St. Louis is gateway to Cardinal direction

St. Louis Cardinals fans cheer during the ninth

St. Louis Cardinals fans cheer during the ninth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS between the Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. (Oct. 17, 2012) (Credit: AP)

ST. LOUIS -- People in the organization call it The Cardinal Way. Mike Matheny, the current manager, said Friday that it is something different and it is real. Players say it starts at the lowest levels of the minor leagues. They just might be off a little, geographically.

A visit to this city during baseball season, especially the postseason, suggests that The Cardinal Way starts in the stands, or in the thousands of towns across the Midwest from which their many fans traipse. Fact is, St. Louis is so hospitable to baseball that even visiting players love playing here.

"Oh, yeah, it's always like a college football game here, with the fan support. Everyone is out there wearing red. It has always been a special place to play," the Giants' Barry Zito said a day before he started Game 5 Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Said Zito's manager, Bruce Bochy: "I think if you ask the players all over the league, St. Louis is considered one of the better baseball towns; great fans, a lot of tradition here . . . The fans are . . . into the game, but they're not too hostile."

If there is a baseball setting as electric and convivial as St. Louis in the National League, it probably is San Francisco. So the venue tandem has added spark to this series. Over the long haul, though, The Cardinal Way is a distinctive atmosphere that allows St. Louis to hold its own, in terms of recruiting, with bigger cities and their commercial and cultural opportunities.

There is a certain warmth around Busch Stadium, in addition to the summertime humidity (Casey Stengel's analysis of the town: "Holds the heat well"). Baseball coverage in St. Louis is sophisticated, balanced and deep without as many reporters around on a daily basis as there are in New York. Some players like it that way.

Also, over the years, St. Louis fans have listened to iconic broadcasters such as Dizzy Dean, Harry Caray, Jack Buck and Joe Buck who have helped establish the brand. Just as important, the team has won and keeps winning. It likes to blend its past and present. So Matheny talks strategy with former player, coach and manager Red Schoendienst, who first wore a Cardinals uniform in 1945 and still wears one today, going on the field during batting practice.

"He is a sharp, sharp man," Matheny said. "That's another very special aspect of this organization. They understand people like a Red Schoendienst, a Stan Musial, a [Bob] Gibson and a [Lou] Brock, a [Whitey] Herzog and an Ozzie Smith make a huge difference in this community."

Musial circled the field in a golf cart before Game 4. "Normally, when I'm doing my pregame warm-up, I don't really pay any attention to anything that's going on. But I stopped and made sure I acknowledged Stan the Man," leftfielder Matt Holliday said.

To be sure, The Cardinal Way covers the way minor-leaguers play. "It's just fundamental baseball, and being a competitor and playing at a championship level," said Matt Carpenter, the young player who filled in for Carlos Beltran and turned the series with a home run in Game 3. "It's something that they have instilled in this organization from the time you sign until the time you get to this level."

Once players get to this level, in this city, they see a sea of red, and get to feel like every day is a college football Saturday.

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