In his final home game at Coors Field, in his last at-bat as the core of the Colorado Rockies, Nolan Arenado lost a seven-pitch duel against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
After fouling off three consecutive pitches, Arenado succumbed to Kershaw’s Hall of Fame slider. Swing and a miss. No one knew it at the time, but this was the end for Arenado in Denver. A depressing season would close with a dismal 6-1 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 19, 2020. Arenado walked to the dugout, walked into the offseason, walked into the unknown.
There had to be a better place for this third baseman and his exquisite brand of baseball. If only Arenado could look into the future. Well, he did take a peek. He’s always admired the Cardinals. Their success, their history, their way of playing baseball — and all of it backed by a passionate fan base.
Arenado may have envisioned the dreamscape that awaited him. But he couldn’t be sure that his final home game as a Rockie would be the starting point of a journey that led him to St. Louis, the Cardinals, and into Busch Stadium for the first home game of a new baseball life.
A good day to start anew.
It was a cool, overcast afternoon that billowed into early evening. The Cardinals were stirring. The ballpark became a theater. The star clutched a baseball bat, his demeanor set to optimum intensity. Arenado promptly gave a performance the audience will never forget.
With a runner on first in the eighth inning of a tense 1-1 game, Arenado jumped on a first-pitch fastball, a sphere traveling 96 miles per hour, fired by Brewers reliever Drew Rasmussen.
Oh, that sound.
To use the words of Bernard Malamud, it was “a noise like a twenty-one gun salute cracked the sky.”
Arenado knew it. Rasmussen knew it. The Brewers, the Cardinals and everyone at Busch Stadium knew it. And if you were watching at home, fired up by Dan McLaughlin’s perfect call of Arenado’s shot on Bally Sports Midwest, you may have expected the baseball to crash through the screen and land on your sofa.
Arenado’s swing of destiny could have come from a novel, but this was real. Definitely real. Stunningly real. The swing generated a thunderclap in the Busch gloaming. The two-run homer gave the Cardinals a 3-1 triumph, a fourth consecutive victory, and fomented an indelible memory.
Spectacular. Dramatic. April shivers. The chill in the air, the chill in your reaction. In their first day at the ballpark in one year, five months and 27 days, euphoric fans let loose after waiting, all of the worrying, during a pandemic that’s taken so much away.
And now this: The biggest trade of the offseason results in a home run that travels violently and quickly. Spirits are enlivened and uplifted, and the good times are back again, hours after the fans were allowed to come back again.
The fans summoned their new baseball hero from the dugout.
A grateful Arenado acknowledged the cheers. He turned and waved. It was the sweetest shared experience on the happiest of days. The drizzle and the clouds formed a proper setting. If it seemed that darkness was coming early, Arenado stepped up and supplied the power to light up the yard. This wasn’t just a ballgame. It was a revival. For the fans, and for Arenado.
It’s impossible to top this Home Opening Day.
The Cardinals played a game with cheering fans in the seats for the first time in 544 days.
The Cardinals won the day with a spirited, late-inning comeback against a strong division rival. Brewers starter Corbin Burnes dominated the Cards over six hushed innings, but the home team stayed persistent.
In what could be their final season together in St. Louis, Adam Wainwright was pitching to Yadier Molina. That added to the natural emotion of the day.
And the emotions were deep. The organization celebrated Mike Shannon’s 5oth and final year in the KMOX broadcast booth.
We were touched by the moving paeans to the late Bob Gibson and Lou Brock.
There was Arenado’s highly anticipated debut in classic home-white Birds on the Bat uniform. The famous insignia stretched across his chest, somehow making Arenado bigger, stronger and more formidable.
Arenado rose to the level of this eminent occasion by putting his signature on the sky with a majestic home run that landed in Cardinals lore.
The mighty blow was a gift to his new fans and a resounding thank you to the ownership and management that acquired him from the Rockies.
The game-winning homer was a tribute to the living Hall of Famers in the red jackets who brightened Thursday with their presence. The homer soared in the direction of the fallen Cardinal icons that watched from seats in a higher place.
Gibson, Brock, Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst couldn’t be here, but Arenado symbolically honored their greatness by adding greatness on our town’s most traditional, sentimental and cherished baseball day of the year.
Arenado’s sensational premier in his new home was the complete opposite of that final sad day in his old home. That farewell was sealed by a Kershaw strikeout and a trudge to the dugout. Arenado sealed his first day in St. Louis with flair and audacity. The perfect timing. The pressure. The strength of a stupendous swing, followed by a glorious home-run trot and a profound moment that aligned the past, the present and the future.
It’s good to be home.
“I have no hesitation to say that St. Louis is a great place in which to live and work,” the wonderful Musial once said, in his understated and sincere way.
Arenado is here now. Part of The Man’s town, part of The Man’s team, part of this baseball family.
May all of his days in St. Louis be as happy as the first.
Thanks for reading …
Check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.