Thursday, May 9, 2013

Welcome to Busch Stadium: Home of the Good, the Bud and the Ugly

Busch Stadium
700 Clark Ave.
St. Louis, MO

I’ve always had mixed emotions about Saint Louis and its favorite pastime, the Cardinals.

As a die-hard fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals’ rival, the Cincinnati Reds, I’m supposed to hate the Red Birds.

But it’s hard to be a hater of Cardinals fans.

Those Midwesterners are just so darn friendly.

Sure they still boo Reds Second Baseman Brandon Phillips every time he comes to the plate for starting an epic brawl here at Busch Stadium three seasons ago, but I get nothing but the occasion good-natured ribbing for wearing my Reds hat into enemy territory.

Try that in Boston or Philadelphia or L.A. You might end up in a coma like Giants fan Bryan Stow who dared wear his team’s jersey to Dodger Stadium.

But here in Saint Louis opposing fans can safely pull for their favorite team free from death threats.

Of course I tire of perpetually hearing about Cardinals fans’ supposed “superior baseball knowledge”. Like they are the only fans outside of the American League East who can explain the Infield Fly Rule.


Good for you Cardinals fans. You know to clap when Yadier Molina grounds out to the right side of the infield and the runner moves from second to third.

What do you want? A medal hand delivered by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig?

Like I said, mixed emotions about Saint Louis.

And Busch Stadium.

Like the name.

As a self-avowed beer connoisseur, I avoid anything produced by the Anheiser-Busch global conglomerate like I do doctor’s offices, cucumber salads and movies about gay cowboys.

But with the stadium situated just a few miles north of the famed Budweiser headquarters, you know there’s not going to be any avoiding the watered-down ubiquitous pale fizzy beverage.

At the same time, Busch Stadium is nice place.

It’s amazing what $350 million in Bud Light profits and taxpayer money can buy you these days.

While lacking the nouveau-retro charm of Camden Yards or the Ballpark at Arlington, there’s no denying the appeal of the clean roomy grandstands of this seven year old park.

Best of all is the view.

Soaring gracefully into the clear evening sky beyond the left field wall is that iconic Midwestern monument, the Saint Louis Arch, framed by the city skyline.

The only ballpark with a nicer view is in Pittsburgh.

For a Tuesday night game against the Reds I figured I wouldn’t have too much trouble scoring a discounted ticket.

When I’m on the road by myself, I try to get in the park with the cheapest ticket I can find -- and then wander the grandstands freely.

With no one to entertain but myself, I am free to explore the nooks and crannies of new amenity-laden parks like Busch.

Even a “standing room only” ticket is fine with me.

Suit757 does enough sitting on cramped 757s. I don’t mind standing and wandering for a few hours, especially if I have a beer in hand.

So I exchanged a ten dollar bill for a nosebleed 400 level ticket with some sketchy-looking scalper across the street.

I was feeling pretty proud of my negotiating skills.

“I’ll spend more on one beer than I did for this ticket,” I thought to myself as I walked through the turnstile in right field.

Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, unlike most of the newer ballparks, there aren’t many standing room spots in Busch to watch the game.

A small bar in center field. And all the way at the top of the 300 level deck.

That’s it.

All the other concessions and concourses are inside the stadium bowels -- out of view of the field.

So that means unless you are willing to pay a wandering beer guy ten bucks for a 16 ounce plastic bottle of Bud, you are going to miss some action if you go on a beer run.

As you might expect, Anheiser-Busch products are ubiquitous in Busch Stadium.

But I did manage to spot a stand selling another much less famous Saint Louis brew -- Schlafly’s.

Now, when I hear the name Schlafly, I think of that great icon of social conservatism, Phyllis Schlafly, who almost single-handedly put all those man-hating, bra-burning feminist butches in their place back in the 70s and 80s.

Of course I figured Phyllis Schlafly probably wasn’t in the beer-making business.

But it turns out (thanks to a bit of internet research) that she was married to the uncle of the owner of the brewery.

Small world here in the Midwest.

Well, Phyllis’ nephew makes pretty good beer.

