I asked Bill Wolff this weekend about his last-minute trip to St. Louis for game seven of the World Series. The last we heard, he'd made it to his hometown but had no ticket for the game. Bill wrote:
"It was tremendous, LC. The whole manic thing of getting in a cab with the clothes on my back and my TRMS messenger bag is rewarded at LaGuardia by a dozen other STL ex-pats who had done exactly the same thing.
"Get to STL to be greeted by this awesome and dopey welcome gate of red-and-white balloons through which all arriving passengers must pass. Because this is STL, and the single thing visitors should understand before they retrieve their bags is that STL is the home of the badass STL Cardinals.
"Ride downtown on the Metro, which is, of course, populated almost exclusively by people going to the game. Duh. Many of them don't have tickets. Also duh. And also awesome. They just want to be close by to where it's happening, and I'm right there with 'em.
"Got to the park, and the truly incredible guy whom I'd asked to help me find a ticket had two options waiting for me -- a seat in a corporate box or a Standing Room Only ticket. Took the SRO. Easy call. The point was to lose my mind in close proximity to others who were losing their minds.
"The game was less anxious than the Cardinals had been making them since August (or, really, since 1971, when I first became acutely aware of them). A tremendous amount of Bud Light, the immediate company of about a dozen like-minded maniacs, and the immersion in 47,000 committed, throaty partisans made the whole thing more exciting than scary.
"And I mean THROATY!! Every non-negative moment for the Cards was met with noise like an express train roaring past a local stop. Deep and rumbly and loud and kinetic. And so g*****n awesome.
Game action was punctuated by palm-stinging high fives with every hand within a reasonable radius. Mainly, people had never met each other, but big moments (Allen Craig's homerun, Yadi Molina's walk with the bases loaded, assorted Chris Carpenter heroics) got everybody hugging the s**it out of each other in the stands. And I mean hugging with feeling. Hugging while screaming about how f*****g awesome the Cardinals are.
"And then, of course, we won. I was with the same dozen or so strangers I'd been with all night, and it was one humongous high-fiving-bear-hug-screaming-at-the-top-of-our-lungs-while-hopping-up-and-down thing. I still haven't see what the field looked like because everybody was going too full-on overcome-with-joy to be seeing anything. At that point, we were participants, not witnesses.
"After a bunch of stuff on the field, it becomes time to split. A lot of hugs and handshakes among folks that won't see each other ever again.
"And then the best, most telling part happened.
"Get out on the street, and there are tens of thousands of people just milling around, hugging, and slapping five with total strangers. I'm right there with 'em, although they mostly didn't have TRMS messenger bags over their shoulders and they mostly had rides home.
"It's incredible, the mass, united, untainted good feeling right outside the park. And after about an hour or 90 minutes, my great old pal Dennis calls me to ask where the hell I am and when are we gonna hook up. I explain that I got nothin' - no ride, no car, no toothbrush, nothin'. And Dennis, because he is the awesome and always has been, says he'll drive downtown and come get me. Unreal.
"So I start walking west up Market Street, which is the main drag, and I see that there is such CardMageddon. The traffic jam of the millennium. Only it's not *leaving* downtown, it's *approaching* downtown. It's inbound. People have left wherever they were to come be near It. There wasn't a party or a keg of beer or even an organized location. There was just this World f*****g Championship team of Cardinals, and hundreds of thousands of people wanted to be near It. Hugging passing strangers out of open car windows. Slapping five through open sun roofs. Honking horns. Families. Groups of friends. People on dates.
"And that may have been the best part. The civic thing. The pure, mutual elation.
"Sports run deep. They're nothing but a diversion, but they run deep. And in St. Louis, the Cards run really deep. When they go on a heart-stopping two-month comeback for the ages punctuated by the greatest comeback in the history of the World Series, it runs even deeper.
"We love our team. Partly because they play where we're from. Partly because they exhibit qualities which we admire and wish we could exhibit ourselves. This particular St Louis Cardinal team was the grittiest, toughest, most persistent and unafraid team I ever saw. They were just made of tough. That was clear way before they even made the playoffs. People in St Louis LOVE this team, love their toughness, and the happy outcome completely rewarded the people's investment in them.
"For the owners and the TV people, it's a business, but for the fans, the Cards are somewhere between a public trust and a religion. They're OURS. We believe in them, and the devotion is a lifetime deal.
"So, to conclude, it was f*****g incredible. Every single thing about it."
P.S. We can report, exclusively, that with the trophy safely in the possession of his St. Louis Cardinals, Bill shaved his playoff beard.