This wasn't supposed to be the Cardinals team that claimed the organization's 10th World Series championship. Not when the 2004 squad, which steamrolled its way to a Major League-best 105 victories, was upended by Boston in a stunning sweep. Not when the 2005 unit, which featured the National League's Most Valuable Player (Albert Pujols) and Cy Young Award winner (Chris Carpenter), fell victim to Houston's revenge.
Certainly not when a series of injuries and eight-game losing streaks nearly torpedoed its chances of even making the playoffs until the last day of the regular season.
But somehow, it was the 2006 group that emerged as the last one standing when Adam Wainwright rung up yet another strikeout to finish off the surprisingly overmatched Tigers in Game 5 of the Fall Classic. Or maybe "standing" is the wrong way to describe the final moments, as the Cardinals danced across the not-quite-year-old infield of new Busch Stadium before piling on top of one another in triumphant celebration.
Five months later, another winter has passed and the boys in red and white are rounding into shape on the sun-drenched fields of Florida. With most key members of the World Series championship roster back, the Cardinals will be eyeing a return to the postseason stage when they kick off the regular season against the Mets -- last year's opponents in an epic National League Championship Series -- at 7:05 p.m. CT on Sunday.
And yet, for all the excitement that comes with a brand new season, it's hard to let go of the feeling that last year's team inspired. There's something undeniably sweet about last year's unlikely climb to the top, when few gave the Redbirds a fighting chance to survive in any of the playoff rounds.
Those who aren't quite ready to let the 2006 squad be relegated to the impermanent cushions of the memory banks should check out the Cardinals Opening Day Commemorative Collection at the MLB.com Shop. With T-shirts, caps, jerseys and fleeces, fans can dress for success by donning the gear of the team that refused to quit.
Another great way to relive that championship feeling is by being able to replay it on your TV screen at any time. The 2006 World Series Collector's Edition Box Set contains every pitch, hit and crucial error of the series, while DVDs of each individual game are also available.
There are also ways to commemorate the accomplishments of the key performers in the Cards' run. Who can forget how David Eckstein helped the team wrest control of the series and then put the Tigers away with eight hits and four RBIs over the final three games? You can pay tribute to the 'Little Engine that Could' with an authentic David Eckstein home jersey, which comes with a 2006 World Series patch on the right sleeve. Or you can opt for the jersey of another unlikely hero in Yadier Molina, whose bat came alive at the right time of year.
Speaking of bats, you can relive the team's clutch hitting performance throughout the series with a Cooperstown Bat Company 2006 World Series Bat. The Tigers certainly didn't make things easy with their collection of flame-throwing pitchers, but Eckstein, Molina, Scott Rolen and the rest found a way to grind out at-bats and make their hits count.
And what about the thrilling defeat of the Mets that propelled them into the World Series? With NLCS gear still available, fans can recall the seesaw series that came down to Molina's blast and Wainwright's gutsy performance in the final inning of Game 7.
Time will tell what becomes of this year's version of the Cardinals as they begin their quest to become the first team since the 2000 Yankees to win back-to-back World Series championships. Until then, fans can savor the memories of last year's squad, a unique group of guys who stepped up to return a proud franchise to the ultimate winner's circle.
Tim Ott is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.