This weekend marks the point where the rubber meets the road, both literally and figuratively, in my baseball fandom.
For two decades, it has been my personal rite of spring to load up a car and head south to St. Louis spring training. At first it was a small group of school buddies who headed to St. Petersburg on a shoe string budget. More than 20 years later, it's a family excursion in an SUV to the Redbirds' current spring home in Jupiter.
Somewhere in between I began blogging about the Cardinals and my vacation became a part of my job. But it's still fun to get to see some baseball in warmer climes.
Regardless of the company or the circumstances, it's been my favorite part of being a Cardinals fan to get that escape from the last assaults or winter. It makes you feel like you've won the lottery to skip out on snowflakes, parkas and windshield scraping to eat peanuts warmed by the Florida sun as you watch a leisurely ballgame.
What has changed is that, while the trip used to be a bunch of buddies who were, more or less equals in their passion for baseball, now it is a chance to teach my son the fundamentals and, later, beautiful details of the game.
He used to go because he wanted a hot dog and a lemonaid more than he wanted to actually watch the game. He loved to get there early and try to get some autographs. But, by the fourth inning, he was more interested in going back to the hotel pool than he was in seeing who won or lost the game.
Now he's going on eight years old and he's much more interested in learning the sport. So it will be interesting to see how things go.
It wasn't a big deal to take my son when he was an infant or a toddler. But, now that he's in the second grade, I believe the writing is on the wall that this might be the last time I can, in good conscience, pull him out of school for a week to go on vacation.
So I'm really going to savor this one.
I really believe that, when I'm long gone this is one of the things my boy will remember doing with his old dad. And, despite the base hits, wins and World Series appearances, isn't THAT what being a baseball fan -- and specifically a St. Louis Cardinals fan, is all about?