Saturday, December 11, 2010

Busch Stadium

Milwaukee Brewers @ St. Louis Cardinals
July 24, 2008

Brewers 4, Cardinals 3

W: Eric Gagne
L: Ryan Franklin
S: Salomon Torres
HR: Ryan Braun (MIL)
Attendance: 41,233
Time of Game: 2 hours, 49 minutes

Stadium Facts

Location: St. Louis, MO
First Game: April 10, 2006
Capacity: 43,975
Type: Open
Surface: Grass

The second new stadium I visited in 2008 was the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Cardinals moved into their new ballpark in 2006, which replaced the old stadium with the same name. I had been to the old park a few times, including the official tour visit back in 2004. I made it back the the Gateway City for a game during the third season of the new stadium. This visit was part of a summer trip back to Illinois. My sister Kathleen and I drove down to St. Louis on a Thursday afternoon in July for the game between the Cardinals and Brewers.

Before I go any further, I have to apologize for any omissions or details I may have forgotten for this writeup. Even though all of these reviews have been written well after my visits, at least I have had good notes to work from thanks to blog entries I wrote at the time for my fantasy baseball league. However, I never blogged about this particular trip, so I'm going strictly from memory and a little bit of online research.

Busch Stadium is situated in downtown St. Louis, immediately to the south of the old ballpark. It is a very short walk from the heart of the city, so there are plenty of things to do and places to visit before and after games. After the new stadium opened, the old park was knocked down. Plans had been made to turn that land into a "ballpark village" with shops and restaurants. This was supposed to be completed prior to the Cardinals hosting the 2009 All-Star Game. However, as of 2008, those plans had not materialized. At that time, it was still and empty space, partially used as a parking lot. As far as I know, this has not changed.

Busch Stadium is a very nice park, built with the same retro-looking style that has been very popular the last two decades. The red brick exterior gives the park a very classic look, and I would say is quite appropriate for the Cardinals. Unlike the old Busch Stadium which had a cookie-cutter multi-sport design, the new park looks and feels like a great baseball venue. The open design of the outfield provides a great panoramic view of downtown St. Louis, highlighted by the Gateway Arch. This also allows a bit of a breeze to flow in during the sweltering summer months, unlike the old stadium which turned into a sauna in July and August.

The seating area has a bit of a unique design to it. There are four primary seating levels from third base, swinging behind the plate and all the way out to right field. Then there is the more traditional three levels down the third base line out to right field. Throughout the park, the second level is much larger than the club level in most stadiums, which leaves fewer seats in the very top sections. The outfield consists of mostly bleacher seating in left-center and right-center field. Throughout the park, there are plenty of concourse standing room spots that allow you to watch the game from different vantage points. There are a couple large video boards in right-center. One curious design decision was putting the two main boards almost right next to each other. Those sitting in right field don't get a good view of either. At the time, the out-of-town scoreboard was the best and most detailed one I had ever seen. However, a few other stadiums have put in similar boards in recent years.

Busch Stadium plays very fairly for all players. Although not quite symmetrical, the dimensions are almost identical in right and left field. Albert Pujols doesn't seem to have any trouble hitting home runs in this park, but I wouldn't call it a launching pad by any means. Good pitchers can and do excel in this park.

Kathleen and I got to St. Louis well before game time in hopes of catching batting practice. Unfortunately, it rained all afternoon, which kept the tarp on the field right up to game time. But the rain did keep the temperatures down, so once it dried up, it turned into a pleasant evening. We sat in bleacher seats in left-center field. This game featured two playoff contending teams in a battle of the huge American breweries: Miller vs. Budweiser, Brewers vs. Cardinals. One of the beer vendors in our section used an interesting sales technique towards Brewers fans, offering them Miller Lite in a Bud Light bottle.

The Brewers were looking to sweep the four game series against their division rivals. One of their top pitchers, Ben Sheets, got the start against the Cardinals' Todd Wellemeyer. This turned into a great game, highlighted by a ninth inning rally. The Cardinals got off to a quick start with a run in the bottom of the first on a single by Rick Ankiel. An Albert Pujols sacrifice fly in the third made it 2-0 Cardinals.

Wellemeyer got into a jam in the fourth when he couldn't find the strike zone. He walked four Brewers batters in the inning, including a bases loaded walk to Jason Kendall. The damage was minimal though because the Brewers hit into a double play and did not get a hit in the inning. Wellemeyer helped his own cause in the bottom half of the inning. His single scored Ryan Ludwick from first thanks to an error by right fielder Corey Hart. Hart knocked in a run of his own in the fifth on a ground out, scoring J.J. Hardy and cutting the Cards lead to 3-2.

Both starters pitched well after that and the bullpens kept things in check as well until the ninth. Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin entered the game in the eighth and retired both hitters he faced, but getting the last three outs proved to be more challenging. Following a one out single by Hardy, Braun launched a two run home run in our direction giving the Brewers a 4-3 lead. It was the fourth hit of the night for Braun and the fifth time he reached base safely in five plate appearances. Salomon Torres came in to pitch for the Brewers in the bottom of the ninth and struck out all three batters he faced to pick up the save. The Brewers won the game and swept the Cardinals in a four game series in St. Louis.

This game was the end of a perfect seven game road trip for the Brewers. Overall, it was their eighth consecutive victory. This late July run helped lead them to the post-season for the first time since 1982. They won 90 games in 2008, earning them the National League Wild Card. They dropped the division series to the eventual World Series champion Phillies, three games to one. This loss kept the Cardinals in third place, but only four games out of first. Despite winning 86 games, the Cardinals finished in fourth place, their lowest finish in the division standings since 1999.

I was very impressed with Busch Stadium. It is certainly a huge upgrade over the old park. Cardinals fans have almost always supported their team in large numbers, and that has certainly continued in their years in the new park. Of course, it helps that they put a contending team on the field most years.

Since this trip in 2008, all of my visits to new parks have come during the first season for the stadiums. This meant a trip up to New York in 2009 to see a pair of new ballparks. I will write about those next. I have the benefit of having visited new Yankee Stadium for the second time just a few weeks ago for the ND/Army football game. Hopefully, I will be completely up-to-date with this blog by the end of the year.

Photo Album

From St. Louis (new)

From St. Louis (new)

From St. Louis (new)

From St. Louis (new)

From St. Louis (new)

From St. Louis (new)

From St. Louis (new)

Next stadium: New Yankee Stadium, New York