Cheap Seats

Play ball!

At long last, it’s here. Happy opening day!

It’s time to stop talking about free agency and whether a $25 million a year contract is “enough” or too much for a spoiled ballplayer and to start to concentrate on what goes on between the lines.

Last season was a trying one that ended in triumph. This year is going to be special for Cardinals fans no matter how it turns out because it starts by basking in the glory of the 2011 World Series victory. It’s hard not to feel good about the upcoming season when championship banners are being hung and rings are being passed out.

At least for me, it will significantly soften the blow of seeing franchise icon Albert Pujols split town for a few extra million from Anaheim.

It’s especially sweet that the Cardinals, after breaking in the Marlins’ new Miami stadium, will be the Brewers’ guest for their home opener at Miller Park. I am still trying to imagine the scene as the Milwaukee brass tries to make a big opening day deal out of the hometown team’s 2011 National League Central Division title while the World Series champions are in the house. 

It will be difficult to be to joyous about that hollow achievement while looking at the same field where the Redbirds thrashed the Brewers in the playoffs. Karma keeps paying back spiteful Milwaukee fans who shot their mouths off too soon about the postseason — not to mention loudmouthed Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan.

If that weren’t enough, the Cardinals come back to Busch Stadium to host their archrivals, the Cubs, in their own home opener.

When the schedule came out. I questioned the wisdom of having the Cubs in town for opening day when two of the season’s biggest draws — opening day and hosting the Cardinals’ Chicago rivals — each guarantees a sell-out on its own. But, in retrospect, it’s nice to unveil the 2011 World Series championship flag in front of the team’s bitter northern rivals who haven’t been able to host a similar event in 103 years.

They can say what they like about Pujols, the prognostications for the 2012 season and whether St. Louis or Chicago is more fun. But it’s pretty hard to discount the presence of the World Series trophy on the back of the Clydesdale wagon.

While we all like to poke the Wee Bears with a stick every now and then, it does serve a purpose to have them here.

It reminds us that, despite winning two World Series in the last six years, these things are not a given and they should be savored. I plan to drink it all in over the first two weeks of the season before turning my attention to the 2012 campaign.

It seems like just yesterday that I sat in the cold stands and watched St. Louis reliever Jason Motte hurl the final pitch and outfielder Allen Craig turn uncertainly in pursuit of a long fly ball before snagging it in his glove for the final out.

I can already smell the bratwurst and hear the roar of the crowd.