Welcome to the first blog for The 700 Level, the blog of SportsTalk producer Jason Wert. Why The 700 Level? First, my name doesn’t lend itself to a cool blog name like “Reynolds Raps,” and second, it pays tribute to my Philadelphia sports heritage. The 700 Level is the section in the late, great, Veterans Stadium that had the highest number of arrests per game, highest number of ejections per game, and highest number of snowballs thrown at Santa Claus yearly.
So given that I was born bleeding Phillies red, Flyers orange, Eagles green or Sixers everything depending on the season, you might ask why my first column would be about the loyalty of the St. Louis Cardinals fan. It’s because when I first came to the Ozarks, the appreciation for loyalty that I found from Cardinals fans stunned me and gave me an appreciation for the Redbirds.
In broadcasting, it’s common to move around the country on a semi-regular basis. Most air talents spend a few years in one town, and then move on to a bigger market where the pay and benefits are better, dreaming of the day you can do your radio job and not have to deliver pizza on the side.
One of the many fun things about moving around the nation is that you have sports fans in each stop that are passionate in various degrees about their franchises. In some cases, those fans can be downright unwelcoming and hostile, like the time I lived in New Mexico and there were nothing but fans of the Dallas Cowgirls. This was during one of the very common years when the Philadelphia Eagles sucked like a black hole inside a black hole on top of another black hole, so I would routinely take verbal (and a few times physical) abuse for my unending loyalty to the Birds.
It was a constant throughout all the moves…I’d take crap from the fans of other teams just because no matter where I lived I wouldn’t give up my loyalty to my teams from the incredibly misnamed City of Brotherly Love.
Then I moved to southwest Missouri.
I knew full well it was Cardinals and Chiefs country. I actually had a fair amount of knowledge about the Cardinals; growing up back east late at night on a little transistor AM radio I would tune in Jack Buck to listen to one of the greatest ever call a baseball game. Man, I’d have listened to Jack Buck read a dinner menu. So while I wasn’t a Cardinals fan per se, I was a Jack Buck fan, and through that I knew a lot about the Cardinals.
I was in town scouting for a place to live when I stopped at a sports bar inside a hotel that no longer exists to watch my Phillies take on the Cardinals. Being the true Philadelphia fan I am, I walked in wearing a John Kruk jersey and Sunday alternate ball cap and plopped myself down at the bar for wings and a beer of the root variety.
I chatted up the bartender while I waited for my wings and answered the usual questions about why I was wearing Phillies gear (“I grew up back in PA”), why I was in town (“new job”), and was I really stupid enough to go into a sports bar in Springfield in baseball season wearing the jersey of the team the Cardinals were playing? (“I prefer insane enough.”)
The Cards took a quick lead that night, and that led to some the more well lubricated patrons start to make some snide comments about the Phillies, loud enough to make sure they were heard. They weren’t necessarily hostile in intent, just good playful sports bar banter, until the later innings when somehow my Fightin’ Phils found a way to climb back into the game. Then the barbs were a little more pointed, the libations a little more quickly consumed, and it eventually lead to the common event of one of the “leaders” of the bar coming up to have “the conversation” about my being in “their bar.”
So the guy starts in about how this is Cardinals’ country and that they didn’t “need no outsiders” coming in here to “stink up the place.” He was quite loaded, so I just kind of ignored him, and seemed content to sit a barstool away and spew what to him seemed like intelligent conversation.
After a few minutes, the bartender had enough of it, and called the guy by name.
“Leave the guy alone,” the bartender said. “That’s where he grew up.”
It was like a pin dropped as the drunken Cardinals crew stopped and looked at me. After a few seconds, the guy who had been harassing me changes tact.
“So you grew up in Philly?”
“Outside of the city, but yeah.”
“So they were your team when you were a kid.”
“Good on you.”
And with that, he stood up and walked away. They didn’t bother me once more during the game.
That was the first time I noticed a trait that seems common to just about every St. Louis Cardinals fan I’ve met. They respect loyalty to your hometown team. Every time someone questions my devotion to the Phils, and I say they were my team from back home and I’ve never wavered in following them, Cardinals fans almost praise it.
It’s something that I’ll admit I used to first scoff at when I moved here. I would hear people talk about the “Cardinal Way” and how the team had its own code, own way doing things, and a rabid devotion that worked all the way down to its fans. Well, I can say after my years in this area there really is that Cardinals Way in many of their fans, and a hallmark of that is respect for those who don’t quit when the breaks beat the boys, who don’t hop on the bandwagon of what’s hot if the Cardinals aren’t having a good year, and most of all, don’t root for anyone from Chicago.
So that’s why my first column is about the loyalty of the St. Louis Cardinals fan. It’s a trait that brings respect, can allow people of different backgrounds and views (even fervent ones) to come together for a common love of the game, and most of all, agree Jack Buck could have read a manual for tire installation and we’d have all sat with rapt attention to every syllable.