Spring begins for me on the opening day of the baseball season. Warm winds are blowing across the plains today, and I am flooded with rich memories of Cardinal opening days.
In the early sixties I would rush home from school, flick on the large radio in my parents' bedroom, and hear the end of the opening game. I have always associated Harry Caray's voice (yes, Cubs fans he broadcasted the Cardinals games then) with the hope and heartbreak that comes with each new season. 1961 remains vivid for how the game ended. Daryl Spencer hit a long home run off Warren Spahn to beat the Milwaukee Braves in extra innings. Six days later the term Bay of Pigs became a topic of conversation in our house and on TV. I thought they were discussing the strange sounds farm animals make.
On a cold, gray day in 1965 the Cardinals and Cubs played to a 10-10 tie on opening day. The game was called because it was too dark to continue. St. Louis scored a run in the top of the eleventh to take the lead, but knuckleball reliever Barney Schultz blew it in the bottom of the eleventh. LBJ started sending ground troops to Vietnam the same year.
Back home from the Army in 1975, and high on an illegal substance, I attended opening day at Busch Stadium. I don't remember much, except the Cardinals lost to the Expos and I heckled our washed-up shortstop Eddie Brinkman. 23 days later, Saigon fell, and the war in Vietnam ended.
On April 11, 1981, a rainy Saturday in St. Louis, the Phillies beat the Cards to begin Whitey Herzog's first full year as manager. The players' strike shortened that year, and, though they had the best cumulative record in the National League, the Cardinals were excluded from the playoffs by a goofy split season playoff format. My daughter, born the previous autumn on a football Saturday, turned six months old in April 1981. We lived in a second-story shotgun flat in south St. Louis; not much of an apartment, but I remember it fondly now.
On a warm Easter Sunday in 1994, Ray Lankford lined a home run, which never got more than 10 feet off the ground, over the center-field wall at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cards won that night, but their season was doomed. And so was their manager, Joe Torre.