ST. LOUIS -- For the third consecutive day, the Cardinals held a pregame ceremony to honor the 40-year history of Busch Stadium in its final season.
But unlike the past two, Sunday's ceremony was all about the fans.
From Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's speech to the national anthem sung by a standing-room-only crowd, Sunday's festivites were about 40 seasons of some of the most loyal fans in baseball, affectionately known as "Cardinal Nation."
"To all of you in St. Louis, I am pleased to tell you that all of us in Major League Baseball appreciate your magnificent support of baseball and your devotion to your beloved St. Louis Cardinals," said Selig in his speech.
Since 2001, the Cardinals are one of just four teams to finish in the top 10 in attendance each season. The other three are the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. And in the past 10 years, the team has averaged three million in attendance. This season the Cardinals set a new single-season high with 3,538,988.
"Today is the ultimate fan appreciation day -- the final regular-season game in the remarkable 40-year history of Busch stadium," Cardinals owner William DeWitt said in a speech. "Remarkable because of the great accomplishments on the field by many talented and gifted players -- a number of who are with us today -- division titles, National League Pennants, World Championships, Hall of Fame players -- countless memories. Remarkable for its tremendous support from baseball's best fans, who have made all of this success possible."
The ceremony began with Selig's speech and was followed by DeWitt's.
The ceremonial pitch was thrown and caught by the two men who have watched more Cardinals games at Busch Stadium than anyone: Former Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst and former player and current broadcaster Mike Shannon.
As another tribute to "the best fans in baseball" and the United States, Lewis the Bald Eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary hovered in pre-flight over the mound before the National Anthem.
The final regular-season national anthem traditionally is sung by the fans. A video clip of Joe Buck -- the son of longtime Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck -- is aired, inviting everyone to sing a long.
On Sunday, 50,434 fans (the largest crowd of 2005) sang in unison in a tribute to Cardinal Nation and Cardinal baseball. Without the two Busch Stadium would be nothing more than cement blocks.
"St. Louis baseball is synonymous with excellence in all phases of the game," Selig said. "Busch Stadium has served the community and baseball well. Soon it will be time for a new ballpark and knowing Cardinals ownership and management as well as I do, it will be the finest in the big leagues and it will make all of you proud to call yourselves fans of the St. Louis Cardinals."
Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.