ST. LOUIS — Opening Day finally made its way to Busch Stadium Thursday to the excitement of thousands of Cardinals fans, who didn’t let the weather impact their celebration.
It was the first home opener not drastically impacted by COVID-19 since 2019. Fans were singing, dancing, and otherwise raring to go.
There’s always been a bit of an all-red “fashion show” of Cardinals gear, but this year what fans chose to wear seemed to matter more than ever. It’s like that with Cardinals fans: every red thing has a memory, a meaning, attached.
There were kids everywhere in Cardinal-red from head to go, the first in a lifetime of family heirlooms rooted in St. Louis’s beloved baseball team.
“It’s final swing before the ring,” shouted fan, Amanda Sunkel.
Sunkel, her mother, aunt, and her girlfriends wore T-shirts with the slogan “Final Swing Before the Ring,” along with tote bags and beer koozies bearing those same words.
They were holding her bachelorette party at Kiener Plaza and Ballpark Village on Opening Day, two weeks before she gets married at home plate in Busch Stadium.
It was all in keeping with an Opening Day tradition her father and uncle started 13 years ago. Both have passed away.
“We lost my father in 2020,” Sunkel said. “We’re just continuing on for him. It’s awesome.”
Another fan, Tom Lange, was covered head to toe in Cardinals swag, including a homemade hat honoring the Cardinals’ five-record gold glove winners last season.
“Opening Day in St. Louis, who wouldn’t want to be here?” he said.
His wife, Anna, was also covered head to toe in redbird “stuff,” including an Augie Busch button her husband made for her long ago and Cardinals earrings she bought for her mother in 1967.
“She lived to be 95,” Anna Lange said of her mom. “She was a very sweet lady and she was a very big Cardinal fan!”
A part of her was with Anna, right there on her ears. Bob Ivy bought a souvenir: a 2022 Cardinals Opening Day lapel pin. He added it to the collection pinned to the Cardinals cap he wears only on Opening Day.
“I’ve been to every home opener since 2009,” he boasted.
Finally, this was the year Sharon Keightley forgave Albert Pujols for leaving the Cardinals after the 2011 World Championship season. Now that he’s back with the Cardinals, she wore her Pujols number 5 Cardinals jersey. It was a gift from her husband nearly 20 years ago.
“My husband bought this as an anniversary present,” she said. “I took all the letters off the back (when Albert left). I kept the (number) five but all the letters that said ‘Pujols’ got picked off and thrown in the trash but he’s back now and I love him and that’s good.”
It was all like it used to be in a city where it was meant to be.
Lifelong fans like Derrick Binion and Greg Burian loved the energy surrounding the stadium at BallPark Village.
“There’s no other place in the world I’d rather be than right here in St. Louis,” Burian said.
Kara and Michael Watson of Iowa returned to a more than decadelong tradition that was halted last year because of the pandemic.
“The best game of the year! The Clydesdales come out you get to see the old-timers come by in the cars and it’s just a great experience,” Kara Watson said.
The two were dressed to nines in red that could also carry over to a Kentucky Derby celebration.
“We had about 15 years consecutive coming to Opening Day of Cardinals baseball. It’s something we talked about doing so this year we’re doing it,” Michael Watson said.
Like Burian, Watson thinks this could be a magical season.