The Pale Ale was a copper-colored brew with good malty flavor.

The Summer Brew was a pale lager with a slight hint of hopiness.

Neither beer is going to put hair on your chest, but they were much appreciated alternatives to the stadium’s namesake corporate conglomerate beer.

I sipped my Schlafly at the Center Field Bar next to the television cameras.

Not a bad spot to catch the first couple innings of action, especially when a fellow friendly beer-swigging Reds fan from Nashville struck up a conversation about our starting pitcher, Bronson Arroyo.

My newfound buddy had dropped sixty bucks for a prime seat behind the visiting dugout. As he headed for his much better view, I set out in search of food.

Under the right field bleachers I found what I was looking for -- bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

There is nothing better than a hot dog at the ole ball park.

Except a BACON-WRAPPED hot dog, that is.

But the condiments don’t stop at bacon.

You can pile it with pico de gallo, sauteed onions, crunchy fried onions, BBQ sauce and spicy mayonnaise, sort of like a remoulade.

Oh. Yeah.

All of the above.

I would have added beans too, but they were out of those.

Maybe just as well.

This thing was a monster to eat -- with jealous glances all around me as I made my way back to the Center Field Bar.

It was a textural kaleidoscope with savory meat, crisp bacon, sweet slippery onions, zesty tomatoes and crunchy fried onions.

It was a party in every bite. Worth every one of the 950 pennies it cost me.

The cost in pennies didn’t bother me anywhere near as much as the cost in time.

The ladies manning the bacon-wrapped hot dog stand were slow…



An inning and a half to get food?

Whoever is in charge of the concessions at Busch needs to explain the concept to his employees: folks don’t come to a game to stand in line –- they come to watch the game.

Even more unforgivable was the line at the nearby microbrew stand.

Talk about a lack of urgency.

It took another inning and a half to exchange $12 for a 20 ounce souvenir cup of Goose Island IPA.

The first rule of capitalism is that when you have a line of people willing to hand you exorbitant piles of cash for little in return, you want to take that cash as quickly as possible.

That concept seems to have completely escaped the beer ladies who were in no hurry whatsoever to pour beers, collect money and keep the lines moving.

Welcome to Saint Louis -- the most union-dominated city in America’s heartland.

No wonder businessmen in Missouri are running TV ads complaining about how the Show Me State is falling behind neighboring Right to Work states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa, where businesses are run by business owners instead of union bosses.

Nice ballpark. Decent beer. Epic hot dog.

Lousy service.

Like I said -- mixed emotions.

By the fifth inning, I managed to sneak into a lower level seat down the first base line just in time to see Arroyo blow a one run lead on a home run to Cardinal slugger Matt Holliday.

Then the Cardinal’s bullpen shut my Reds down the final few innings.

A brisk two and a quarter hours after first pitch, my evening of baseball, beer and processed meat ended on a sour note.

Oh well.

As I contemplated the mixed emotions of the evening on my walk back to my hotel, I consoled myself with this important truth: A bad night at the ballpark beats a good night in the middle seat of a 757.

Every time.

Rating: Would Wear a Free Shirt.


  1. As a Cards fan, thanks for the kind words (I think).

    A small nit to pick:

    "It’s amazing what $350 million in Bud Light profits and taxpayer money can buy you these days."

    The Brewery actually sold to team back in 1995 to the current ownership group, which has no direct connection to Anheuser Busch. So no beer profits went into building the new park in 2004-06, save for whatever the Cards made off Busch from sponsorship deals.

    Also, Busch ended up being privately financed, mostly through private bonds, bank loans, a long-term loan from St. Louis County, and money from the team owners. I believe the city helped build some infrastructure.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. If what you say is true about the bulk of the money being private, I'd be the first to stand and applaud.

      What I read was that the majority of the $365 million cost came from a bond floated by St. Louis County, which of course will be paid by future taxpayers. And I'm sure Anheiser-Busch kicked in a good $10-$20 million for the naming rights -- and the right to sell their product for eight bucks per beer!

      See you at the pennant race in September!