The Life And Times Of A St. Louis Cardinals Fan - Game 7 Edition

This is The Sports Fan Journal, and at the heart of it all, that is exactly what we all are. So for a moment here, I’m going to step aside from analysis and presenting things as they are and be just that, a sports fan. I’m going to be a sports fan that’s in the grip of the absolute most crippling part of fanhood: the devastating loss. But not just so much for the gist of losing a season, but for everything that sports truly is for some of us. The all-encompassing, reality-gripping, life-is-on-the-line event that it can play out to be. Because really, it is never is just a game, especially if you’re not playing it.

Let me back up a step here and speak to the obvious first. I’m bit of a baseball lifer and from St. Louis, Missouri, so the obvious is what it is. The St. Louis Cardinals lost the National League Championship Series last night and simultaneously lost their grip on their title as World Champions as well. In some cases, that’s all it is: good game, they fought hard and things look good for next year. But it’s never just really that for me, because I was raised with the franchise being always there. As long back as I can remember, I had two things tacked on my wall: pennants from the 1985 and 1987 World Series, featuring the St. Louis Cardinals. I didn’t know about Don Denkinger in ’85 then or about the Twins holding down home field in ’87 then. I just knew baseball and the Cardinals. So they became synonymous for me.

I’m a generation removed from a five-kid family that grew up in the '60s with a ton of other kids in the same neighborhood. They played baseball nonstop and handed the attention of it down to me. So it’s in my blood to say the least. The game is right there with everything else I’ve ever known, like shoes and Laffy Taffy. It’s a personal institution.

And for all of this, the guy I’ve got to pay all of this homage to is my father. I think the first toy I ever had was a big red baseball bat, and when he’d get off work he’d come outside and pitch to me, no matter how tired he probably was, as my life now makes clear to me daily by five or six o’clock. He took me to countless games over the years and really taught me what’s become my greatest passion. Times we spend at the ballpark have grown to become some of the greatest times of my life. He’s been a Cardinal fan for 49 years now, through nine Cardinal World Series trips, yet has not been to a World Series game yet.

So when it came down to this year’s playoffs, it was obviously another huge high. Last year in Cardinal baseball was unbelievable, especially how it came out of nowhere. And how this encore season overcame so many obstacles to land on the brink of the World Series again, and this time we were in the position to make that move to be there to see the team we both grew up following, 20 years apart, make its entrance to the game’s highest level, together.

However, after breaking out to what seemed like an insurmountable lead and our time finally being here, it wasn’t to be. The Cardinals gave up a three-game lead in the series to fall out of the season and wake up from what would have been about as literal of a dream come true.

Now realize, I understand this is the life I signed up for. A true, unaltered love of a sport and following of team is a road filled with setbacks and disappointments more times than not. This especially rings true if baseball is your choice of devotion. Across 162 games and four rounds of playoffs, there’s a king’s share of disappointment possible.

However, in this particular case, it can’t help but to surpass just the game. This is a shared love affair with a person that will forever be one of the people most responsible for who I am and any successes I ever achieve. This was to be more than just the “Cardinals defying the odds to go back to the World Series.” This was going to be “our” World Series. Whether the Cards would have won or lost that game was always inconsequential to me. It was that opportunity that was so close, but so far away for so many years, snatched away when it seemed so certain. Even more than I wanted that win for the team, I wanted that win for my old man. He deserved it. He’s been a good soldier for the club and raised another one up right to respect the game. Those three hours at the park on Wednesday would’ve lasted for as long as either of us lived to recall it … or it was handed on to the next chapter to keep it going. That’s the essence of sports, the passed along heritage of it, the shared legacy it gives. It's way more than just a game; it’s life.

There’s very little that’s worse than your top club, in your top sport, bowing out in a brutal fashion. If your team has ever been good, but just not good enough when it felt like it was completely certain it was, you don’t know heartbreak. And when that loss is tied in fashion to something that has defined your life — past, present and future — it’s even bigger.

When it became clear to me that it just wasn’t the Cardinals’ day, and therefore their year, I thought about my pops. Here’s our conversation, simple and to the point:

And that’s the absolute truth. Nothing’s promised until it is, and that’s why you rise up with your team again the next year. To chase that moment, and hope to have it again, on whatever terms you can.

But that never makes it easier, however this is the life of a sports fan. Take the highs with the lows and don’t waver … and I can promise we won’t.

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