Thursday, April 12, 2012

Emotional Opening Day in Store for Redbirds

The World Champion Cardinals - fresh off a very successful (5-2) seven-game three-city road trip - will finally play their first home game of the 2012 season on Friday afternoon, as they host the Chicago Cubs, who are probably looking forward to escaping the Friendly Confines, after a disastrous (1-5) home stand that has even the most optimistic Cubs' fan already looking forward to next year.  Well, this team is not as bad as most people think, folks.

For the Cardinals - whose last appearance at Busch Stadium was the delirious Game Seven of the 2011 World Series, when they completed the most improbable championship run in franchise history - this homecoming will surely be an emotional event, as their fans show love for the Post-Albert Redbirds, which will no doubt include a long standing ovation for that legendary former-nemesis and newest-Redbird - Carlos Beltran.

Beltran, along with the rest of the heavy hitters on the team, has gotten off to a great start - almost too good to be true; but the fact of the matter is, Carlos has already hit more home runs (three) than the entire LA Angels team (two); and only one of those long balls was hit "long enough" to clear the fence (the latest, was of the "inside the park" variety, by the speedy Peter Bourjos).  Strangely enough, Albert Pujols - who hit seven home runs for those Angels in Spring Training, has yet to connect in the regular season.  Another oddity:  Albert has just two RBIs in five games, and both came in losing efforts; whenever Pujols has failed to drive in a run, the Halos have won twice, while losing just once; proving once again that baseball is a funny game, especially when things like that happen to former Cardinal icons who suddenly leave town for a tad bit more money (in relative terms), from an owner they've never even met, face to face.

Of course, the season has just begun, so it's highly unlikely the Cardinals will maintain a .714 winning percentage for the entire schedule, to win 116 games; nor are they likely to maintain the same torrid home run pace, which projects to a new MLB-record of 278 four-baggers; but that would be something, eh?

Strangely enough, when Alex Rodriguez deserted the team that launched his epic career - the Seattle Mariners - after the 2000 season to pursue the riches free agency afforded him; those Mariners actually won 116 regular season games in 2001, to establish a new MLB record.  However, proving how unpredictable the postseason can be, Seattle failed to get past the Yankees in a Five Game ALCS defeat.

As the giddiness of the weekend Cards-Cubs series envelopes Cardinal Nation, most fans will be anticipating a three-game sweep of the last-place Cubs by the first-place Cardinals.  That could happen, but it won't be because Chicago is going to simply roll-over for their long-time bitter rivals.  This team is much better than their won-loss record indicates; the only way the Redbirds will prevail is by executing the fundamentals flawlessly, every step along the way.  So far, the Cardinals have done just that in their head-to-head meetings with three teams many baseball analysts felt were superior in their prognostications - the Miami Marlins, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Cincinnati Reds.

No doubt, the Cardinals are motivated by this lack of respect; it's fueled their desire to prove what they accomplished last postseason was no fluke; that they are still a championship-caliber team even after losing the former-face-of-the-franchise; old what's his name.  A new era of Cardinal baseball has begun, with a solid core of excellent players, such as David Freese, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and of course, the newest addition - Carlos Beltran - who probably won't believe how passionately he is greeted by the fans, when first introduced.

It should be a very special moment, in what Cardinals fans hope - even expect - will be another very special season.  The fun has just begun for this very talented Redbird edition, as they try to accomplish something for the very first time as a franchise:  Back-to-back World Series Championships.

Why not?

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