“Can I ask you a question about St. Louis?”

A few weeks ago I was traveling home after spending a week away. I was standing in line for a coffee in the Baltimore airport when the woman behind me tapped my shoulder.

“Can I ask you a question about St. Louis?”

With a Cardinals hat on and only one AirPod in, I turned around and just kind of looked at her.

“I’m sorry, I live in Kansas City. Can I ask you a question about St. Louis?”

The woman, incredibly friendly, explained that she moved to Kansas City years ago from the west coast, and started to root for the Royals. And Mizzou. AND Kansas. She told me that during her time in the midwest, she’s gotten to know dozens of Cardinals and Blues fans. She asked what the ‘deal’ with St. Louis is, and seemed to marvel at the connection between the town, the people, and the sports.

‘It’s not like that where I grew up,’ she told me.

I didn’t know what to tell her.

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Imagine we couldn’t find a calendar. Never fear, we can use St. Louis sports to guide us around the sun! It’s pretty remarkable, actually. From Winter Warm Up, to pitchers & catchers reporting. Real (kind of) baseball games. In Florida. Arch Madness, the NCAA Tournament. Opening Day at Busch Stadium, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Flag Day. (Thanks, Claibs.) The MLB All-Star break. Which used to seem EXCRUCIATING. No more complaining about those couple of baseball-less days anymore. The trade deadline. The days after the trade deadline when everyone yells about not being happy with the results of the trade deadline. College football, high school football, hockey starting, October baseball. Guns N’ Hoses. Braggin’ Rights.

‘Hey, everyone is in town so let’s all go to a Blues game tonight, or go watch it at OB Clark’s. Or both!’

New jerseys wrapped and exchanged at the holidays. Tickets purchased, and first trips to the ballpark planned while snow covers the ground.

But 2020 is different. The pages of the calendar were torn up, and taped back together like one of the grade school collages I used to make from a stack of my Mom’s magazines. Technically, the days and weeks and months are moving along in their correct order, but everything that gives meaning to that order has been snatched away from us. That didn’t feel like the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Or Cardinals playoff baseball. Football unceremoniously arrived, and its’ stay remains unclear. Basketball waits nervously in the wings. High school and youth sports have been upended, and county borders are the new box scores.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, when the Cardinals season ended in San Diego last week, 2020 delivered another gut punch.

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Shortly after the Cardinals fell to the Padres on Friday night, the organization announced the passing of Bob Gibson. The players that spoke to the media postgame were emotional. In the span of a month, the baseball world lost Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. Gibson, universally known as one of the fiercest competitors in sports history, battled health problems as a child. No one can argue the odds were ever stacked in Gibson’s favor, yet he became one of the greatest to ever play baseball. I have a hunch that if Gibson chose basketball, or anything else in life, there would be a similarly extraordinary, snarl-filled, Hall of Fame caliber resumé accompanying him.

Ben Frederickson beautifully captured a story from Adam Wainwright recalling time he spent with Gibson more than a decade ago:

“Gibson told Wainwright he would sometimes enter a game without eating so he felt hungry for a win. Gibson told Wainwright he would throw pitches so hard his fingers bled. Gibson told Wainwright he expected to be physically and mentally exhausted after each start.”

This year has taken a toll.

We’ve missed weddings and graduations, family reunions and trips out of town. We couldn’t do the power play dance, or take off work for Opening Day, or order a hot chocolate to chase the Budweiser when the October sun went down and the jackets came out. No one knows what the future holds or when the calendar might come back into focus. But we move forward, fingers bleeding, even if we are physically and mentally exhausted, just like Gibson.

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I let the question hang in mid-air. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what I told that woman at the airport while I waited for a coffee. That moment, like a lot of the last 6 months, was a blur.

But it makes perfect sense to me today.

St. Louis’ ‘deal’ is Bob Gibson. And Lou Brock. And Bob Plager. And countless others. St. Louis’ ‘deal’ is “in good times and in bad.” It’s the bitter taste in your mouth as you walk to the parking lot, season over, a countdown to the next season cued up, days in the triple digits. And it’s also the absolutely indescribable feeling of being the last team left standing, a Bud Light-drenched parade to be planned, a banner waiting to be hung.

St. Louis’ deal is all of that. Even in 2020. Especially in 2020.

I’m not sure that woman will ever stumble across these words, or even remember she asked me that question in the Baltimore airport on September 23. Like these last six months, maybe that day was also a blur for her. But for me, it’s suddenly crystal clear.

Sure, you can ask me a question about St. Louis. I’ll be more than happy to tell you what our ‘deal’ is.

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Oh, and one more thing. I’m thrilled to be joining Dan and the team here at ScoopsWithDannyMac.com. I can’t wait to get going, we have a lot to talk about.

You can hear me Monday-Friday at 12pm, on ScoopsWithDannyMac.com.

I am always available via email at ChristopherHrabe@gmail.com, and on Twitter @chrabe. There are stories to tell, offseason moves to analyze, and pages of the calendar to turn. Now let’s get to work. That’s part of our deal.