Moving to a new house is always a big deal. When that new house is more than 800 miles away from the only area you’ve ever inhabited in your 35 years, it can be a little jarring—to say the least. I could probably go on for a couple thousand words about the things that are different between Central Texas and the St. Louis area, how much I miss friends and family, etc. Austin/Round Rock is great, but it will never be home because home can only be Belleville/St. Louis. But for now, let’s focus on baseball.
As a Cardinal fan, baseball is VERY different now.
I was a partial season ticket holder in the Left Field Bleachers at Busch Stadium for five seasons; now, the closest Major League team is at least three hours away. I know, I know…”First World Problems.” But you really do come to expect going to ballgames being a significant part of your life each summer. It impacts your budget, your availability, your perspective of the game…and when it’s gone, you lose something.
It would probably be different if I still lived in the St. Louis area. I could watch or listen to the games like everyone else does, and while I’d miss going to 20 or 40 games each year, I’d still get more than my fill of daily baseball. But even though I’m able to pick up KMOX in my car most evenings, I have to resort to MLB.TV to see or hear the play-by-play. It’s a great technology to have available, and I’m grateful for it—except for one thing.
Yes, there is a pretty significant delay for both the radio and TV broadcast streams to get to whatever device I happen to be using to catch the game that is in progress. That probably would not be an issue if I was just interested in game action. But no, I also have to be addicted to Twitter during the game. I love the social media aspect of watching the Cards and seeing what everyone—writers, broadcasters, bloggers, fans—have to say about what’s happening. It’s like a game within the game. I also love participating in that aspect of the experience. But now, I’m sometimes minutes behind everyone else. Maybe it isn’t all that important being first, but seeing game updates before the feed gets to my Blu-Ray or phone or computer is…well, it’s just unnerving. I don’t even care that much about being surprised as I watch. It just sucks to know everything that happens before it happens (on my screen, anyway). I’m always a batter behind…sometimes two. Yikes.
Again, I know…total “First World Problem.” Twenty years ago, this move would have me wrapping foil around a boombox antenna in the hopes of picking up the signal from St. Louis at best, and waiting for game updates the next day on SportsCenter or, if I was really lucky, the Austin American-Statesman at worst. In that context, I’m not complaining one bit. And down here I do have access to different baseball than I’ve ever had before—namely the Triple A Round Rock Express and the University of Texas Longhorns. I’ll still catch Cards’ games any way I can, and I’ll still be a weirdo on Twitter as much as possible. It’s just not the same as it was. And I miss that.
The loudest, most passionate voice in the Left Field Bleachers of Busch Stadium went quiet forever when Lucille Elson, better known to Cardinal Nation as Mama Lucy, passed away last night after a long battle with cancer.
To those that knew her well, Mama Lucy was a fun-loving and passionate friend with a no-nonsense personality and a welcoming smile. To anyone within earshot of Section 593, she was one of the most boisterous, passionate, and recognizable figures in the stands at St. Louis Cardinals home games.
Mama Lucy attended games armed with drinks and snacks, t-shirts she made that sported her “Left Field Bleacher Rules,” a scorecard, and a small radio headset for listening to the broadcast. Part of her time was spent shaking hands and chatting with passersby who knew or at least recognized her and part of her time was spent sharing the t-shirts with anyone who wanted one. But most of her time was spent riveted by the game in front of her, and her fan participation was equaled by no other.
Every time a Cardinals player came up to bat, Mama Lucy had an encouraging yell for him. And I’m talking a yell. The first time I heard it, I almost couldn’t believe this woman–or any human being–was capable of projecting the way she did. We were brand new season ticket holders and sat in the row behind Lucy, just a seat or two away. The reactions of the surrounding fans were mixed: some looked annoyed, some yelled along with her, most gave a little cheer or a smile. But everyone knew this was what Mama Lucy did. It had become part of the game experience. If a Cards’ hitter fouled off a two-strike pitch, she would chant (mimicking the BeeGee’s classic) “AH AH AH AH STAYIN’ ALIVE! STAYIN’ ALIVE!” and add an encouraging line at the end of the chorus based on the situation on the field (“TWO RBI’S! C’MON, ALBERT!”). When the visiting team got a runner on first, she willed the Cardinals into turning a double play: “SIX-FOUR-THREE! FOUR-SIX-THREE! FIVE-FOUR-THREE!” This went on for the entire game, but it wasn’t off-putting in any way. Mama Lucy made the Left Field Bleachers special.
And it wasn’t just the game experience that endeared Mama Lucy to the bleacher creatures at Busch Stadium. Every winter, she would invite a large group of the friends she acquired through Cardinals games to her home for an offseason catch-up session complete with a feast and various Cards videos playing in the background. It was like a Baseball Thanksgiving in February.
I became a season ticket holder at Busch in 2008 because I love baseball and I thought it would be the easiest way to obtain a seat for the 2009 All Star Game. I stayed a season ticket holder because of people like Mama Lucy. She became part of my summer family–frankly, I saw these people as often as I see my parents (who live two blocks away)–and because of that, I couldn’t imagine sitting anywhere else for more than a game or two. Mama Lucy touched the lives of many in numerous ways, but none more visible than out in the Left Field Bleachers. She was a friend and is already missed.
Mama Lucy, front and center with some of her LF Bleacher Family
Here are a few links I was able to dig up:
Mama Lucy got a mention in an article on the Cardinals’ website back in 2002.
P-D columnist and sports radio host Bernie Miklasz offered Mama Lucy get well wishes earlier this year.
Last season was my first as a season ticket holder. We have a half season…40 games. On Opening Day 2008, my girlfriend and I sat in seats other than the seats we had for the rest of the season. At the time, we thought nothing of this; were were just happy to be there. But we quickly changed our assessment of the situation not too far into the season. Our seats are in the left field bleachers. What started out as an exciting season of ballgames quickly became nothing less than a summertime second family. We cheered together. We groaned together. We ate and drank together. We even tailgated before a few games together.
I’m not saying the only good time to be had at Busch Stadium is in the left field bleachers. But by the beginning of May, 2008, one month into our first season as ticket holders, we decided that we were not giving up our seats for anything. We were close to the field and had made great friends. We knew we had the best seats in the house.
Of course, the season ended in late September. So long, Left Field Bleacher Family. We’ll see you next April, right? Well, it didn’t take quite that long. We found out that, sometime around the start of Spring Training, we had a party to go to.
Last weekend I attended my first Left Field Bleacher Party.
We watched Cardinals videos and cheered together. We ate and drank together. We talked about the last season and the prospects for 2009. We laughed at some of the crazier times. It was just like being at the game, only without the game. But it was more than that. Major League Baseball really is a year-round game. Almost immediately after the last play of the World Series, the Hot Stove League heats up. Free Agency starts, and the Winter Meetings provide plenty of drama. Then arbitration talks heat up and more deals are made. While all this administrative work takes place, various leagues in warmer climates allow players to stay sharp in the offseason.
Then, thankfully, the real benchmarks of the next season start to sneak up. Pitchers and catchers report. Position players report. Spring Training games start. It’s all very exciting. The countdown to opening day is upon us! Only one month to go!
And this party was another reminder: baseball is just around the corner. Real fans sit in the bleachers. Nachos. Bratwurst. Beer me! Batter up!