball was played successfully, more or less, in 12 other cities Monday -- although in Chicago, Cubs patrons no doubt were cursing the cold along with goats and black cats and Bartmans and their own wretched destiny to hope forever without satisfaction.
It is notable, however, that God intervened in two significant places.
One was here, in St. Louis, where baseball is religion. The other was in New York, where heavenly rain prevented the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays from opening the final season in the House that Ruth Built until we had become April fools. The Yankees (with 26) and the Cardinals (10) have won more World Series championships than any other clubs.
Blasphemy would not be allowed in either place.
At Busch Stadium, however, the requisite opening-day festivities were executed and met with the customary gusto.
At 2:30 p.m., a half-dozen fireworks burst skyward from the top of the giant Busch Stadium scoreboard. Then venerable Ernie Hays lit into "Here Comes The King" -- that timeless Budweiser-ad tune -- on the organ, and hero-worship season opened for the red-draped legions.
After the Clydesdales came the red and white convertibles, bearing Redbirds royalty: Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson.
Then the announcement that "The Man" himself was in the house but unable to take the field. Stan Musial, after all, is almost as old as God, but no longer near as spry.
Following the greats of old came the current players - from the Great
Pujols to "Who the heck is Rico Washington?" A nice round of applause for the Rockies. (In St. Loo, you see, the fans still treat rivals other than the Cubs with a measure of respect.) Then "Lewis," a mighty bald eagle, performed a majestic flyover, a U.S. Army honor guard presented the flag, and "Mini-Mizzou," the pep band from the University of Missouri, played the national anthem.
At 3:01, Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel, whose pinpoint passing last fall led the Tigers to a Cotton Bowl championship season, took the mound for the ceremonial first pitch. He threw wild past his wide receiver/catcher Jeremy Maclin, possibly because he found the ball to be the wrong shape and size.
And then it was "Play Ball!"
For 59 minutes.
Wainwright started shaky, but Cards leftfielder Skip Schumaker bailed him out with a great running catch in the first inning. Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis started shaky, and the Cards punished him.
Then the rains came and rendered every pitch and swing of the bat non-existent.
"I'm sure I would have pitched really good today," Wainwright lamented.
Not to be. Such is baseball, which is a darn fine sport.
But not in March.
Kirk Wessler is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3216 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.