Cardinals' new stadium earns positive responses

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- In some ways, it looked like old times as Cardinals fans gathered for the game Tuesday night.

Nearly all of the sellout crowd was, as usual, dressed in red. Many milled outside the ballpark near the Stan Musial statue, a bronzed memorial to "baseball's perfect warrior."

But the statue was in a new place -- outside the $365 million new Busch Stadium, which was christened Tuesday with an exhibition game between the Cardinals' top two minor-league teams, something of a dress rehearsal to make sure the ballpark is ready when the Cardinals host Milwaukee in Monday's home opener.

Class AA Springfield beat Class AAA Memphis 5-3.

Fans -- even those who cried when the old multipurpose Busch Stadium shut down after the Cardinals lost Game 6 of the National League Championship Series to Houston last season -- were impressed with the new place.

"I wanted to hate it, but I can't," said Rich Kramer, 68, of suburban St. Louis. "We're still in love with the old stadium. We have a lot of good memories there. But we're going to give this one a chance."

Jim Weissler, 52, a pharmacist from Springfield, and his wife, Jean, made the trip to see the Class AA team play. But mostly, he wanted to see the new ballpark.

"I went to the opening of the old stadium, I had the honor of going to Game 6 that was the last game there, and now I'm at the first game at the new Busch. And it is awesome," Weissler said.

A frantic construction schedule that included around-the-clock work through the winter was mostly finished. As expected, part of the left-field stands won't open until perhaps midseason.

Fans had a few minor quibbles. Some were surprised by the stadium's proximity to Interstate 64 -- those in the concourse can hear the traffic rumble by. And the Cardinals are still working out a glitch in which too few women's restrooms were built.

Mostly, there were positives.

The turf installed less than a month ago was lush and well-manicured.

Fans also gushed over the picturesque view of the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse and the downtown landscape, a view made available by an open area of left-center.

That same view makes it clear that much work remains outside the stadium, too. In the months and years to come, a "Ballpark Village" of condominiums, shops and restaurants will be developed in and around the site of the old Busch. Already, construction crews are busying that area -- a large crane towered over the left-field upper deck.

"I think it's fabulous," said Paul Freimann, 49, who came from Springfield. "I love the way the stadium fits into the city, the way you can see the Arch from the stands. I think it will be great for the city of St. Louis."

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