Opening Day Reminds Me My Sons Are Cardinals Fans, Which Always Makes Me A Little Sad

Editorial by Jason Wert

There are many people who yearn for the arrival of Spring because of warmer weather, or the flowers and trees ending their hibernation, or the return of the birds to the trees. For me, and many others, the arrival of Spring means one thing: the return of Major League Baseball.

Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

I have passionately loved the game of baseball my entire life. I loved to play it, I loved to learn the strategy of it, the passion of it. Whether I was playing a youth league game, or watching a high school game with my grandpa or at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia near where I grew up watching my beloved Phillies, I adored the game.

I still love it. Every opening day for me feels like the equivalent of a national holiday. That day when Eli comes into the room and says “Hey Dad! Cardinals are playing.”

Because within that declaration of the return of the Great American Game, there is a tinge of sadness that rings through for me.

My sons are St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Now, for those reading this in the Springfield/Branson region, you probably did a double take at the idea of someone’s sons being Cardinals fans as something to cause sadness. It’s that very reaction that drove me to write this editorial: I know Cardinals fans will understand why I feel that twinge of sadness.

You see, the reason it makes me sad they’re Cardinals fans has nothing to do with the St. Louis Cardinals franchise. The Cardinals franchise has a very rich, very storied tradition. It is a franchise that is known for playing the game the “right way”; for always having teams that play hard regardless of the score or place in the standings; and it’s a franchise that has shown through the years they love their fans as much as the fans love them.

Cardinals announcer (and one of the best to ever call a game) Jack Buck

Cardinals fans? Passion doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for them. Start talking Cardinals baseball and you’ll have the old timers telling stories of growing up watching Bob Gibson and Stan “The Man”, or the young fans talking about Yadi Molina or Matt Carpenter or Paul Goldschmidt. The fans who grew up in my era talking about the Wizard of Oz.

And I myself have no issue with the Cardinals. Growing up with a love of broadcasting, Jack Buck was a hero of mine, a few notches below Phillies broadcasting legend Harry Kalas. I even have to thank the Cardinals for sending one of my favorite Phillies of all time to us in Steve Carlton.

It’s just that the Cardinals aren’t my team.

My team is the Philadelphia Phillies.

I wasn’t born in time to see some of the legends like Whitey (Richie Ashburn) or Robin Roberts or Jim Bunning or Dick Allen. However, just like a Cardinals youth can’t grow up without learning about Stan the Man, this Phillies fan youth heard all the stories and even was able to hear a few from the men themselves through the years.

My childhood hero, Michael Jack Schmidt

I grew up watching Lefty (Steve Carlton) and Tug (McGraw) and Charlie Hustle (Pete Rose). I played third base as a kid because of my all-time favorite Phillie and hero growing up: Michael Jack Schmidt. I still tear up thinking about Harry Kalas calling Schmidt’s 500th home run during a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. I wore number 20 because Schmidt wore number 20. (The times I can play softball these days, I still try to get uniform number 20.)

And as I aged, I had the years with John Kruk and Lenny Dykstra and Dutch (Darren Daulton) and Chase Utley and Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard and Curt Schilling.

So when my sons came along, it was this dad’s wish that he could tell those stories of glory to his sons and they would come to love their dad’s team with the same fervent passion he had for the boys from South Philly. I knew that marrying a woman from Missouri and living in Cardinals central would make that mission hard and I have to admit I consider it a very small failure as a dad that I couldn’t overcome their immersion in Cardinals land.

My boys and I in 2003.

You see, I always wanted to imagine that years after I’m gone, my son Dale would be sitting at Hammons Field watching my grandson play ball for Missouri State while wearing a Phillies cap. And some Cardinals fan would look at him and ask him why he was a Phillies fan in Cardinals country.

Dale would think about me, smile for a moment, then look over and say: “My dad was a Phillies fan and growing up he told me stories about the team that just made me love them too.”

That Cardinals fan, who will know what it’s like to have a father so passionate about a baseball team that it trickled down to his son, will smile and nod.

And I know that would be the interaction because every time a Cardinals fan in southwest Missouri has tried to give me grief about my Phillies gear, I tell them they were my team growing up and no matter where I go they’re still my team. And every single Cardinals fan who heard that immediately gives respect…because Cardinals fans know that dedication to their team very well.

So when opening day rolls around, and I see most of the people I know talking baseball, families planning their trips to St. Louis or in a few cases Kansas City, or all of them talking about trips to Hammons Field to see the Springfield Cardinals, I get a little twinge of sadness that the red in my boys’ t-shirts is Cardinals red and not Phillies red. Knowing that Dale won’t be telling my grandson about Michael Jack Schmidt or Steve Carlton but instead Albert Pujols or Jim Edmonds or Chris Carpenter.

So I take a moment a quietly mourn a little that the love for the Phillies in my bloodline will die with me. Then I’ll look at my son, and his joy to watch “his” team playing the greatest game, and I’ll be thankful that we have that time together.

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