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Archive for Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Busch far from Fenway in miles, style

St. Louis’ stadium lacks uniqueness of Boston’s park, but offers Cards a home-field edge

October 26, 2004

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— Players were back in shirt sleeves, and many of the 96 arches atop Busch Stadium were lit by the late-afternoon sun as the Red Sox took batting practice.

It sure wasn't Boston.

It was 78 degrees when the Red Sox worked out Monday in St. Louis' 130-foot high, cookie-cutter ballpark. That was 28 degrees higher than the temperature in Boston, where the Red Sox won Games 1 and 2 of the World Series last weekend.

Boston's quirky Fenway Park, opened in 1912, has its idiosyncrasies: the Green Monster in left, the triangle in center, the Pesky Pole in right and the Cask 'n' Flagon behind The Wall.

Busch Stadium is boring, 330 feet down each foul line, 372 to left and right, 402 feet to center, the eight-foot padded green fence topped by a yellow stripe all the way around. But behind the left-field seats is Eero Saarinen's 630-foot high, stainless steel Gateway Arch, opened in 1967, a year after the ballpark.

And the visiting manager's office has two pictures of Babe Ruth, whose sale by the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1920 may or may not have started The Curse.

Grass replaced artificial turf in 1996, and a hand-operated scoreboard with adjacent flags commemorating the team's World Series titles and retired numbers was erected on much of the outfield upper deck the following year.

This ballpark once was a state-of-the-art tribute to modernism. Now it leaks and is so outmoded that the Cardinals plan to knock it down in 2006 and move to a new $387 million, 46,000-seat Busch Stadium being build behind the outfield and first-base seats.

"They really did a great job turning this from one of those bowls, cookie-cutter stadiums, into a great stadium," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I really love this stadium."

St. Louis was 53-28 at Busch during the regular season, the best home record in the National League, and is 6-0 there during the postseason. A crowd of about 52,000 -- mostly clad in Cardinal red, what else? -- is expected when the Series resumes tonight, with Jeff Suppan starting against Boston's Pedro Martinez.

"I think it's a big edge," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Monday after his team's optional workout. "There's no doubt that the home crowd being excited pumps up the home team."

Boston was 55-26 at Fenway with a .304 average but was just 44-38 on the road and hit .260. Especially before the July 31 acquisition of Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the Red Sox struggled on the road.

"When we went to Toronto or Minnesota or a bigger ballpark. we got exposed," Francona said.

With the move to the NL ballpark, Boston will lose the designated hitter. Not wanting to lose the bat of ALCS MVP David Ortiz, the Red Sox will sit Kevin Millar and start Ortiz at first, where he looks like a carbon copy of former Boston infielder Mo Vaughn.

"He's a big guy, so he doesn't have a lot of range," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said, "but he works pretty well around the bag and his hands are softer than you might think."

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