News From The Woods - April, 2007

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published April 24, 2007


"A Funny Thing Happened on the way to a birthday party……."


We hadn't been to St. Louis - the place of my birth - since 2002, and I was looking forward to visiting The Gateway to the West and attending a surprise birthday party for a close friend. It had to be a surprise party because if she knew we were planning something she would pooh-pooh the idea from the get go. I'm sure you have some friends just like this one…… Always there for their friends……..the first to plan something nice for someone…… but raises a fuss if someone wants to do HER a nice thing. Sooooooo, the only way we could get her to participate in her own 50th birthday celebration would have to be if she didn't even know about it. She spends every spare weekend here at the lake with her "Arkansas friends", and then treks back to St. Louis for work and to play with her "hometown friends".

A plan was devised to throw her off the track and still make sure she would be available. She was told it was another friend's birthday party and she was expected to be there on the appointed date. She even planned to bake a birthday cake for her "special friend's birthday". So on April 14th, a caravan of five vehicles made its way to St. Charles. The rendezvous was a club called Tubby's Pub and Grub. An "advance party" of Arkies arrived the day before to decorate the club. My contribution to the event would be to play the part of "DJ" and supply the music for the party. I loaded up a small PA system, three portable CD players, and armed myself with a case full of custom-recorded CD's loaded with classic tracks from the 60's.

Click HERE for a Windows Media Clip of the birthday party.

People started arriving at the club around 6:30 PM. Our local accomplice knew to bring our birthday girl to Tubby's at 7:30. This would allow enough time for everyone to get there and settle in. There were about 120 people present when she walked through the door and was greeted by "SURPRISE" followed immediately by the Happy Birthday song. She just stood in the doorway, stunned, for the entire happy birthday chorus. As she looked around she noticed all the Arkansas faces along with her family and friends and realized she had been bushwhacked. Astonishment gave way to a brief five seconds of "almost anger" before she wilted under the onslaught of well wishers patting her on the back. She was formally introduced over the PA as the woman who had baked and brought a cake to her own birthday party. It was a gala event with food, fellowship, family, friends, and great tunes. Midnight arrived too soon and the last of her friends bid her birthday wishes and I packed up my gear. Jane and our two sons Robert and Luke accompanied me back to the motel, which was a scant five blocks away.

And I thought that was that………………… But it wasn't.

We woke up on Sunday morning and decided after eating breakfast we would go downtown and show the boys the Arch before heading back to Arkansas. We helped ourselves to the continental breakfast at the motel and then went next door to the Bass Pro Shop where we walked off breakfast looked at all the cool new sporting gear. As we entered the building we spotted Cardinal Pitcher Josh Kinney giving autographs, so Robert and Luke got into line and had their complimentary Bass Pro drink coolers signed.

We got back to our room with an hour to spare before noon checkout. As we began packing up Jane's cell phone rang. It was our birthday girl on the other end. All she said was: "How'd you guys like to go to a Cardinal baseball game today at 1:30?" now it was OUR TURN to be stunned! Our room got very silent as she said she had called in some favors and arranged to get a dozen tickets for all of us "Arkies" to go to the game. I'd like to describe Luke and Robert's reaction to this news, but to be honest my heart was in my mouth as I had visions of Busch Stadium in my head. Clearly, we are not big baseball fans. The last time I attended a baseball game was at the Cardinal Winter Camp in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1963. Before that the ONLY baseball game I ever attended was the Cardinals at the original Busch Stadium when I was Robert's age (9). Now I was about to see them play again in the new stadium. Not only that but I was taking my wife and two of our sons. Robert certainly had never been to a major baseball game. His only experience with baseball was two years ago playing youth baseball here in Mountain Home. He enjoyed it but decided the next year to join the swim team. Luke, on the other hand, was a real baseball fan - although he had never been to a major game himself either. Jane has never been into sports but she knew a good deal when she saw one! The opportunity to show the boys a rare experience could not be missed!

The entourage arrived about 12:30 at our hotel. We had JUST enough time to dash over to a nearby mall and purchase Cardinal shirts and hats! The lead car contained our benefactor and she knew exactly how to get there. Thank goodness! We were whisked right up to a parking garage and took the elevator down to the street level which was directly across from Busch Stadium. We walked right out of the elevator into the middle of a sea of red shirts, jackets, and hats. In five minutes we went through the entrance and had a group huddle at the ticket gate. The dozen or so tickets were obviously not all together so she had to delegate tickets to pairs of friends. We were the last ones to get our tickets. She gave me 4 tickets with a small wink and said: "Have fun!". And then we all split up for our respective seats and the agreement to meet back at the parking lot when the game was over.

