A dazzling debut for new Busch

A dazzling debut for new Busch

ST. LOUIS -- The freshness and sparkle of the new Busch Stadium was on full display on a clear, cool and calm Tuesday evening as the venue's first game finally took place. Judging by the buzz and conversation flowing throughout the stadium, this project is already a mammoth success.

The first pitch came right at 6:10 CT amid a stadium full of flashing cameras and mobile phones pointing toward the action to capture a bit of history. The sellout crowd was announced as 32,255.

The Triple-A Springfield Cardinals beat the Double-A Memphis Redbirds, 5-3, in a game many will not soon forget. Though many of the players on these teams will eventually get, at least, a taste of Major League action, for most, it was a realized dream. Springfield won, 5-3.

"I've never been in a big-league ballpark before. It's really sleek. Just standing around and seeing things from the inside is really special," said Springfield outfielder Reid Gorecki, 26.

"When we look back and take into account what we were a part of, it will really sink in."

The big-league Cardinals begin play in their new home next Monday at 3:10 p.m. against the Brewers.

"If our guys aren't enjoying this, they are not human," said Memphis manager Danny Sheaffer. "Although it will be even more exciting when they have on that actual Cardinals uniform on to play baseball for St. Louis. Ultimately, this is the goal, to get here."

Baseball America named the Cardinals' Minor League system 21st in baseball, a big step from its last-place ranking it had in two of the past five years.

The stadium's first homer was a solo shot from Memphis outfielder Shaun Boyd in the top of the fifth off of Sidney Ponson, who is hopeful to soon join the big-league club. Other familiar names to Cardinals fans on the Memphis roster included: Alan Benes, Carmen Cali, Anthony Reyes, Dennis Tankersly, Travis Hanson, Junior Spivey, John Gall and Chris Duncan.

Ponson pitched six innings, allowing seven hits and two earned runs on 77 pitches.

The game sold out well in advance, and downtown St. Louis was full of revelers all afternoon, eager to see the newest Busch Stadium. It may have been a Minor League game, but local sports bars and eateries had fans spilling out of their patios hours before Tuesday's game. Folks were lined up before the gates even opened and a mild roar could be heard as the first people began to enter shortly after 4 p.m.

"You look around this atmosphere and it's like 'wow'. Kind of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and you're a little kid," said Springfield hitting coach Joe Cunningham. "It's quite an honor to be part of this history.

"This whole facility is full of class. They've taken things to the next level."

Throughout Monday's game, fans and media could be seen wandering around, attempting to not only discover everything the stadium has to offer, but to find necessities such as bathrooms, elevators and concessions. One was hard-pressed to find any conversation centering around the game itself, or even the big-league club. The entire night revolved around the stadium and this trend is likely to continue for quite awhile.

Though many thought of the game as a rehearsal of sorts, it had the look and feel of a professional game. The new posh scoreboard, video screen and live in-game video screen were each fully functioning and impressive. The large, high-resolution video screen, in particular, gained much fan attention with its vivid replays. It is located in right-center field, underneath an enormous Budweiser sign that is decorated with an old-school Cardinals clock adorned with two Bird-on-the-bat icons.

The video and new concession offerings were the most talked about features, except for one: the Arch. The St. Louis emblem towers over the field. The combination of baseball and this skyline will undoubtedly be used by media to portray a slice of Americana for generations to come. The Arch highlights an impressive cityscape of hotels and office buildings that are highly visible from nearly anywhere in Busch.

"The Arch was the first thing I saw coming right out of the dugout," said Springfield outfielder Tyler Parker, 25. "I really like the Jumbotron and there are so many seats. What a great ballpark."

Parker added: "I think a lot of us are just taken aback about the fact it is the first game. We'll be part of the first hit, first strikeout, first everything, so it's something special we're experiencing."

One other topic being freely talked about was the stadium's much improved sight lines. A couple of jaunts around the stadium verified that there really are no bad seats, especially compared to the old Busch, which left some fans cluless when the ball went into the deep outfield. The sight lines are similar to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in that no areas are obstructed from the action.

"We came out earlier today and they all just kept looking around and I was doing the same thing. We have a lot of players knocking on the door to play in the big leagues and now they are getting a chance to see what that feels like," Cunningham said.

An hour before the game, crowds were scanning the pavement outside the stadium in search of bricks with their name on it. As part of a promotion, people were allowed to purchase in advance small bricks that displayed one or more names. However, it seemed the specific location of these bricks was unknown.

Despite the Cardinals being in Philadelphia, managing partner and chairman Bill DeWitt and GM Walt Jocketty were on hand and before the game could be seen proudly showing folks around the field.

Also adding to the big-event atmosphere was the abundance of TV cameras. Though FSN, the Cardinals' primary television network, originally planned to use the game as a rehearsal, it decided to go ahead and televise the game. High ratings are expected for the broadcast, which could not even be set up until game day because of ongoing construction.

FSN hopes everything will be smoothed out by next Monday.

"That will be the largest single production in the history of FSN Midwest," said Mark Hulsey, FSN's executive producer.

Before heading on their current road trip, the Cardinals took batting practice on Sunday. Albert Pujols launched a homer that cleared the bleachers in left field and reportedly landed somewhere near Clark Street.

"It might have bounced there, sure," La Russa said on Sunday. "If it bounced much, it certainly did. ... We just had a perfect workout. The field was -- spectacular, really."

The Cardinals end April with 17 of 20 games at new Busch.

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