ST. LOUIS — The larger-than-life statue of St. Louis legend Stan Musial proved a popular photo opportunity Saturday, drawing a sea of red-clad Cardinals fans, three wedding parties, and even a handful of Red Sox loyalists before Game 3 of the World Series at Busch Stadium. And since Midwestern nice trumped any sports rivalries before the first pitch, St. Louis supporters happily let out-of-towners in Boston gear take their time posing for cameras.
Minutes after getting married, bride Stephanie King waited at the intersection of Spruce Street and Stan Musial Drive for a moment in front of the statue. Meanwhile, members of her bridal party draped Cardinals jerseys over their dresses.
“I’m the bigger Cardinals fan,” said King, knocking back a beer and comparing herself to new husband Jefferey. “I take the cake. I was raised that way. My dad paid extra so we could have a TV at the reception and watch the game.”
All around Busch Stadium, fans were in an easy-going, hospitable mood, many arriving three and four hours before game time and enjoying the festive atmosphere downtown. Some gathering spots took on a football-game feel with tailgaters in parking lots. In the Baseball Village parking lot, there were more organized activities, with radio station giveaways and photo ops with the 2011 National League Championship trophy and 2011 World Series trophy.
As fans waited to pose with the hardware, music blared from the Budweiser mainstage. There was the predictable: “The Boys Are Back in Town.” And the unexpectedly welcoming: “Sweet Caroline.”
“St. Louis fans are great baseball fans,” said Ned Shadid Sr., a Red Sox fan by way of Oklahoma City, who once sent Carl Yastrzemski a birthday card and received an autograph in return. “There have been a number of St. Louis fans who’ve come up to us and welcomed us to the city.”
From the scene outside and inside Busch Stadium, it was clear St. Louis and Boston fans shared a passion for the game and respect for its history. There were plenty of throwback jerseys representing both teams, from Willie McGee to Bob Gibson to Yastrzemski. And it seemed that fans from both teams appreciated two historic organizations in the World Series again.
“St. Louis is a baseball city and we love our baseball team,” said Kent Strang of O’Fallon, Ill., 30 minutes away from Busch Stadium. “We’re known around the country for being a great place to be a player and to be a fan. It helps to have 11 World Series rings. But at the same time, we give standing ovations for players we love who honor the game and for players who leave and come back. We respect the game so much that it creates an awesome atmosphere for baseball. In October, it creates an incredible atmosphere.
“If there are two franchises that should be in the World Series, it should be St. Louis and Boston or St. Louis and New York. You want storied franchises in the World Series because it makes for great coverage. You can talk about Stan Musial and Ted Williams. Blue-collar towns like St. Louis and Boston know how to do baseball.”
And that was certainly clear inside the ballpark with the focus on baseball. With the exception of a small Build-A-Bear Workshop inside Busch Stadium, wide concourses house food and souvenir stands and not much else, certainly not any Disney-esque attractions, no gimmicky bells and whistles in a ballpark that opened in April 2006 across the street from the old Busch Stadium. In fact, ice sculptures with the Red Sox, Cardinals, and World Series logos were as fancy as it got in the main stadium throughfares. And they quickly became another line-creating photo op for fans, as did the wagon-pulling Clydesdales that trotted around the field about 30 minutes before the first pitch.
History and tradition appeared enough of an enticement for Cardinals fans. And despite red worn for the home team, it was certainly an atmosphere Red Sox fans could appreciate.
“Fenway obviously has lots of tradition and this is a modern ballpark,” said Red Sox fan Mike Bell of Gurnee, Ill., by way of southern Maine. “But they have loyal fans here, too, and a very strong tradition that the fans feed into. People have been really nice to us out here, but that’s no commentary on Boston.”