The Arch At Sunrise

Spring Break for my family meant that I could leave home early this morning; a clear sky meant that I was able to do something I’ve never done before, which is to stroll around the Gateway Arch grounds at sunrise.

It was a combination of my favorite photographic subject and my favorite time of day.

Click on the thumbnails below for some of the results.

List: Top Five Crushing Disappointments For St. Louis Sports Fans

This is going to hurt a while.

It was supposed to be Mizzou’s year: a team full of seniors who played above expectations all season, ranked No. 3 nationally going into the NCAA Basketball Tournament. They were poised to become the first Missouri team to make it to the Final Four.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, an ignominious loss in the first round to a No. 15 seed, only the fifth time in history that has ever happened. No, this will not be soon forgotten.

Is it the worst disappointment ever for a St. Louis or Missouri sports team? I can’t say that right now—way too fresh. It will definitely be in the top five. The others? Here are a few I can pull from my memory right now.

5) Steve Swisher. It was the end of the 1974 baseball regular season, and the Cardinals had a shot to make the playoffs. But in order for them to make it, they needed the Pirates to lose their last game, and the Cardinals would have to win an earlier-postponed game, and then beat the Pirates in a playoff. It was a longshot, but they had a shot.

Unfortunately, though, the Pirates were playing the Cubs in that last game. And even then, the Cubs were about to win it. I forget the exact circumstances, but it was either the ninth or 10th inning (here’s the box score); there was some kind of dispute or misplay that so enraged Cubs catcher Steve Swisher that he took his glove off and slammed it on the ground. Problem was, the ball was in the glove, the play was still live, and Pittsburgh had runners on base. One of the runners scored, Pittsburgh won the game, and like that, the Cardinals’ season was over. (Steve Swisher later became a Cardinal, but I never forgave him.)

4) The St. Louis Stallions. We were all hyped up; we’d lost the football Cardinals a few years earlier, but that was OK because they were an embarrassment. By the mid-90s, St. Louis was poised to land an expansion NFL team. We had a new stadium all planned out, and even a name for the team: the St. Louis Stallions. But when the NFL made the announcement of its expansion team, it was Jacksonville, Fla., that got the nod instead of St. Louis. Jacksonville! We ultimately had to resort to stealing a team from Los Angeles.

3) Tyus Edney. Mizzou was looking surprisingly good in the 1995 NCAA tournament; they’d beaten Indiana in the first round, and were beating up on No. 1 seed UCLA in the second round, dominating for basically the whole game. Their bracket had had several early upsets, and if Mizzou could pull off the upset over UCLA, they had a clear path to the Final Four.

But with 4.8 seconds to go, UCLA was within one point. They inbounded the ball to guard Tyus Edney, who raced untouched the length of the court for a layup. Wikipedia called it “one of the most famous plays in NCAA Tournament history.” Game over, season over, and yet another early exit from the tournament for the Tigers.  UCLA, of course, waltzed down that path that had stretched in front of Missouri, and the Bruins ended up winning the national championship that year.

2) Super Bowl XXXVI. You also read about it here. The Rams were an even better team that season than the team that had won it all two years earlier, and they were playing a Patriots team that had come out of nowhere, a team that, except for one Super Bowl appearance more than 15 years earlier, had spent its whole existence in NFL obscurity. It should have been a cakewalk for the Rams. But somehow the Patriots made a game of it, and as the clock wound down toward the final gun, there was Adam Vinateri, kicking the field goal that Rams fans will never forget.

1) 1985 World Series. Like those 2001 Rams, the 1985 Cardinals had probably their best lineup in years, and were playing a team they should have dominated. They took a 3-2 lead into the sixth game of the series, needing only one more win to clinch the championship. But we all know what happened. An umpire’s bad call near the end of Game 6, and then a complete physical and emotional collapse in Game 7, and they had lost the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.

Personally, I was devastated. After that World Series, I vowed to never again take sports so seriously. I never wanted to feel that kind of depression again, over something that’s, arguably, so unimportant.

Of course, if I could tamp down the importance of a sports loss, that would mean the significance of a sports victory would also necessarily be diminished. Therefore, when the Cardinals do return to the World Series and emerge with rings—which didn’t happen for a full 21 years after that ’85 debacle—I’ll celebrate, but I won’t go crazy about it.

