Thursday, June 29, 2006

Don't Forget to Duck!

Do you think the Busch Stadium ground crew was thrilled when they heard it was seat cushion night? I’m sure they didn’t think too much about it – at least until the Cardinals won the game in an ugly ninth inning. Soon the outfield and warning track was covered in a blanket of seat cushions.

I would have thrown mine, but I left it at our seats when David and I slipped down from our seats on Mt. Everest to some empty bleachers.

The contrast between the fans in the bleachers and the Top-of-the-World club couldn’t be greater. At the top, we were nestled between a gung-ho ex-Marine extolling the virtues of the Casino Queen (dude, while I like the Queen’s proximity to downtown, the place is one giant smoke-filled pit of –EV) and how pitchers shouldn’t be hitting and a bitchy Shirley Jones lookalike with a bruise on her foot that looked as if it was ready to blow at any moment. How did I see said bruise? After accusing us of stealing her seats and nearly tripped into everyone between her and her seat, she pulled off her high-heeled sandals and propped her dogs up on the seat in front of her. I know that’s certainly something I wanted to see. At least I wasn’t in one of the adjacent seats. No one drinks up there – the air’s too thin and drinking requires too much exertion at that height. The beer vendors had nearly forsaken us up there.

But the bleachers crowd – now that’s some local color. In the bleachers, the drinking starts with the opening of the gates and ends only when the beer man sings his sad, final last call. A woman sat nearby repeatedly sang the refrain of “Staying Alive”. Parents blanched as drunks cursed So Taguchi for a fielding error. Of course they apologized – we’re nothing if not polite in St. Louis – we just get a little emotional over the baseball. In the eighth inning, with the bullpen on the ropes, LaRussa pulled Looper and put in Izzy, and the fun began.

First the debates: “YES! – Go Izzy!”

“NOOOOOOO!!! Izzy sucks!”

“You suck cheesballs and drink Bud Light!!”

That shut him up good. I certainly didn’t know what to say, and I wasn’t even in the debate.

So Jason Isringhausen came up, trying to protect the Cardinals’ meager lead in the game. It’s important because leads are something the Cards haven’t seen too much of lately, and with the starters pitching batting practice, the hitters’ anemic bats and the bullpen’s willingness to let inherited runners cross the plate, the losing streak is starting to take on a life of its own. The tension in the stadium began mounting as everyone asked – which Izzy is it - the strike-throwing closer who fears no man, or the dude trying to figure out that whole strike zone thing?

Apparently, it was no-strike-zone Izzy, because he fell behind the count on each batter he faced, and that’s when this little observation hit: Jason Isringhausen may be the slowest working pitcher in all of baseball.

Between pitches, he stood on the mound, staring at the batter. Staring. Staring. Staring. He’d start to move . . . and throw to first. Then he’d stand on the mound. More standing. Glaciers slowly advance and recede over the continents. Izzy pitches. Waits. Waits. Waits. Sand wears the Sphinx down to nothing. He pitches. Another ball. At this point, I’ve convinced myself that they’re not using a stopwatch to time Izzy – they’re using an hourglass, and that might be too fast. I think I saw Duncan dust off the sundial.

After a brutal eighth, the Cardinals come up in the bottom of the ninth trailing by one run and the bottom of their order coming to bat. I was ready to leave, but a few things happened: Taguchi got on base. Bigbie hit a nice double (and man, was he flying), and the Indians pretty much handed the game to the Cards. (At least LaRussa pulled Izzy and had Spezio bat. I had visions of Izzy watching a pitch pass him, waiting, waiting, waiting and then swinging. Of course, this might let him hit the next pitch. Who knows?). And the hail of seat cushions flew forth.

I’m happy to see the losing streak end, but I think it was the best thing that could have happened to the team. No longer do we have to listen to ownership claim that this is a world-championship-caliber team. It’s pretty obvious that even if they win the pennant, some American League team is going to tee off on them. Hopefully, when the ownership group is busy selling off commemorative field-level seat cushions and the embers from the fire earlier in the season, they’ll remember that championship teams cost money to field, and after the taxpayers and fans have ponied up boatloads of money for them to get their new stadium, it’s only good manners to return the favor.

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