America’s Best Baseball Town

> www.cardinals.com/tvads<

     One of my boyhood friends from our old South St. Louis neighborhood sent this link, bringing back many fond memories of baseball’s impending return.

St. Louis has long been recognized as one of, if not the best baseball city in America.  Not because the Redbirds have won 10 World Series titles, second only to the 27 won by the mighty N.Y. Yankees.  Nor because the Redbird fans are knowledgeable, and root, root, root for the home team in good times as well as bad.  No, St. Louis gained its reputation over many decades as the quintessential baseball town because its fans appreciated the game at a level that allowed them to cheer even for the good plays by the opposing teams, or former Cardinals now returned in a visiting team’s uniform.

As a result, we St. Louis kids grew up playing many variations on the ball-and-bat theme from early spring to late in October.  While I’m sure other cities had their distinctive baseball-influenced games, too, we seemed to have a game for any field of play and for every number of players available.  Games with such evocative names as stepball, stickball, fuzzbull, wall-ball, wiffle ball, Indian Ball, cork ball, run ups, rounders; the list seemed to go on forever.

If you were on your own, you’d play step ball or wall-ball.  Two kids would, of course, play catch.  With three you could play run-ups, simulating getting picked off first and trying to not get tagged out.

Once you rounded up three or four friends you could start batting games like wiffle ball, cork ball, fuzz ball (played with a de-frocked tennis ball), as well as a fielding game that originated in St. Louis called Indian Ball. Continue reading

NASCAR VS. RUNNING

NASCAR exploded in popularity over the last decade.  Even in the Yankee north, large oval tracks draw six-figure-sized crowds to watch logo-splashed cars thunder around the track at speeds approaching 200 mph. In his book Sunday Money Jeff MacGregor followed the 2001 NASCAR circuit in an RV for an entire year, joining the Grateful Dead-like fans who tour the country in pilgrimage to their racing heroes.

MacGregor theorizes that Americans love NASCAR because, A) they love fast cars and, B) they love to drive.  He also believes that stock car racing offers an intensified version of people’s own highway experiences, and perhaps just as importantly, when watching the races fans join a large, stable and astoundingly homogenous community (NASCAR fans are overwhelmingly white.)

So, let’s recap: NASCAR is popular in the U.S. because it allows monochromatic people to sit and watch men sit and drive ultra souped up cars in circles with the possibility that said cars may go careening into one another at any second. (Already seems like sitting and crashing are important here).  What’s more, NASCAR reflects people’s own daily experience of driving (while seated, it goes without saying), though at slower speeds and with significantly more right hand turns than their NASCAR heroes make.

Then there is running.  Okay, runners are multi-hued people who – what, like to go under their own power while maintaining a fully upright posture?  And this reflects…uhhh…help me here…this reflects…no, not a clue.  Far as I can tell, it reflects nothing in the popular American culture other than itself.  Which might, in fact, be the problem.  Not to mention the utter lack of bone-crunching crashes or floozies with cigarettes and beer cans following our stars’ exploits in RVs.  Continue reading