I’ve lived in south-central Missouri plenty long to become a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

Before moving here in 2006, my family and I lived for about seven-and-a-half years in northeast Georgia and it was fun having the Atlanta Braves as my “favorite team.” I enjoyed following all those teams with those pitching staffs full of great arms like John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and rock-solid guys like Chipper Jones and Javy Lopez in the field. Braves fans were spoiled in those days, but it was pretty cool to be able to count on them to win a division title every year (which they did, 14 straight times).

Prior to that, I spent close to three decades as a fan of the Seattle Mariners, and saw them go through an unprecedented series of struggles on their way to finally becoming a viable squad.

I recall the days in the 1980s when my friends and I would watch the M’s play in the Kingdome as part of puny crowds that sometimes barely topped the 5,000 mark. But I also recall being treated to seeing some of the best baseball a fan could imagine when the Mariners outgrew their perennial doormat status and sported a lineup stacked with some of the best players of the 1990s – including future first ballot Hall of Famers Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson and Ken Griffey, Jr., and the most underrated hitter of all time, Edgar Martinez. While that team rose to the top of the American League ranks, the Concrete Cavern was packed to its rock-hard rafters for home games.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

I’m here to tell you, I saw several games when the 6-10 R.J. was literally unhittable, and the only reason he didn’t end up with a no-hitter was that an opposing batter who flailed his bat near the strike zone while backing away from a 95-mile-an-hour slider accidently connected with the ball and got a lucky, opposite-field bloop single. I’m also convinced the Junior was by far the best player of the “steroids era” who it’s easy to tell never juiced. His natural talent was incredibly evident; he hit home runs in eight consecutive games in 1993, a record he shares with two others (that if you think about it, is almost unfathomable), and he was unmatched in terms of converting would-be homers to outs by snatching balls that had already cleared the fence and bringing them back into center field.

And “The Edgar,” well, he never saw a pitch he didn’t like and could hit a ball at will to any part of the field.

Going back still farther, when I was a grade school kid growing up in Anaheim in the 1960s, my dad had access to Los Angeles Dodgers season tickets through his job at Jorgensen Steel. I may be old, but I can still clearly remember going to Chavez Ravine, sitting behind the dugout on the third base side of Dodger Stadium, and taking in some awesome baseball.

Of course, that’s when I first became aware of the Cardinals, because they and the Dodgers were big-time rivals during those days before divisions and free agents. What a treat it was to witness epic 2-1 battles with Bob Gibson on the mound for the Red Birds and Don Drysdale throwing heat for Los Angeles, and guys like Maury Wills and Willie Davis playing ultimate fundamental ball for the home team and Lou Brock and Curt Flood doing the same for St. Louis.

That brings me back to the present. My enjoyment in following the Cardinals is largely born of a respect I’ve had for them ever since I saw them and the Dodgers frustrate each other time and again and almost take turns winning pennants all those years ago.

But having now been exposed to the whole Cardinal thing for as long as I have, it goes beyond that.

For as long as I’ve liked Major League Baseball, I’ve also enjoyed how well it works as a radio entity. And as someone who has listened to more than a couple of top-notch baseball play-by-play broadcasters at work (like Vin Scully in L.A., the late Skip Caray in Atlanta, and the late Dave Niehaus in Seattle), it’s my opinion that St. Louis fans are in now way being short-changed having Mike Shannon and John Rooney at the microphone.

Amazingly, the 73-year-old Shannon is in his 42nd year of broadcasting Cards games, and it’s impossible not to be drawn to his gravelly voice, and unique, quirky way of describing the action. And the well-traveled Rooney just has one of those voices and a delivery that seem tailor-made for radio baseball, and he and Shannon seem to mesh well despite their stark differences in style.

Of course, the players are what really make the team, and I think St. Louis outdoes most teams in that area (and always has, for that matter). As the years go by, I frankly find it harder and harder to be a fan of most professional sports because of all the bad attitude, arrogance, and “drama” that is so prevalent, and I appreciate how little of that junk seems to emanate from the Cardinals’ direction.

It’s also neat to follow a team that has such a long and successful history, and has a list of former players that includes the likes of Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Dizzy Dean, and Ozzie Smith. Man, what a cool set of names.

OK, enough reminiscing and name-dropping. The bottom line is, this is Cardinal territory and I’ve definitely turned in the scrolled “A”, the nautical compass “S”, and the overlapping “L” and “A” in favor of the classic intertwined “STL”. Sure, there will always be a soft spot inside me for the Dodgers, Mariners, and Braves (especially those silly M’s), but my favorite MLB team now is the one whose players wear uniforms bearing the birds on a bat.

And I’m feeling pretty comfortable about that. We’re talking about one of the greatest baseball teams – and sports franchises – that has ever existed.

Go Cardinals.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. His columns are posted on the blog page at http://www.houstonherald.com. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

 

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