Let's start this week with a time warp. Think back to when you were 13 years old. Try and pinpoint a moment from your 14th year that you can close your eyes and envision today. The setting, the time of day, the people you may have been with.
I was 13 in 1982 when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in seven games over the Milwaukee Brewers (Harvey's Wall-Bangers, that crew was called). That was the Cardinals' last world championship until they shocked the sports world two weeks ago by upsetting the Detroit Tigers and winning the 2006 series after the fewest regular-season wins (83) by any champ, ever. I watched Game 7 of that '82 Series in the living room of my family's apartment in Northfield, Vermont. It was a Wednesday night, when Bruce Sutter -- just this year inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame -- struck out Gorman Thomas to clinch the championship. It was the ninth world championship for St. Louis but the first of my lifetime and the franchise's first in 15 years, what seemed like an eternity at the time for my father.
I remember trying to out-smile my dad as a mob of fans stormed the artificial turf at "old" Busch Stadium. And I remember thinking, surely, this would be the first of many such celebrations.
It was twenty-four years -- almost a quarter century -- before my heart again pounded the way it did on October 20, 1982. We don't get all that many 24-year cycles in a lifetime, so I'll be relishing the Cardinals' 10th championship for as long as I can share the memory. But how different, this celebration.
What's happened since 1982 -- age 13 for me -- besides the hundreds of Cardinal games I've seen and listened to? High school happened. College. A wedding. More than 130 issues of Memphis magazine hitting the streets with my name next to "managing editor" on the masthead. Best of all, I've welcomed two daughters since 1982. (They'll remember this World Series, let me assure you.) And worst, my dad isn't here this time to try and match my smile.
Amid the glow of merely winning, Dad would love the improbability of this championship. St. Louis managed to win the World Series in five games with merely two RBIs from baseball's "perfect" player, Albert Pujols. (Last week, the Elias Sports Bureau announced that Pujols is only the sixth player since their ranking system was devised in 1981 to score a perfect 100 for a season.) How perfectly appropriate that the Series MVP was a player -- 5'7" shortstop David Eckstein -- whom Pujols could eat for lunch. Smallest player on the field; the player with the fewest "tools"; a castoff from a team with which he won a championship, but a team that felt it could improve without him. Nice way to acquire your first new car, Mr. Eckstein. (That yellow beauty, though, needs a coat of red paint.)
This is the second of at least 52 weeks during which the words "St. Louis Cardinals" must be prefaced by "world champion." The joy I recall from my days as an 8th-grader has lost some context as I've gained adulthood and all the rites that come with it. I wonder, with a pounding but heavy heart, just where my dad might be now, knowing how happy this long-awaited victory would make him. This is where I gain a little faith and, with inspiration from a certain Disney movie starring Danny Glover -- a Murtaugh, it should be noted, in another of his popular roles -- a speculative theory on what happened as the Tigers botched one play after another in the sloppiest Fall Classic we'll see in years: Perhaps, Cardinal Nation, just perhaps, St. Louis had a little help from its own angel in the outfield. Imagination -- no, belief -- has a life span much longer than 13 years.