Wrigley Field, one of the last standing original baseball parks in America, is a special place to play-that is if you like grape vines covering the outfield wall, winds taking flyouts into the stands and streets, and an endless blend of blue and red colors spread out around a summer-glazed baseball diamond. In short, it can be a mindfuck for St. Louis Cardinals fans.
I’ll never forget the 2003 team going into Wrigley in September for a five game series and losing all five. It’s also hard to erase the memory of Kyle Schwarber hitting a Michael Wacha fastball into space back in 2015. But then there’s the glowing flashback to Albert Pujols making Wrigleyville tenants wish the grapes on those outfield vines could turn into a fine wine. Or Mark McGwire outdueling Sammy Sosa on a hot 1998 afternoon. Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa standing at the entryway of a fight many years ago. Mike Matheny getting outmanaged by Joe Maddon repeatedly.
To think of the Cards and Cubs at Wrigley is to think of the sweet and the bitter all at once. A concoction that only baseball addicts can truly appreciate. Casual ballgame lovers will see an opportunity to drive to Chicago, overpay for bad beer or search for anti-Old Style lagers, and possibly hear the worst postgame song ever created by a human being.
How can I forget going to see a doubleheader there a few years back after Matheny was canned and Mike Shildt was given the job? Matt Carpenter was in the middle of his last great power run at the plate, and the team was all set to go off on a second half winning streak that inspired enough hope for a first round playoff exit the following year to go down easier.
Here’s the thing. I despise and love a Wrigley series between two of the game’s biggest rivals, all at once. I hate seeing a two-out walk turn into a three run Cubs rally. I’d rather see Craig Kimbrel give up a couple bombs to Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina than see him dangle the arm (and a potential game-changing hit) over the Birds. As fans can see with the budding rivalry (12 years and counting) with the Cincinnati Reds, a rivalry is a special thing. Something that isn’t defined by mere wins and losses, but more about how the fans treat the games and how the legacy of the matchups evolve through different managers and rosters.
When it comes to 2021, both teams look about as hopeful as a wet fart escaping a crowded elevator. The Cubs were all set to rebuild this year, slowly at least. With David Ross as the skipper (a manager with no experience, how crazy) and a growing free agent list, you wouldn’t think Chicago would be seriously in it. But there they are, tied atop the Central with Milwaukee.
The Cardinals were picked to win the division by most, but instead found themselves befallen by injury and under-performance. While Cardinal Nation waits for the real Paul Goldschmidt to stand up, the lineup functions like a half-broken cell phone charger, working sporadically while constantly infuriating the masses. Jack Flaherty is down until well into August and the bullpen looks fried and useless in the middle of June. Miles Mikolas made one start and returned to Injured List purgatory.
Nolan Arenado is a very good player, but the team can’t clone him just yet. Tommy Edman is a good player, but his OPS is starting to slip closer and closer to .700, which looks like the Mendoza line for leadoff hitters. Edmundo Sosa is exciting but not world-turning, and Yadier Molina’s offense is holding up just fine–when he’s not swinging at the first pitch with the bases loaded. Tyler O’Neill is destroying baseballs… however, once again, the team can’t clone him.
The Cubs were never meant to be in it, and the Cardinals can’t bring themselves to veer too far from the top of the division. What happens when a fairly stoppable force meets a mostly-movable object? We shall find out this weekend, but I wouldn’t bother predicting this one.
The first meeting between these teams at Wrigley with a packed house in 20 months will elicit all kinds of heartbreak and thrills. Losers of six in a row before an impressive win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, St. Louis will attempt to climb back into the race with a series win, or risk falling farther down the hill. It’s not that “early” anymore, ladies and gentlemen. In a month, the trade deadline will begin closing in.
Soon afterwards, trades will commence and I have a feeling there will be quite a few.
Max Scherzer? Probably not. More like Shelby Miller.
Starling Marte? I wish. More like Scott Hurst.
What are the Cardinals going to do about extremely bad times? They can either rest their laurels on Arenado and the O’Neill surge while waiting for contracts to expire, or truly go all in. They need to tread water until reinforcements start to return. Losing Jordan Hicks and Flaherty short-circuited the pitching side while the hitting side constantly gets flagged for false starts.
Just do me a favor. Enjoy this weekend action at Wrigley. It’s nerve-racking, exciting, and wildly unkempt rivalry fun all at once. Gather the beers, get a few towels wet, and just sit back.
As much as the old, dusty ballpark with pissing troughs frustrates me, this weekend represents baseball fucking bliss for Cards fans. Game on!