Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, is embarking on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he’ll be filing regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stop: St. Louis’s Busch Stadium.
Wow. I’ve never seen a town or ballpark with so much home team gear. I felt self-conscious walking around downtown without a Cardinal logo somewhere on my body. Busch Stadium is a beautiful facility, with more architectural flair than I expected from what had been described as a “basic” ballpark. There is artwork in the bricks and the end-of-row seats, and lots of other nice touches, like the old-timey looking Out of Town Scoreboard artwork that appeared in several places.
It’s also definitely a promotional vehicle for Budweiser. While Bud is big player in virtually all areas of sport, the Bud logo is everywhere around the ballpark, and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked if I wanted a beer as many times in my life as I was at Busch Stadium.
The Ballpark Village Development, while slow in coming and not as extensive as some had expected, is still a bustling hive of activity prior to games and a nice restaurant and retail addition to downtown St. Louis during non-game days.
As the Cards are both a beloved local institution, and a promotional vehicle for Bud, it’s only natural that the Bud Brewery Tour leaves from Ballpark Village on a cute little trolley bus. We’ll get back to the Duff…I mean Bud Tour later.
Cards Nation, with a Dash of Wrigley
While we picked the game based on our schedule, this was a Cards/Cubs “rivalry game,” and there was a sizable contingent of Chicago fans. I have to say that when I think “rivalry game,” I think Yankees/Red Sox from when I was a kid. Those games featured fistfights, beer dumped on people’s heads, lots of profanity and a generally hostile atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the era we live in, or perhaps it’s the culture of the Midwest, but this was the most polite rivalry game I’ve ever seen. I didn’t witness a cross word between the two sides, merely some good-natured ribbing. It’s was not quite what I expected, but it’s nice, I guess.
Buckets of Rain and Better Seats
We headed up to the cheapest seats in the park, which were still $40 thanks to the Cubs being the visitors and the wonders of dynamic pricing. We waited out an hour delay before the game due to weather, then watched about an inning and a half before the monsoon rains came, and we were told, quite sternly, by the usherette that we need to move to a sheltered area. We had laughed earlier at the tornado shelter signs on the bathrooms, but it wasn’t funny now.
We ended up sheltering on the club-level concourse, chatting with other fans, and when the rain stopped, they were playing again in record time. The drainage system under the Busch Stadium turf must be state-of-the art, because the rain drained in no time at all.
The good news was the when play resumed, many people had left, although at least half the sellout crowd has stayed. This still left lots of room in the good seats, so we sat about 15 rows behind the Cardinals dugout. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “It is an ill wind that blows no one any good and this ill wind blew us into $150 seats!”
The Ballpark Highlights
The food highlight for us was the nacho bowl. For less than $10, you get a bowl loaded with nachos, and then topped with modest helping of either BBQ or Beef, and nacho cheese or BBQ sauce, but the best part is the fixings bar, where you can pile on as much sour cream, jalapenos, salsa and onions as you could pile on top of your nachos.
The crowd was enthusiastic, the staff was friendly, and the overall game experience is excellent. The worst part of the right-field bleachers where we were sitting was the fact you could not see the big scoreboard. In today’s ballparks, you quickly get used to having lineups, batting averages, and more available at all times, and when you can’t see it, it does make it harder to keep your head in the game. Spend the extra $5 and get the seats in the left-field bleachers if you are buying cheap seats.
Kids Eye View
St. Louis had an area of the Ford Plaza dedicated to keeping the kids busy. They have a toddler play area with a pretty good view of the game and they have a place for younger kids to whack a ball hanging from a rope. They also have a speed pitch game and a batting cage for older kids. All of the games cost a little money.
One thing I found interesting about Busch Stadium is that they have an area where you can play baseball video games for free, and this area is an glassed off enclosure. (Dad’s note: It sort of has the feeling of the old smoker’s lounges in the airports, although not the disgusting smell.) They also have a kids’ concession stand with smaller portions and prices, but this being Busch Stadium, they are also selling beer for the parents. (Dad’s note: Woo hoo!)
Around the Town
The “Duff Brewery Tour” (actually the Bud Tour, of course) was a highlight for us. The tour is free if you opt for the “basic” tour, but you can opt for a more extensive tour if you want to pay. Being cheap, we opted for the free tour. The buildings at the brewery have fantastic, early 1900s architecture and detailing, and being big Simpsons fans, so we particularly loved the building with the big “Budweiser” neon, which looks suspiciously like the “Duff Brewery.” A couple free beers, a glimpse of a Clydesdale, and the “Willie Wonka” room was just right for me, although one of our two guides reminded me a bit of “Surly” from Duff Gardens; “Surly looks out for one guy, and that’s Surly.” (Apologies to the non-Simpsons fans for the inside joke.)
The Gateway Arch has always struck me as an odd monument, but after seeing it in person, learning about the creation of the structure and the history it honors, and riding to the top in the “capsule” tram I have to say it was awesome. Don’t miss it.
Another institution in St. Louis is the Crown Candy Kitchen. Located in a gentrifying neighborhood just north of the city center, this landmark restaurant and yes, candy kitchen, has been around for over 100 years. The “Heart-Stopping BLT” is the specialty, but I had a fantastic Reuben, they boy enjoyed a grilled cheese smothered in bacon, and the chocolate malt was delicious and rich. Also, go prepared for the Malt Challenge; if you drink 5 malts in 30 minutes, they are free. Next time I’m in St. Louis, I’m skipping lunch, and having five free malts for dinner!
Speaking of gorging yourself, while it’s nothing unusual in terms of the food itself, as travelers, we enjoyed Maurizio’s Pizza near the Blues arena. It was $15 total for an adult and kid, and it was all you could eat pizza, salad, pasta and drinks. What a deal! We were there for four hours. “You go now!” Another inside joke, Seinfeld, this time. We were only there for 45 minutes, but we put a hurt on that buffet.
Next stop: Clemens Field, Hannibal, Mo.