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Busch Stadium / St. Louis Cardinals

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We really wanted to like Busch Stadium. It is, without a doubt, an improvement over the previous Busch Stadium. But despite a solid location and some nice amenities, too much value engineering and too little charm make it a nice, but not great, ballpark.

FACT FACTS

Year Opened: 2006
Capacity: 46,861 (includes suites and standing room)
Architect: HOK Sport+Venue+Event
Dimensions: 336LL, 390LC, 400C, 390RC, 335RL
Playing Surface: Bluegrass
Website: mlb.com
Phone: 314/345-9000
League: National League
Parking: There are many parking lots and ramps in the surrounding area. Also, the area meters only run through 7 p.m.
Address/Directions: 8th and Poplar, St. Louis. Busch Stadium is near the intersection of I-64 and I-55 in downtown St. Louis. A new exit off I-64 directly serves the ballpark. There is a Busch Stadium stop on the Metro Link light-rail line, running directly from the airport.

Yes, there are some requisite homages to the past, but they are not central to the Busch Stadium experience. There's the requisite number of concession stands, but there's surprisingly little variety given how new the facility is. The elements are all there, but that last little attention to detail -- the kind that makes Citizens Bank Park or AT&T Park such delights -- is missing.

Does that absence matter? Not in the least. The Cardinals ownership probably figured out long ago that their fan base is one of the most sophisticated and loyal in the majors. The Cardinals rule St. Louis. There's precious little need to woo the casual fan: Cardinals tickets are among the hottest in the majors. There's no need for frou-frou concession stands or flashy memorials to the past at Busch Stadium: build a comfortable ballpark where baseball rules, and the sophisticated Cardinals fans will return.

As they did to the second Busch Stadium, designed by Edward Durrell Stone and Sverdrup & Parcel & Associates. (Owner Gussie Busch renamed Sportsman's Park to Busch Stadium after Bill Veeck and the St. Louis Browns left town before the 1954 season.) The second Busch Stadium, which opened in 1966, was a circular cookie-cutter stadium also hosting the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals. It was hailed as state of the art when it opened, but very few players remember it fondly. Because it featured artificial turf, the second Busch was regarded as a tough place to play: tough on the joints and tough on the rest of the body because the artificial turf sucked up heat from the sun. After the NFL's Cards left for Phoenix, the second Busch Stadium was reconfigured for baseball.

A temporary solution, to be sure. Over the years Cards management realized the second Busch just didn't have the infrastructure -- plush suites, club level, premium seating -- to financially compete with the big hitters in baseball. And while Cards fans are indeed fanatical in their devotion to their team, they are also demanding. They want a winner.

So the Cards front office did the logical thing: pursue a new ballpark. When state and city funding materialize, the Cards pursued private financing, finally ending on designs for a $365 million ballpark adjacent to the second Busch Stadium.

We're guessing the Cardinals exercised some value engineering as designs evolved, because the end result was a ballpark with very few bells and whistles. The St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum is located across Eighth Street from the ballpark; someday it will be located in Ballpark Village, to be located where the old Busch Stadium was. A famous statue of Stan Musial was moved from old Busch Stadium; Stan the Man now stands guard at the Gate 3 entrance. Nifty medallions from Wishstone Chisel & Mallet are scattered through the park and at the entrances; the medallions highlight uniforms and logos used by the Cards throughout the years.

There is really only one direct homage to the second Busch Stadium (and none at all to the first): the installation of the manual scoreboards from Busch, left in the same configuration as they were the day the ballpark closed down last fall. Ironically, their presence highlights one of the deficiencies of the new Busch: the scoreboards convey less information than these old hand-operated scoreboards did.

But the real stars at Busch Stadium are the fans. Yes, the concourses are a little cramped, but that's OK: there's less space between a Cardinals fan and their seats. Outside you'll find thousands of bricks engraved with the names of Cardinals fans; we noticed hundreds of fans looking through the engraved bricks to see their family inscription. Other new ballparks feature engraved bricks; here it seems to mean more.

Busch Stadium is really two different ballparks: premium seating and ordinary seating. Unless you have a club or suite ticket, you're limited to two concourses: a main concourse and an upper concourse. The main concourse rings the ballpark, but not in a way that allowed you to watch the action while heading out for a snack. The outfield bleachers are real bleachers (and there are a lot of them; this is what we mean by value engineering), and a lack of scoreboards in the grandstand gives fans sitting there little data about the game's progress. The bullpens are cut into the outfield bleachers, giving plans plenty of access to middle relievers.

One area sure to be a hit: the Family Pavilion in right center, where families can head at any point in the game. There are batting cages (both free and paid) and pitching machines, as well as a separate concession area and table seating.

In the end, Busch Stadium was designed to fill the needs of Redbird Nation. There are no signature items in the ballpark: no rockpile, no spouting geysers, no roof. It's a utilitarian ballpark that's a vast improvement over the old Busch Stadium: the views of downtown and the Arch are superior, the concourses and concessions are better, and the seats are more comfortable. In the end, improvement was all the Cardinals brass had to deliver -- and they succeeded.

CONCESSIONS
The concessions are surprisingly limited. The vast majority of the concession stands are variations on a grill and a run-of-the-mill stand featuring hot dogs, nachos and the like. Two Hardees stands -- one in the main concourse, the other on the top level -- serve cheap hamburgers (at least cheap by ballpark standards). There's a single BBQ stand, with a few Italian and kosher-hot-dog stands thrown in for variety. Better like Bud if you're going to Busch: the only concession stand not selling Bud, Bud Light, Busch or Bud Select is the Backstop Bar behind home plate, where more exotic beers like Sam Adams and Anchor Steam can be found -- provided you can find them among the many bottles of Bud. The center-field Plaza Grill serves up toasted ravioli, chicken fingers and burgers.

FOR THE KIDS
The U.S. Cellular Family Pavilion features batting cages, a speed-pitch booth, outdoor seating and plenty of other kid-friendly attractions.

PARKING
There are no dedicated parking lots or ramps at Busch Stadium. However, the ballpark is surrounding by ramps (either connected to buildings/hotels or freestanding) and there are many metered parking spots as well.