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'Fair' time had by all     Send a link to a friend

By Jeff Mayfield

[JULY 12, 2004]  A little over a year ago at this time, the Chicago Cubs and their fans had quite a lot of fun at the expense of the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans. A late-season crucial series in Chi-town saw the Birds capture the first contest but lose the rest and eventually the division title as well. The Cubs outplayed, outworked them, out-hustled them and out-managed them. They deserved to win the title in every way and probably should have won the world title as well.

When it comes to taking care of that kind of business, I agree with Illini basketball coach Bruce Weber. Weber contends that you must take advantage of an opportunity when it swims by. Never mind what players you have on your roster for NEXT season or how NEXT year's schedule almost guarantees a championship. Could Weber have been more prophetic when it comes to the 2004 Central Division race?

Before this season started, everyone (including many fans in Third World countries who don't know all that much about baseball) felt the Cubs were the odds-on favorite to win the World Series going away. And they STILL could, but they have a mountain to climb first if that is going to happen.

I remember sitting with Greg Taylor and our friend Terry Martin, a former Lincoln resident, when he picked up his Sports Illustrated baseball edition with the Cubs on the front cover. I downplayed the jinx factor as I read the issue and agreed that the Cubs would be hard to beat. And after watching the Astros' offseason moves and the Cardinals' lack thereof, I emotionally distanced myself from any hopes that the Cardinals would be whiffing playoff baseball this campaign.

With a job that doesn't lend itself much to a sports schedule anymore and a young family that I would much rather spend time with, I have ventured to Busch Memorial Stadium only about twice a year over the last decade (compared with slightly more than that the decade before). One of those rare opportunities came my way last week.

From a purely baseball standpoint I was thinking that it might not be the best idea to go down for that game. The Cards had won a few in a row and were due for a loss. Instead, they took a game in which they were not all that strong and came away with another improbable victory.

 

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As I sat in the perch otherwise known as a terrace box seat (a pretty nice view), I was enthralled by what St. Louis Cardinal baseball has become. Even better defense than before. Starting pitchers given gutty, quality starts of six to seven innings night after night. A bullpen by committee that even Whitey Herzog could be proud of for the new millennium. An everyday lineup that you would not want to pitch to. A bench full of quality role players that conjures up great Cardinal names from the past who each did their part to bring St. Louis championships. The greatest fans of any pro sport, bar none. It is fun and easy to watch.

I trust that members of the Illini football program were there taking notes! All of that makes you want to stand up and applaud like a wild man. It makes you want to call every baseball fan you know and ask them if they have seen any good games lately.

But, there is one thing that so many fans forget. Eighty-one games does not a season make... even if you were one of the first to 50 victories. It is a long season. A lot can happen between now and Oct. 1.

But what a difference a year makes. If I hadn't seen it myself, I would've NEVER believed it. No matter what happens, it has been magical and something that rarely happens.

Now it's on to the All-Star game to root for our favorite players, and then next weekend itís back to the Central Division trenches to see if the Cubs, Astros, Reds, Brewers or Pirates want to make a run at the Redbirds. Thanks to the schedule-makers, that road may likely NOT run through St. Louis but through some of those other cities.

But right now many Cardinal fans are reprising that great old musical depicting the 1904 World's Fair, "Meet me in St. Louie"... and are having a pretty "fair" time while they are there!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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