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Ballpark Village at Busch a smashing success

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ST. LOUIS -- That's a winner.

Jack Buck's signature game-ending call for a St. Louis victory also seems to be an appropriate description from Cardinals fans who braved the rain and experienced the new Ballpark Village for the first time on Monday on Opening Day.

"Just look at everybody out here on a rainy day," said N.C. Huffman, who traveled more than 200 miles from Springfield, Mo., to be a part of the opener. "It shows what a Cardinal fan is all about. I am 57 and a lifetime fan. I grew up listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck. It was like a summer soundtrack for me."

Huffman, who has made it to the home opener almost every year since 1996, loves the additions.

"I have been waiting for something like this since the new stadium opened," he said. "It is great to see it come to fruition, and it is a big day for St. Louis. The ownership had a vision, and they are to be commended with the end product. I had high expectations coming here, and they certainly lived up to those expectations."

The approximately 120,000-square-foot multistory first part of the multiphase project is visible beyond the center-field wall and is designed to look like an extension of Busch Stadium.

"This is definitely what Cardinal Nation is all about," said Craig Smith, a St. Louis resident. "I think they have taken things to a new level with this, and I love it. The atmosphere is great. The venue is wide open, and I think there is something for everyone, from [age] 1 to 100. I can see 5,000 to 6,000 coming out here on a nice summer night to watch a game on the big screen."

The first phase of Ballpark Village is anchored by Cardinals Nation Restaurant and Bar, the Budweiser Brew House, FOX Sports Midwest Live!, PBR St. Louis-A Cowboy Bar, Howl at the Moon and Drunken Fish.

Ballpark Village features five performance stages, the largest retractable roof of its kind in the U.S., one of the biggest indoor TV screens in the Midwest and an outdoor festival space that re-creates the infield of the previous Busch Stadium in its exact former location.

Suzanne Effinger of Affton, Mo., was among the first to visit Ballpark Village during its grand opening on March 27.

"I stood in line for an hour and a half to see the band Third Eye Blind," Effinger said. "I think Ballpark Village is a lot of fun and has a lot to offer with the restaurant and bars. After the concert we watched the Blues game on the 40-foot screen. I will certainly be back. I can envision a lot of watch parties, even if you don't have tickets for the game or if they are on the road. It will be a fun place to go before the game and a lot of fun for people from out of town."

St. Louis native Kathy Parker thinks Ballpark Village will be a popular destination year-round.

"There is nothing better in St. Louis than the St. Louis Cardinals," Parker said. "I can even come here in the offseason when I have my winter withdrawals when there is no baseball."

Parker attends a lot of games but can picture herself watching a game in Ballpark Village when she does not have a ticket.

"I did not expect it to be this cool," she said. "I am absolutely overwhelmed. I like the way that it is all together and connected. I think this is going to be quite the meeting place."

Even so, she added it will never be the top place for meeting up with friends and fellow Cardinals fans.

"That will be the Stan Musial statue," she said. "That is still No. 1."

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

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