It's hard to explain.
They're kind of a scary bunch, that much I'll say. Generally friendly and very knowledgeable for sure. Devoted without question. Proud and steeped in tradition.
Still, there was something unnerving about the lot of them. Maybe it was the heat; maybe it was the fact that utility man Scott Spiezio ("The Speez") was arrested for assaulting a cab driver in Chicago last fall; maybe it was just the sight of 40,000 people all wearing the exact same shade of Cardinal Red.
In February, we had purchased our Standing Room Only tickets for this past Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game.
Wait, stop. Think about that one for a second. We went looking for tickets to a meaningless Sunday afternoon game against a basement-level team that was happening in St. Louis in August when it would be roughly 100 degrees out and absolutely miserable spectating conditions, and all that was left ten minutes after tickets went on sale were passes to stand around in certain areas of the park. No seats, no view, no comfort, just the right to sizzle under the Missouri summer sun - and they were snatching them up by the thousands.
And all I could think was "who are these people?"
I should stop a moment to point out that I really do like the Cards. They run a very smart organization and manage to put a winner on the field year after year despite playing in one of the smaller baseball markets in America. They found what may be the best hitter to ever play the game in Albert Pujols. Manager Tony LaRussa cut his teeth with the Sox and was the force behind the fabled-on-the-South-Side "Winning Ugly" team of 1983.
More importantly, we have a common enemy in the Chicago Cubs. Sox fans hate the Cubs for their pettiness, their perpetual embarrassment of the city, and for their blatant trivialization of the sport. Cardinal fans hate the Cubs because, well, their teams are actually in direct competition with each other.
Like I always say: whatever works.
By the same token, there's this weird, almost sick behavior among certain Cardinals fans and it must be addressed.
I'm talking about the rampant Pujols man-crushes. In the Busch Stadium gift shop there were no less than 20 kinds of shirt that had either "Albert," "Pujols," or "5" (Big Al's number) on them; a mere four of them were available in women's sizes.
"Got Albert?" read one. Cute.
The guy's great and all, but that kind of star treatment is just bizarre. As though Pujols were as much a reason to be a Cardinals fan as family or civic pride were. As though Pujols was the guy engineering the trades that built the organization. As though Pujols was the entire team. He's not, and even the most casual glimpse of an interview with him reminds you that he knows this. You wonder if the grown men in the stands wearing those $300 authentic replica just-like-the-pros-wear jerseys know this too.
And yet, they keep coming out to the stadium. Flaunt the Pujols man-love as they may, 40,000 people do not come out in 100-degree weather to see someone make routine plays at first base and get four at-bats. Not 40,000 Cardinal fans, anyway. They've seen Brock and the Wizard and Stan the Man and a laundry list of other greats, and they've seen their team win it all and they KNOW there is more to the game than just watching some guy they'll never meet hit an absolutely insane number of home runs.
Some of you may be quick to point out that Chicago is no stranger to this. "Dude," you'll say, "you guys had Michael."
Good point, but that's different - that was Michael. Don't even go there. And don't make fun of that MJ shirt I had until the shirt got so frayed that the collar came off either.
So what's to say? Not much, except that they must be doing something right. A solid team playing in a great city's beautiful new ballpark. Sounds like a winner to me.
And if that's not enough, just remember: the Speez could probably take most of the National League in a bar fight.