Cardinals character

Monday, November 7, 2011

At times in sports, we are fortunate to experience moments that are more about life than they are about the game. It's even more fun when it's your team.

The historic run of the St. Louis Cardinals to the 11th World Championship in their storied history provided pitch perfect lessons about perseverance, grit, prayer and another word uttered by countless players, coaches, broadcasters, fans and even casual observers: Character.

How else to explain the fortunes of one of history's great baseball teams that in late August was 10 1/2 games behind in the race for the National League Wild Card? They squeaked into the playoffs one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves. The Cardinals beat the team with the best record in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, they put away the division champion Milwaukee Brewers to win the National League, and they became one of baseball's all-time highlights with a World Series win over the Texas Rangers. In each of these series, they came from behind to improbable wins. Each time, they surprised everyone but themselves.

The point of highest drama in the playoffs is also the best example of the character of this team. After the late-game heroics of Game 6, manager Tony LaRussa went to his players and told them to forget all about the night before. The St. Louis Cardinals gathered up the emotions, the elation, the excitement of winning the biggest game of their lives … and they forgot all about it. They put aside the thrill of a victory that kept them up all night long and came to work the next day with focus, intensity and the will to win again.

Great character depends sometimes on forgetting all about how you got to where you are and putting everything you have into going where you want to go. For the heroes of this World Series, forgetting all about one game meant they would be able to look back at an entire season with pride in a tremendous accomplishment.

We all encounter moments in life when character makes huge differences. For our families, it means sticking together through tough times or illness or tragedy. For students, it means not giving up when you set about the task of earning the grade you know you deserve. For Americans at their jobs, it means keeping sharp skills that make our workforce the most formidable in the world. And for our soldiers, character marks the difference between life and death, not just for them, but for their brothers and sisters in uniform.

A goal is a powerful thing. It's not just an ideal outcome; setting a goal requires us to commit to the planning, the hard work, all that is necessary to achieve what we've set our minds to do. In the process, we often exceed our own expectations, improve our communities, and inspire others. The St. Louis Cardinals are the latest and greatest example of that kind of goal-setting and achievement.

And if you look closely at the St. Louis Cardinals, you will see a group of players, staff and an organization at large who are deeply committed to ideas of service and sacrifice -- off the field as well as on it. From efforts to honor the life and service of Stan Musial to the children's advocacy of the Cardinals Care not-for-profit foundation, the team plays a positive role in the lives of its supporters.

The lessons of character transcend political beliefs and even our allegiance to our favorite baseball teams. But, for my part, I am glad the Cardinals won with class and character, and I am glad they are my team, too.

Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau represents Missouri's 8th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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