The Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, Fredbird and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famers made their traditional trek around Busch Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Monday, beginning the home opener celebration for the team .
The opener brought a huge crowd to downtown St. Louis hours before the Redbirds’ 3:15 p.m. contest with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It's a celebration that baseball in St. Louis has begun,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said as he met with reporters before the game. “It’s nice to get the guys back in a friendly environment. There’s something about these days at home.
“The atmosphere when this place is alive and hopping, you just can't help but get sucked into it. Everybody's up for it.”
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Fans attending a pep rally at Ballpark Village clogged streets and parking lots near Busch Stadium, where players took part in batting practice a full three hours before the start of the game.
The fans began to make their way to their seats shortly after 1 p.m., with the Brewers taking batting practice on the field under clearing skies. After heavy rains Monday morning, the sun began to break through the clouds, bathing the Busch field with sunshine.
It had clouded over again by the time of the player and Hall of Famer introductions. On hand, in Cardinal-red jackets: Tony La Russa, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog.
Also in a Cardinal red jacket at home plate to greet the Cardinals players: Team Hall of Famers Jim Edmonds and Willie McGee, who got the loudest ovation from the capacity crowd.
Next to come, what the fans are there to see: The start between Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and the Brewers’ Matt Garza (0-1, 7.20 ERA).
The game will feature the home debut of Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward, acquired in the offseason following the death of Oscar Taveras. Heyward, hitting .250 with two RBIs in his first week with the Cardinals, came in a trade for starting pitcher Shelby Miller.
Heyward received a warm reception from the Cardinals fans, who cheered as he circled the Hall of Famers at home plate before greeting them and then his teammates lined up along the first base line.
Following the rest of the player introductions, a two-minute video tribute to Taveras played on the right field Jumbotron, ending with a moment of silence in tribute to the 22-year-old player killed in a car accident in October.
The fans haven’t been at the ballpark since Oct. 12, when they saw the Redbirds beat San Francisco 5-4 in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
That win was the last of the season for St. Louis, which had lost the series opener and then dropped the last three games of the NLCS to the eventual World Series champion Giants.
The crowd on Monday filled downtown St. Louis streets with red-clad fans, while parking lots were filled to overflowing or charging up to $60 to fans wanting to park near Busch.
“We've been booed plenty for the last week (on the road),” Matheny said. “It’s time to get home and turn that around a little bit.”