I looked down at our tickets. All I saw was Section 165, Row F, Seats 1-4. I had no idea where to go. Jane pointed straight up and said "Look!" and there it was - the entrance to our section! As we made our way excitedly through the entrance I wasn't even wondering where we would wind up. I was just glad to be there at all. I believe one of the more overwhelming sights and experiences when attending any sports event is that moment when you first walk out of the entrance tunnel into the actual interior of the stadium. This moment was no exception. The first thing I remember is the grass. The PERFECT grass. Next was the immensity of the stadium itself, followed by the sounds of thousands of excited people. It only lasted a brief moment because we were causing a bottleneck in the crowd. Before I could drink any more in we had to find our seats. I kept looking for a Row "F" but all the rows were numerical, NOT alphabetical. After some confusing searching around we finally asked a stadium official, who pointed us to an aisle that led straight down. She said "The letter rows are down by the field".

DOWN BY THE FIELD………. !!!!?????? You gotta' be kidding!!

And so we wound our way down….. Down past all the numbered sections. We finally found some lettered rows and still we continued down the ramp. My heart was racing and I started sweating, but not from the heat. As we reached the very end of the seating for this section I was incredulous. We had aisle seats just 6 rows from the dugout and left field foul line. What luck! We sat down and looked at each other and then turned around. The entire stadium seemed to be behind and above us! I COULD SMELL THE GRASS! It was simply unbelievable. Two hours ago we were getting ready to leave for Arkansas, and now here we were, precisely at 1:15 PM on Sunday April 15th at Busch Stadium. It was Jackie Robinson Day, and Robert was given a pack of Cardinal baseball cards to honor the event. The Cards were playing the Milwaukee Brewers. There were over 44 thousand people in attendance, and the stadium was immersed in a sea of red. The weather was beautiful. You could not have asked for a better day. It was partly cloudy, so just when you started to feel the heat, the sun would disappear behind a cloud and the cool breeze made it a perfect balance. The Brewers played well which made for some exciting action, but the Cards overwhelmed them 10-2. Every time the Cards scored a homerun the crowd went crazy and fireworks erupted over the stadium.

There was so much to look at. There were two giant JumboTron screens at the end of the outfield and several sets of High-Def monitors that hung over the edge of the two top tiers of seating. These smaller screens were at least twenty feet long and had constant graphics accompanying the game. The JumboTron's switched between live action shots, instant replays, and player stats. They also served as video playback for the special Jackie Robinson video segments displayed during broadcast commercial breaks. The Redbird mascot made several appearances during the game, and towards the end he used some kind of compressed air gun to "shoot" balled-up official Cardinal T-Shirts into the upper stands. There was something going on all the time. We even got caught up in a "wave" which made it around the stadium at least four times before fizzling out. Jane and Luke and I had the obligatory $7.50 Busch beer and $4.50 hot dogs, just to say we did it. Robert bought a large sponge "#1" finger to wear and at each home score he would jump up and wave his foam finger while yelling. It was such a treat for me to see this game through the eyes of our two youngest sons. Luke spent a lot of time text messaging his girlfriend about the game and was every bit as excited as his younger brother. We were almost beaned by a couple of foul balls but never managed to catch one. No matter- just being there was such a thrill for us all.

Click HERE for a Windows Media Clip of the game.

As we left the stadium that day I couldn't help but chuckle to myself- Here we drove up thinking we'd get one over on our friend Lynn and she turns it all around in less than 12 hours and gives us a treat we'd never expect in a hundred years. Incidentally, this is the same woman who gave me two tickets for my birthday to see the Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" tour in 2002. Now THESE are the kind of friends that you really cherish.

It's almost two weeks later and we are still talking about that weekend. Luckily, I had my new digital camera with me so we got lots of great pictures. Not only that but I got some fantastic video of some of the baseball action and crowd reactions. I thought at the time that if I'd had my big camcorder with me the stadium officials would have shut me down, but because I had this little digital camera no one paid attention to me as I snagged some great video footage of a day this family will not likely forget for a long time.

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