Sports writers love to wax romantic about baseball, and as schmaltzy as “boys of summer” imagery may seem, to lots of us, it’s real: The crack of bat against ball, a well-used mitt’s leathery perfume, dust and grass and chalk, the smack of the ball hitting glove, and the people, the crowd, enveloping field and players in thousands of voices, claps and whistles, all beneath a clear summer sky’s dome over the stadium. For several hours at a time it’s a world unto itself, and we find it nourishing to just drink it in, to ride the energy, to savor the moment. It’s major league baseball. There’s an aura about it. Getting caught up in it all is delicious. by John Gray, Lake Elsinore, California
I met Jim Wellemeyer in 1968 when he was 41, and no more than a few months have ever passed during the 41 years since we met that we haven’t seen each other. People who know Jim know he likes most sports, but deep down he’s a baseball guy. Deeper down yet, he’s a lifelong, avid St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. The Cardinals were founded in the American Association in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Generally called the St. Louis Browns, they joined the National League in 1892 and have been known as the Cardinals since 1900. The current Busch Stadium opened in April 2006, the third in St. Louis to carry the name. Sportsman's pa g e 1
Park was renamed Busch Stadium in 1953, after team owner Gussie Busch of Anheuser Busch. Jim’s favorite player, Stan Musial, was born in 1920, and is about seven years older than Jim. Musial starred for the Cardinals from 1941 through 1963 and is one of baseball’s all-time greats. His .331 career batting average ranks 30th alltime in major league history. Today’s top Cardinal star and one of baseball’s best today, Dominican native Albert Pujols, plays first base where Musial played the latter half of his career. Now in his 9th season, all-around hitter Pujols’ career batting average of .333 is worthy of Stan the Man.
Jim Wellemeyer and Cardinal pitcher, Todd Wellemeyer, in the Cardinal dugout.
Todd Wellemeyer is Jim’s brother’s grandson, which makes him Jim’s grand nephew. Todd came up to the Big Leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 and has pitched for the Cards since 2007. Todd’s trade to his beloved Cardinals was a happy event for Great Uncle Jim!
Albert Pujols at bat.
Jim’s first time in person at a Cardinal game was in the late 1930s when he went to Sportman’s Park with men from his small hometown of Holland, Indiana. Jim’s dad was already gone, killed as a passenger in an automobile accident when Jim was just 7 or 8, and those Holland “old guys” in their 20s kindly brought the wide-eyed 11-yearold along with them for the 189 mile drive west to St. Louis. The Cardinal stars of that time included Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin, Enos “Country” Slaughter, and Johnny Mize. Pitcher Preacher Roe made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1938, but didn’t earn a name for himself until his Brooklyn Dodgers seasons in the next decade. Jim’s future stepfather George Shears had a brief major league career in 1912, pitching in 4 games for the New York Highlanders, the team which the next year became the pa g e 3
In mid-summer 2009 I had one of those ideas you just immediately know is right: Invite Jim to a three game Cardinal home stand. We’ll fly to St. Louis in time for the first night game, and back to California following the afternoon contest on day three. Yes! Three games in three days, travel included. I checked for a midweek airline/hotel deal, found one, and called Jim. “I’d like to do that!” Our plans were set.
Sportsman’s Park, home of the St. Louis Cardinals 1902-1966.
New York Yankees. George’s ailing back ended his baseball career but eventually led him to his next as a chiropractor. Years later George married Jim’s long-widowed mother Naomi while Jim was serving in the U.S. Navy in 1945-46. In George’s playing days his nickname was “Scissors Shears.” Jim recalls hitchhiking with a buddy around 1947 from southern Indiana to Sportsman’s Park to see Stan Musial and the Cardinals play. He attended another game in 1949. That was the last time Jim went to a Cards game in St. Louis for 60 years. In mid-summer 2009 I had one of those ideas you just immediately know is right: Invite Jim to a three game Cardinal home stand. We’ll fly to St. Louis in time for the first night game, and back to California following the afternoon contest on day three. Yes! Three games in three days, travel
included. I checked for a midweek airline/ hotel deal, found one, and called Jim. “I’d like to do that!” Our plans were set. The Cardinals are playing well this season, with more of a lead in the National League Central Division than their arch rival Chicago Cubs could ever make up. So, we weren’t going to watch just an ordinary Cardinal team, but one flying toward the playoffs. Our hotel rooms had 20th floor views of the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River. It was a few short blocks to the ballpark, passing the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried and settled in 1857. The outcome enflamed the slavery issue and proved to be another step toward national division and the Civil War. It was good that everything was conveniently close along the St. Louis riverfront, as Jim was being careful not to overdo the walking. His left shin area was still bandaged, not September 2009
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Hotel room view of the Gateway Arch and Mississippi River. The Gateway Arch, also known as the Gateway to the West, is an integral part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the iconic image of St. Louis. Designed in 1947, constructed 1963-1965, opened to the public on July 24, 1967.
Hotel room view of the Gateway Arch and Mississippi River
fully healed from the doctor’s cutting away suspicious-looking tissue three weeks earlier. Todd Wellemeyer is Jim’s brother’s grandson, which makes him Jim’s grand nephew. Todd came up to the Big Leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 and has pitched for the Cards since 2007. Todd’s trade to his beloved Cardinals was a happy event for Great Uncle Jim! We arrived early for the August 26th evening game, and were standing at field level along the right field foul line. Todd and a few teammates were not far away, tossing a ball around in right field, well before game time. Jim got his attention and Todd came over to chat. Then he invited us to follow him on to the edge of the field, into the Cardinal dugout, then for a tour of the clubhouse and locker room, concluding pa g e 5
with a gift of Cardinal player caps from the equipment manager. Jim said himself he felt like a kid in a candy shop! I caught him beaming like I imagine he did at his first Cardinal event 70 years before. A perfect game is defined by Major League Baseball as a game in which a pitcher pitches a victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings and in which no opposing player reaches base. Thus, the pitcher cannot allow any hits, walks, hit batsmen, or any opposing player to reach base safely for any other reason—in short, “27 up, 27 down.” The feat has been achieved only 19 times in the history of major league baseball. I think “perfect” means a few other things to lifelong fans of the game. For three August days in a row, the St. Louis weather was perfect, the hotdogs, peanuts and beer were
Busch Stadium, from the top of the Gateway Arch.
great, our seats for each game were excellent, we got a foul ball during pre-game batting practice, and the Cards took two out of three from division rival Houston Astros. Jim even had his first catfish sandwich in decades. While maybe not literally perfect, it was all about as good as it gets. Besides being the namesake of the St. Louis Cardinals club, cardinal is a versatile word. The actual bird is the distinctive crested cardinal grosbeak, Cardinalis cardinalis, of North America, the male of which is bright red. Various similar birds are called cardinals, and so is the deep, rich, red color. A cardinal is a high ecclesiastic in the Roman Catholic Church, too. Numbers which denote quantity, like 7 or 342, are called cardinal numbers.
But the root of the word literally means “something on which other things hinge” and gives cardinal its essential meaning: of prime importance, chief, principal. There was something of cardinal significance about going to St. Louis this summer, for both my friend Jim and for me. It was as if a lot of Jim’s friends were along on the trip too; I was just the one who got to go with him in person. Memories of a kind string together over years like pearls. The strand is complete at every point, but it grows longer and richer with each addition. A few gems were added those August days in St. Louis, and friendship deepened. It was perfect.
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