I’ll—WE’LL—get over this Mizzou loss. We’ll move past the disappointment we’re feeling now. The next few weeks will be tough, as we watch lesser teams advance through the tournament to the Final Four. But in the end, we’ll put it behind us. Maybe Mizzou will have a strong recruiting class, and have a great season next year and get back into the tournament with a legitimate shot. Or maybe it will take a few years. One day, though, they’ll make it to the Final Four and perhaps win it all. “Every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.” We just have to be optimistic.

Do I really believe this? No, not today.

City Garden

The header at the top of each page of this blog contains a picture; there are actually several rotating pictures, some of my favorites that I’ve taken over the years. Here’s the story behind one of them. A previous picture was discussed here. EDIT: The design of Shoulblog has changed, and because the shape of the header picture has changed, this picture is no longer part of the rotation. You can still read the post, though.

In the middle of downtown St. Louis, just a half-mile or so directly west of the Gateway Arch, sits City Garden. Completed in 2009, it is both a traditional horticultural garden with more than 100 species of flora, and a sculpture garden with all kinds of whimsical statues and works sprinkled throughout.

When you enter from the east, one of the first pieces you see is this disembodied head. Called Eros Bendato by Igor Mitoraj, it’s certainly arresting, but it’s a great gateway into the garden. It works as a reminder to just set aside everything you’ve been thinking about and just let your mind wander into the unexpected for a while.

Another favorite is Pinocchio, officially titled Big White Gloves, Big Four Wheels, by Jim Dine. Where have you seen a better depiction of the joy of simply being alive? And who better to express that joy than Pinocchio?

The garden is just a few blocks from where I work, so it’s a great lunchtime hike, particularly if I have my camera. What I particularly like is the setting, among the urban architecture; the sculptures provide a nice contrast when set against the starkly rectangular shapes of the surrounding buildings.

Below are a few more pictures I’ve taken at City Garden over the last couple of years. Clicking on any of them will open a gallery view that will allow you to scroll through them with ease.

The Dilemma

The last few years, I’ve been attending quite a few of Washington University’s basketball games. My dad’s a fan and has gone to almost every game for years; my brother goes to most. The coach is a member of their our church. And for the last three years, the son of my good friends Kurt and Sue has been playing for Wash. U. as a point guard.

Plus, they play some exciting basketball, and this year in particular, it’s been very good basketball, good enough to win their conference and make it into the NCAA Division III tournament. They’re even a host site for the first weekend of games, with a four-team mini-bracket playing tonight and tomorrow night.

However…

One of the other teams in the bracket is North Central College of Naperville, Ill. And North Central happens to be my Alma Mater. It’s where I spent the last two years of my swimming career. At one time, for a conference swimming meet, I had a large picture of a Cardinal drawn in ink on my back. Another time, I shaved my head. North Central is where I first received actual money (though not much) for working in journalism. It’s where, in two years, I learned more about economics than fully half the current members of Congress.

And North Central College is where I met my future wife.

Tonight, March 2, is the prelims of the four-team subregional. (Like the NCAA Division I tournament, the Division III tournament has six rounds of games, to whittle [about] 64 teams down to one champion). North Central will play against the Fightin’ Engineers of Rose Hulman Institute of Technology at 5:30 p.m., and Wash. U. will take on Buena Vista University at 7:30 p.m. It should be a fun night: two intense games in a row.

BUT, if NCC and WU both win tonight, that means they’ll meet tomorrow night in a battle to make it to the “Sweet 16” of the tournament. It’s obviously going to be a dilemma for me. I’ll have to go the game and try to root for BOTH teams, which probably sounds easier than it is. Sporting events, and perhaps basketball games in particular, are much more enjoyable if you have a rooting interest in one team or another. By definition, it’s essentially impossible to root for both teams at once.

Oh well, that’s the proverbial bridge that I’ll cross when I come to it. At least tonight, I can be happily partisan during both games and just enjoy them, rooting for my team in each one.

*****

Friday night update: Well, it’s all playing out according to form. North Central won an intensely exciting game, 74-71, and then Washington U. won relatively easily, 71-59. So my Alma Mater and my new adopted team will meet tomorrow night in a game that will end one of their seasons. Either way, though, I’ll have something to celebrate.