In today’s world, it is by no means a stretch to suggest that a city can be identified by a resident sports team. Everywhere across America, from small towns to major metropolises, sports franchises are synonymous with their geographical namesakes.
Where would Los Angeles be without the Lakers, or Dallas without the Cowboys? The lack of any reasonable answer shows just how tight the grasp of professional sports has on our identity and conscience.
While the same is true with St. Louis and its hometown baseball club, it wasn’t always this way.
For a city that served as the departure point of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as the origin of a lawsuit filed by an African American seeking his freedom from slavery (ultimately leading to the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th constitutional amendments), there wouldn’t seem to be much need to pay attention to a group of men trying to hit a leather ball with a wooden stick.
In 1877, the city of St. Louis seceded from the greater region of St. Louis County. Five years later, things surely changed when the team that would later be known as the Cardinals was founded.
No doubt, the love affair between city and team brewed quickly, with the baseball club winning four consecutive championships within the franchise’s first decade, including two against the team occupying the north side of Chicago.
During the next century, St. Louis continued the fight to maintain its place at history’s forefront, witnessing everything from a World’s Fair and Olympic Games in 1904 to the opening of the Gateway Arch in 1967.
However, those events often take a backseat to the delectable delight that is the World Series, and the Cardinals won nine of them in a 60-year span during the 1900s.
The City of St. Louis has gone through much turmoil in recent memory—budget shortfalls, violent crime, rising unemployment, poverty, decaying infrastructure and a broken educational system—not unlike many other fading industrial cities across the Midwest.
It is my opinion that the Cardinals need to be at the forefront of the city’s renaissance. The decisions recently made, and those soon to be made, by Cardinals majority owner Bill DeWitt, Jr. are germane to the process of bringing St. Louis back to the front of innovation, exploration and modernization.
Busch Stadium has become the de facto center of downtown St. Louis, meaning Mr. DeWitt holds the future of the city in his hands.
The Cardinals recently revealed what is meant to be the final version of Mr. DeWitt’s pet developmental project for both St. Louis and his team—Ballpark Village. This latest revision, albeit scaled down drastically from many previous imaginings, has the power to give the city a chance to fix its ailments.
Can one man’s idea for a retail and entertainment complex in the heart of downtown St. Louis be so successful as to possibly begin to close that budget shortfall, reduce crime, create jobs and give hope to the next generation of St. Louisans and Cardinal baseball fans alike?
The easy answer is just to say "no."
It seems illogical to think that what is now just a two-block, $100 million developmental plan can do any one of those things, let alone potentially all of them. But what if the easy answer is wrong?
What if Ballpark Village is this century’s Lewis and Clark moment for St. Louis?