St. Louis sports fans are obviously spoiled by the Cardinals. In winning their 11th World Series championship against improbable odds, it proved two things: God is a Cardinals fan, and this is one of the best-run and best managed teams in baseball and has been fairly consistently. Eleven World Series championships, eighteen National League championships, and countless trips to the playoffs later, the Cards find themselves second to only the Yankees as the most successful franchise in MLB.
Yup. The Best Fans In Baseball ™ are certainly the second-most spoiled. But following the discussion after the game on Twitter, there wasn’t (in my timeline, at least) very much derision at the Rangers. Most Cardinals fans that I have read – and that includes the press – have thanked the Texas Rangers for an excellent series and recognized what a solid and respectable organization they have. There could have been pointing and laughing at Nyjer Morgan (I did so loudly and internally), the Brewers, the Reds, the Cubs, the national media who openly rooted against the Cardinals at every step of their journey… but there was very, very little of that going on.
We were too happy, too amazed – too gobsmacked – that the Cardinals had just won this Series that they “should not have won” that we didn’t care about any hiccups that happened along the way. We brushed off our shoulders and moved on. But this was just my Twitter timeline. There’s a commonality there… what is it… oh! Right. About 95% of the Cardinals fans I follow on Twitter are also Blues fans. Could it be – could it possibly be – that being hockey fans have made us better baseball fans?
I know, I know, it sounds stupid and far-fetched. But think about it: Blues fans are conditioned to expect at the very most the average. The Blues’ve made the playoffs once since the lockout, but even during the 25 year playoff streak, they never made it past the Western Conference Finals. Heck, they have’t been to the Stanley Cup finals in over 40 years. Are they enjoyable to watch? Usually, sure. But do we expect to contend for a championship every year? No; instead we brace ourselves for the annual injury bug visit. We wait for our starting goaltender to find some way to implode after blowing expectations out of the water the season before. We almost expect to lose against the other teams in our division that have been deemed by the national media to be superior – mainly Detroit and Chicago.
Does that mean that we want the Blues to lose? Of course not. Does it mean that maybe we’re a bit more reserved than fans of other teams when they go on an extended win streak, or when they make it into the playoffs? Absolutely. Our need for optimism is always tempered with that feeling of inferiority – no matter how small. We want greatness from the team, but we don’t expect it. We don’t expect mind-blowing strategy from the coach. We don’t expect big-name free agent signings, or we don’t think the team’ll get anything done in respect to their own free agents. Basically, and this hurts to type, we have a good bit in common with Cubs fans.
So, how does this play into baseball? If you’re a Blues fan and a Cardinals fan, how sure were you that they’d make it into the playoffs in August? How positive were you that the Braves’d win the last game of the season? How many of you counted the Cards out against the Phillies, or the Brewers, or the Rangers? The Game 5 implosion of the Cards was expected, as were the goofs in Game 6. Matt Holliday’s dropped ball became the equivalent of a turnover on the blue line. In the 9th inning, did you think that they were done?
Of course. Aside from once in 2009, when have the Blues gone through such heroics for their team and their fans? When have hockey fans in St. Louis really gotten a chance to believe 100% in a team, or have a team believe so strongly in themselves and in the logo on the front of their jerseys that they legitimately fight back, tooth and nail, to do everything they can to win? See, how we come to view the Blues is influenced by how we think they view themselves. There’s not a sense for unbridled hope very often, either in the locker room or in the Scottrade Center.
But hope? The Cardinals’ whole season was built on it. Maybe that’s why fans of both teams had problems believing that the Cards’d make it through, and why we were so amazed when David Freeze smacked his walk-off game winner. The hockey fan in us isn’t used to that, but the Cardinals fan in us wants that, because we know that the team’s capable of so much. It’s hard to reconcile the two perspectives towards the teams sometimes. The Blues have burnt me so many times when it came to optimism over the past 20-odd years that I’ve found it hard to let myself be optimistic about sports, and that’s why it was so hard for me to shake the defeatist attitude that followed me as I watched the Cardinals through the playoffs.
Luckily, after Game 6, anything was possible. Hell, everything was possible, and everything became a reality. For the first time in God knows how long, I had a good feeling – dare I say, a positive feeling – about a sports team and a big game, and for the first time in an even longer time, I was right. It’s a shame that being a Cardinals fan hasn’t tempered how I approach the Blues, but being a natural cynic, the opposite just had to happen. But coping with the frustration and loss of the Blues over the years has made me a far more polite fan in victory – which is saying something, because I’m uber polite regardless.
Unless Nyjer Morgan’s concerned.