Is this year different for St. Louis sports.
About as relaxing as putting metal in the microwave. It's not a matter of will it blow up, but rather when. This is how St. Louis sports feel to me.
2012 Cardinals imploding against San Francisco. 2013 Cardinals getting steamrolled by a really hot Boston team. Matt Holliday in '09 against the Dodgers. Any Blues team ever considering we have no Stanley Cup banners to hang.
Championships are the true marker of success in professional sports, no matter how you slice it.
Point is here, no matter what we say about tradition in St. Louis, the Cardinals are the only group with the hardware to flaunt. Does it mean we shouldn't expect high levels of success? Are we bound to be the Cubs of the NHL? Were we just lucky to win 11 World Series?
Surely that doesn't make sense. So it must be about tradition. And the expectation for success.
The holiday season that is Opening Weekend at Busch, or playoff hockey for the Blues. We have created a mecca for St. Louis sports in Ball Park village. Why shouldn't the on field/ice product be as high quality?
The Blues are experiencing early post-season success - winning the first game on the road against Winnipeg, and the Cardinals are hot - coming off of a four game sweep of the Dodgers.
Can this really be the year of St. Louis? Is it too much for me to expect championships for our two major professional sports teams?
I don't truly think I will ever know the answer to this question. I always have a hesitant take on sports in the city of St. Louis, because on a national level it always feels like we are overlooked. I always feel like I am being told constantly that St. Louis is middle of the pack. I listen to what others say and I talk myself out of what I am seeing right in front of my own eyes.
Now here's the difference. What I saw from the Cardinals this weekend wasn't a "World Series" team. But it showed that it very well could be. As Dan Buffa pointed out, this team is essentially missing two of it's best hitters in Goldschmidt and Carpenter, we continue to run Dexter Fowler to right field, and allow guys like Martinez and O'Neil sit on the bench.
Yet the Cardinals found a way. Bend, don't break.
With a bullpen being lead by John Brebbia and Dominic Leone, the Cardinals have found a perfect face for St. Louis sports: the unassuming one. We aren't overloaded with big name talent. Hell, I'm not even sure Andrew Miller is a "big name" anymore, and Paul Goldschmidt doesn't fit the super star mold he just plays. Fitting in St. Louis.
But like many St. Louis sports stars, Miller found a way to get it done on Thursday afternoon, striking out three in a quick inning of work to close out the game.
As I watched David Freese talk after the game, I thought about the idea that St. Louis sports stars are overlooked. That being in St. Louis can be a detriment to your career. The reality is, outside of St. Louis, David Freese is a footnote in history. Another re-run on MLB network constantly.
But that's not what St. Louis Cardinals baseball is about, or so I'm told.
The reason Paul Goldschmidt - like David Freese, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and many others before him - is successful in St. Louis comes from not trying to prove who you are, but rather that you belong.
Bryce Harper could have come to St. Louis and tore through NL Central pitching easily enough, but would he have bought in. Sure, I think to a certain extent like he has bought in to Philly, he could have done the same with St. Louis, maybe some Fred Bird socks.
But that's not St. Louis. We make anyone and everyone the super star. We love the under dog. We love the unassuming star who plays for the team, and not for the contract.
We live in a city where guys like Greg Garcia - a career .247 hitter with a 3.3 WAR - gets a standing ovation in his return to Busch Stadium. And that's not meant to take down Greg Garcia, that just shows how St. Louis sports fans minds work. We just love seeing a whole team pulling together, because we objectively see what it takes to win.
It seems like we are constantly told we can't compete, we won't be good. People don't know whether to tell us we suck or to tell us to settle down because we win enough. It's this weird vortex of confusion as I watch people from outside St. Louis work to argue with me about this team. Their gut tells them that St. Louis sports suck, but as we all know this isn't true, and so they settle on, "You guys win enough, settle down".
Or something to that effect.
So I begin to wonder then, should we expect success?
As the Blues begin their push to the Stanley Cup, I have more than once said to someone this feels a little different. Could I be wrong? Yes, absolutely. But feelings aren't inherently wrong, they are reflections of what you believe. Perceptions.
My current perception has become that St. Louis has every right to expect success, and so I feel compelled to change my tone.
We have one of the most storied franchises in baseball, powered by the one of - can I say the greatest yet? - catchers of all time Yadi, along with a once in a generational power bat of Goldy and a great cast of young talent. We have a very hungry Blues franchise that has taken just about everything one single NHL season can throw at you and they continue to move forward. Through injury, coaching change, general poor play, the Blues have found a way.
Under new leaders Schildt and Berube, we have found a high level of success in St. Louis sports again. Why shouldn't we expect success?
With the Blues, we have O'Reilley on a career year, Tarasenko resurgent and hungry, still as dangerous as ever. You have Perron continuing a career year, Sundqvist much of the same, and of course the steely eyed missile man in goal: Jordan Binnington. Theres more I could about too. We have just something different this year, something real.
In American Sniper, there is a line where they talk about holding on to electric fencing until it forces you to let go, and this is St. Louis sports. While they explode like a microwave, you are left holding onto the electronic chord that powered the whole thing.
That's what St. Louis sports fans are, the energy powering the teams we cherish so much. Let's not forget, we are the reason these teams exist in the first place. So when we take interest, we power up our teams.
This year, we got past the surge phase with the Blues. Under the unbelievably calm leadership or Jordan Binnington in goal, the Blues have been able to play their game for as long as it takes. We are suddenly finding comfort in the idea that our goalie won't put us in a 3-0 first period hole. We are a true force, not just a flash in the pan.
An immovable wall plus an unstoppable force on the same team. I've never heard how that anecdote ends, but I'm sure it can't go wrong for that tag team.
Point being, success should be expected with this group of Blues players. Success should be expected with this group of Cardinals players. Success in St. Louis should be, and is expected. That is the standard we live by here, because we all live and die sports as much as the guys who are playing them, so why wouldn't success eventually find us.
St. Louis is just different, no matter what anyone tells you. We are quietly crazy about our teams, and some of us are just downright crazy and not quiet at all. So let's be crazy enough to believe we can bring home two titles, rather than saying it would be cool if we won one.
Let's expect success from the franchises that we have grown up on. And never forget what happens when you bend something: it comes flying right back.
St. Louis sports, and the fan bases that follow them, have been bent out of shape for a long time, so don't be surprised if all of the sudden we come flying right back to dominance this post season.
The Blues are back in action against Winnipeg at 8:30 p.m. CST Friday night. The Cardinals take on the Reds down in Mexico for a two game stint starting Saturday with first pitch listed for 6:10 p.m. CST.