I returned yesterday from a six-day trip to St. Louis, which was a combination of family and attending the 37th SABR convention. And although I only spent a couple of days at my brother's house, I realized that the trip was mostly about family. (If you want to read about the convention, Chris Jaffe has a nice writeup at the Hardball Times.)
If you've read here before, I often poke fun at St. Louis and its environs and, especially, Cardinals fans. However, my family comes from St. Louis (my mother and her mother were born there) and its environs (my father and his father and his father's father were born in Breese, Illinois). And all the members of my family that live in the area are diehard Cardinals fans as my parents were before they moved to California in 1960.
St. Louis is not an easy town to love. It doesn't have good weather. It isn't overloaded with cultural opportunities. The cuisine is not the most exciting. The city is not as culturally diverse as Los Angeles.
Yet, I don't think I've ever been in any place where I felt the weight of history, both on a small and large scale, hitting me so often.
From my hotel just a few blocks from the Mississippi River, you could see the relatively modern Gateway Arch, but you could also see the Old Cathedral, one of the first Catholic cathedrals in the U.S.
Further down the river, you would see the Eads Bridge, a major engineering accomplishment, yet it was built too late (1874) for St. Louis to be able to hold off Chicago as the preeminent city in the Midwest.
I could see a few old buildings futher down the Riverfront (which I didn't take pictures of as it was starting to rain pretty hard) in areas where my grandmother had some of her first jobs, working in a candy factory and a yeast factory. My mom also had jobs down by the river, although I'm not sure what they were.
On the other side of the hotel, I could see the Old Courthouse from my hotel room (pictured below). Dred Scott first petitioned for his freedom in this Courthouse back in 1846, only to be ultimately turned down by the Supreme Court in 1857. Dred Scott is buried in Calvary Cemetery, the same place where my maternal grandfather is buried, along with Civil War general William Sherman.
But I also felt the tug of history in small ways, such as when I visited the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, which shares a space with the International Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum. All 10 Cardinals World Series champions have a display and I found myself gravitating to the one dedicated to the 1944 Champions. That's because it is the only World Series that I know that my mother ever saw in person. For me, the small display was bringing me close to tears. And it wasn't really about the baseball. I suppose it was just a way for me to try to remember my mother.
Even though she passed away 14 years ago, I find myself thinking more about how she must have been in times I never knew her. I tried to picture myself back in Sportsman's Park looking for the shy girl with the bad eye and who had one arm shorter than the other. What's she going to think of seeing this 41-year old man who just wants to ask her if she really liked Whitey Kurowski that much? Didn't she know Stan Musial was better? (She knew Musial was better by the way.)
I would have loved to have come home from this trip and just sat down and talked to her about what I saw and where I went. She'd tell me about the game that is depicted in the scorecard that you can sort of make out in the photo below.
But I don't live in that world. I live in the world that isn't perfect and doesn't have everybody in it that I would like. I've learned to make do.
St. Louis is definitely a city that loves its baseball team. There may be no other city in America where the city's identity now is so closely identified with its baseball team. People all over the region dress in red clothing. Print, radio, and TV media all seem to have nonstop Cardinals coverage.
The Cardinals fans may not always be the most astute (they're really bad at judging fly balls) and they may be a little too proud of their self-proclaimed status of "Best Fans in Baseball," but I will grant the St. Louisans that conceit. History, aside from the Cardinals success, has not been kind to the city of St. Louis. And it's much better to remember what has gone right rather than what has gone wrong.
But wherever I went in St. Louis, history followed me. I guess it beats having death following you around.