Photo by Bill Roseberry
CM pitcher Tyler Andrus prepares to deliver a pitch April 25 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Andrus earned the start against rival Roxana, as the Eagles went on to win 6-2. Playing at Busch is an annual tradition for local high school baseball players, one that never gets old.
For many it’s the mecca of baseball — the hallowed grounds of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis.
For a plethora of St. Louis Cardinal fans just getting to walk across the grass or sit in the dugout would be a memorable experience, but to play a game there? That would be something to check off the bucket list.
The Cardinal organization offers that opportunity for local high school teams, and on April 25 the Civic Memorial Eagles and Roxana Shells played on the major league stage. CM earned the bragging rights with a 6-2 victory.
The amateur game program began 39 years ago, starting at old Busch prior to the opening of the new stadium in 2006.
That first game pitted St. Louis’ Lutheran North and Lutheran South against each other. The Cardinals anticipate to house 30 high school contests this season, featuring mainly teams from Illinois and Missouri, but teams as far away as Kentucky and Iowa have made the trek in the past.
The Marquette Catholic Explorers had their game at Busch against Hillsboro, Mo., on April 18. The Alton Redbirds are set to battle Mascoutah at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 17.
One thing is for sure, playing on the field at Busch never gets old for the players.
“It’s great; the field is so nice and it’s just overwhelming out here,” CM senior Devin Daniels said. Daniels had three hits and two standup triples in the Eagles’ win over the Shells. “I think it makes you play harder and focus more. The adrenaline’s going and it’s a great time.”
Daniels didn’t take too much credit for his two triples in the game, though it’s something he won’t soon forget.
“It was exciting; I love it,” he said, grinning. “It was just luck, I guess. I guess I’m seeing it through the bat good and connecting good. I’m just thankful for that.”
Roxana senior pitcher Josh Rudd got the nod as the starting pitcher for the Shells. With CM as the visitor, Rudd hiked it to the mound to throw the first pitch. It’s something he won’t soon forget.
“It was a great experience to go out there and pitch,” Rudd said. “We came up here last year and I got an inning to pitch, but coming out here and getting the start was pretty cool. It just feels a lot bigger, a lot further away than it does on a regular baseball field. It’s a bigger atmosphere; awesome, though.”
Rudd had a simple definition of the pristine shape of the mound, too.
“Perfect,” he said.
CM starter Tyler Andrus echoed that sentiment. The senior hurler for the Eagles also was getting his first start in a Busch game and embraced the honor.
“To play and pitch where a lot of postseason heroes have pitched, that’s what did it for me,” Andrus said. “I was real excited to be out there and pitch. I played two innings last year, but I didn’t get to pitch.
“The mound is absolutely perfect. There are no divots or anything; it’s just absolutely perfect.”
Adding to the excitement was the familiarity between the Eagles and the Shells. Roxana junior shortstop Chance Foss, who picked up a pair of hits and runs in the game and got to pitch a little, said it was nice to share the experience with CM.
“You know everybody here and it’s different than playing a team where you don’t know anybody,” Foss said. “It’s definitely fun. We came up here last year and played Nashville under the lights.”
Rudd added, “We grew up playing these guys. I’ve been playing against these guys my whole life, starting with select ball. We wanted to win this game, but I don’t know, it’s more of an experience.”
For first-year Roxana head coach Scott Harper, scheduling CM was a no-brainer. He knew it would add to the experience and be fun sharing the big-league stage with a friendly rivalry.
“Both sides, we’re making it fun for the kids,” Harper said. “Having those guys coming from the same philosophy and same approach makes it nice. I’ve coached a long time alongside Gary (Bruening) and these guys, so it’s nice to get here and we knew it would be an easy game from that standpoint.”
Harper also touched on some of the amenities improving the game over the last few years. The jumbotron is now utilized during high school games and Cardinal public address announcer John Ulett is on hand to introduce players.
“The Cardinals are first class,” Harper said. “By them adding those things to it, it really makes it worth it. We push it to sell tickets to get to come here, so them doing those extra things like getting their name announced, getting walk-up music, it really is a nice touch.”
Foss liked it so much he had an interesting wish.
“I wish this was our home field,” he said, smiling.
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