Hitting The Right Bases In St. Louis

Here's The Score On This Midwestern City As It Steps To The Plate To Host Baseball's All-star Bash

July 12, 2009|By Josh Noel | Josh Noel,Tribune Newspapers

ST. LOUIS - -This is a great baseball town. Cardinals fans know to applaud for a sacrifice bunt, especially when laid down by their pitcher. They know not to applaud when the other team ties the score on a sacrifice fly, even though it means an out for the opponent. They dress in red as if it were the only color on the racks.

And this is a terrible baseball town. The food at Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006, is especially bad; ask 10 Cardinals fans about the best grub in the park, and eight will say the nachos, which are basically the same nachos you find at every other park. Fans do the wave when their team is down by eight runs in the eighth inning. And the streets surrounding the park are largely a charmless sprawl of chain hotels, predictable sports bars and parking garages.

But anyone looking for a fresh take on St. Louis are in luck - if they know where to look. This year's Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, and rather than visit the same old haunts, we headed to the All-Star city to scout out its most all-star experiences.

These tips aren't just for All-Star weekend. They're good for any weekend of baseball in St. Louis.

Before the game

It all starts where you wake up. Though downtown is full of hotels, you can find neighborhood flair at the Moonrise Hotel (moonrisehotel.com; 877-872-1122), which opened in April in the Delmar Loop, a neighborhood six miles west of Busch. Built by developer Joe Edwards, the Moonrise is a boutique hotel with excellent service, cool amenities and a popular rooftop bar with panoramic views of downtown.

"This is the happening buzz of the city," said Derrick Martin, 42, at the Moonrise bar on a Friday night. "You could go to downtown, which is decent on a Saturday night, but on Sunday a tumbleweed could blow down the street."

But back to breakfast. If you stay at Moonrise, start the day at Meshuggah Cafe (meshuggahcafe.com; 314-726-5662), an independent coffee shop where the java is made one espresso-based cup at a time, and the breakfast sandwiches - scrambled eggs and some combination of veggies and meat - are cheap, hearty and delicious.

The best thing about spending the first part of your day in the Delmar Loop before going to a Cardinals game is that the Metro Link ($2.25 a ride) connects the neighborhood to the stadium - an advantage in a city that's hard to negotiate without a car.

If you're up early enough that you have time between eating and the game - or if it's a night game - check out one of the most mind-bending museums ever, where kids will smile nonstop: City Museum (citymuseum.org; 314-231-2489).

Housed in a 600,000-square-foot former shoe factory, this museum, founded in 1997 by sculptor Bob Cassilly, is a salute to imagination, packed with the surreal, the surprising and the incredibly fun.

During the game

As baseball becomes more of a rich person's sport - and that's just being a fan, not a $20 million draft pick - the Cardinals offer a brilliant option: First Pitch Tickets. For every home game, at 9 a.m., near Gate 3, the Cardinals make available 275 vouchers, good for a pair of tickets to that day's game. Ten minutes before first pitch, fans redeem their vouchers for $11 and get a random pair of tickets, anywhere from standing room to an "all-inclusive area," where unlimited food and beer are part of the deal.

"It's great," said Tony Phillips, 29, a youth director for a Catholic church, who has won both kinds of tickets. "I do it all the time."

Truth is, no matter where you wind up in Busch, you're in for a good view. During the couple of games I attended, I sat in every part of the park, and except for the obvious - high behind the foul poles - there wasn't a bad spot. The best deals, other than First Pitch Tickets, are the standing-room areas along the third- and first-base lines ($16), the lower bleachers ($22) and the infield terrace reserved ($25), which are near home plate.

The seats closest to the field - called Cardinals Club ($250) - are, of course, the most expensive, in part because they come with food service. But season ticket-holder Mark Kelley, 54, of Dexter, Mo., gave up his Cardinals Club seats to move about six rows back, into the infield field box seats ($89) behind home plate.

"The beer was always hot and the food always cold," Kelley said. "I'd rather be back here with these lifers."

After the game

First, a word for the most obvious of attractions after a Cardinals game: the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as The Arch (nps.gov/jeff; 314-655-1700). It's just a few blocks east of the park, and getting to the top is a reasonable $10 for adults ($5 for children through age 15). If you want to skip the sports bars, walk to nearby music at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups (bbsjazzbluessoups.com; 314-436-5222) a couple of blocks from the stadium. The savviest Cardinals fans will be there in their red and white jerseys, but the place is about music first - usually rollicking - and food second.

After three hours of sitting in the stadium, you may well be up for a walk. Check out Washington Avenue, which sits seven blocks north and a few blocks west of the park. From sushi to tapas to an Irish pub and high-end bowling, it's a bit of a scene; on one Saturday night it seemed as if every bachelorette party in metro St. Louis converged there. But it's a good bet if you want one of the better collections of food and drink in the city.

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