Spring Fling: Down South with the St. Louis Cardinals

JJ GilliamContributor IMarch 3, 2009

Spring Training brings many fond memories of the year to come and all that it may bring. I was fortunate enough to make it down in 2006 and had no inkling that by the end of the season St. Louis would be crowned World Champs. But maybe that had something to do with the way the trip happened in the first place...

...the idea for the trip wasn't mine and more thinking should have been involved. I had never been to Florida, however, so any rational thoughts went out the window.

Hopefully my former company never reads this because I did use a rental car they paid for during the classes I was attending.

Where was I? Oh, back to the real story. I was a government contractor at the time and was training on an Army base in Georgia with a group of soldiers (names have been removed to protect the innocent—I always wanted to say that).

One of the soldiers was a huge Cardinals supporter like me, and we talked about what to do between the three-day break between classes. It was the end of February, and he suggested that STL spring training was in full gear. I have never been one to turn down a road trip, so that was the end of the planning phase.

Wisdom now shows me that grabbing a map or looking up the entire trip in advance would have proved much, much smarter. We drove throughout the day and night before realizing just how far Palm Beach is and thus were extremely tired upon arrival. The forecast was also calling for rain, giving us very little time to make plans.

After a quick nap at the Holiday Inn, we rushed over to the stadium in hopes of pictures and possible autographs. The sun was barely coming out and the skies were looking dreary that morning. We were not going to be deterred though and quickly were in awe of the scene.

Minor league pitchers and catchers dominated the scene at first, and Bryan Anderson was our first target. He was handling much of the catching duties and looked to be in mid-April form at the least. By the time we ventured over to the main diamond, Brad Thompson was taking batting practice with many of the other pitchers.

Thompson never stopped smiling and interacted with all of us who kept giving him encouragement throughout the session. WonderBrad never did look comfortable hacking away, but you could tell he was just happy to be with the likes of Carp and Izzy.

While the players got my attention, it was my friend who noticed the spectators getting out their rain gear and umbrellas. It wasn't long before the skies opened up, and we were left to ponder if our trip was to be short-lived. I did grab a baseball, not caring one bit that it was soaked.

It was not looking good for us, especially when the majority of the players passed us to go inside. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds all waved but wouldn't stop, and I don't blame them. Florida rain is very cold, and we were forced to make our way towards the car. The plan was to hit the souvenir shop on our way out, but that almost didn't happen.

I think it was a Saturday, and the shop closed early due to season ticket-holder day or something like that. We knocked and were able to talk our way in, probably due to being wet and looking pathetic. I takes em any way I can gets em, and the rain ended up being the only thing that gave us time to buy some goodies.

All in all it was an experience I will never forget. Just getting the chance to see the joy on the faces of the ballplayers made everything worth it. Someday I will go back and bring my family so they can see why the sport will always be tops on my list. When I look back on it now, the weather didn't change my outlook one bit.

I got the same feeling about the players who looked like kids again, out there doing what they love. That is the reason why I tune in as many days and nights as I can. Not to hear about the money they make, but because the game of baseball is sacred. 2006 had the historic finish, but I will always be able to say that I was there at the beginning.

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