Fans share memories of Busch

Fans share memories of Busch

ST. LOUIS -- It was just an hour before the scheduled start time of the Cardinals' final regular-season game at Busch Stadium, and the streets and sidewalks outside the stadium were still crammed with Cardinals fans waiting to get inside the gates.

As far as one could see, red and white shirts wrapped around the streets and the stadium.

Not too far from the Stan Musial statue stood a familiar, yet odd character -- Paul Pagano. The 82-year old looked like a walking bulletin board. On his head Pagano wore a hat that read, "Cardinals thanks for the memories." Draped around his neck were red Mardi Gras beads and a sign hanging about stomach-high that read "Cardinals, it was an exciting year. Thanks for the memories."

Pagano has been the biggest cheerleader of the St. Louis sports scene for the past 25 years. He came to Busch Stadium on Sunday -- just like 50,000 other fans did -- to pay his last respects and reflect on 40 years of memories in the stadium.

"There are a lot of good memories," Pagano said. "In 1982 I was on the same page as Ozzie Smith in the [St. Louis Post-Dispatch], dancing with some woman."

Pagano is like many other fans that were at the Sunday matinee in which the Cardinals defeated the Reds, 7-5. He is fond of the stadium, but is excited for the new era when the new Busch Stadium opens in 2006.

"Everything comes to an end sooner or later," Pagano said. "It's finally the end of Busch, but we'll get used to the new stadium."

Lisa Hauser goes to about eight games a year. She came to the final regular-season game at the stadium with her boyfriend Fran King.

"I don't think they needed to tear it down, but whatever," Hauser said. "We've got a new ballpark and we'll still play ball and win, you know?"

What Hauser remembers most about the stadium has nothing to do with the structure. She believes Cardinals fans are the best in baseball and it's the reason she keeps coming back. Her most memorable moment came last October in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, when the Cardinals clinched a spot in the World Series.

"It was fun," Hauser said. "When you get that many people together and no problems, that's amazing. You don't ever have any problems with fans down here."

For some fans, like Laura Winkelmann and Kim Gage, the goodbye to Busch Stadium was sentimental because it's the spot they watched their first baseball game.

Winkelmann attended her first game when she was 6 years old. The tickets her father got from his job allowed them to go on the field -- an experience she still remembers vividly.

"I remember my dad got these tickets from work and we got to go on the field and Fredbird would pretend to eat our head," Winkelman said.

In 1987, Gage was in the sixth grade. Her first memory is of Tommy Herr's walk-off grand slam against the New York Mets on Seat Cushion Night. After Herr's home run, fans threw their seat cushions onto the field in celebration. Although Gage didn't remember the seat cushions, she remembers her reaction as a 12-year-old.

"I was excited, I was just in sixth grade," Gage said. "To see everyone in the stadium erupt, it was really neat."

For most, coming to the last regular-season game at Busch was not so much about celebrating the stadium, but rather Cardinals baseball and the fans who support it. Hauser points out the difference between fans in Boston last year, who rioted and started fires after winning the World Series, and Cardinals fans.

"We could have done that," Hauser said. "We could have torn down the stadium ourselves, after being swept, but we didn't because we have the best fans in baseball."

Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.