You can hold on to your esteemed rankings, US News & World Report, and along with them the average SAT scores, student-to-staff ratios and arbitrarily-assigned campus beauty scores you so love to cite. And you, stereotypical college brochures, can keep your financial aid information and enthusiastic reviews of campus dining to yourself. No, what swayed me when deciding on a college to attend was a question of much greater importance: which local team would provide a better baseball atmosphere?
The nationwide date for high school seniors to declare their college choice was May 1, and by late April, I had narrowed my choices to two, one in Boston and one in St. Louis. First and foremost, both cities have a professional baseball team, so some in-depth comparison and analysis was in order to help me make a decision.
In terms of recent success, the Red Sox and Cardinals were two optimal choices, representing the most recent teams to win multiple World Series titles. The Cardinals were coming off an improbable September comeback simply to make the playoffs and a miraculous, World Series-saving performance by David Freese in Game 6, and they entered the 2012 season as the defending champions.
The Red Sox had the polar opposite of a September performance, collapsing in a maelstrom of fried chicken, beer, and a bloated team e.r.a. down the stretch. Rather than succeeding with two outs and the season on the line as did Freese, the Red Sox and former closer Jonathan Papelbon squandered an opportunity by losing to the last-place Baltimore Orioles. Papelbon was gone, signed by the Phillies to a record reliever’s contract, as were manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, but might the stench of that September swoon – or the stench of the ever-present fried chicken and beer, for that matter – continue to plague the Sox?
Point to St. Louis.
The next category under consideration was fairly one-sided. Were I to live in Boston, I could spectate at games featuring the powerful Yankees, contending Rays, and homer-happy Blue Jays. In St. Louis … well, at least I’d witness a preponderance of home-team victories against the likes of the then dismal Pirates and Prince Fielder-less Brewers, and I’d be able to witness firsthand the battle between the Cubs and Astros for the first pick in the following year’s draft.
Easy point for Boston.
What about my fellow fans? After all, it’s not the Marlins or Rays in question; I’d be cheering along with thousands of other fans in both cities under consideration. An article in Bleacher Report two months ago rated the fan bases in St. Louis and Boston one-two, respectively, in all of baseball; it would look promising in either city. However, I couldn’t settle for a tie; I needed to explore further. Cardinals fans are generally recognized as the “best” in baseball and are described as genial, intelligent supporters.
Boston seemed to be in more dire straits. It has appeared in recent years that Fenway Park, home of the Green Monster and Pesky Pole, site of a revelation in Field of Dreams, and original stomping grounds for legends Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski, had become dotted with pink Red Sox shirts and infested with fans who knew more words to “Sweet Caroline” than rules of baseball.
Yes, Boston does have an advantage with the history and prestige inherent in Fenway Park, but even the Green Monster cannot counteract “Sweet Caroline.”
Point to St. Louis.
With the score 2-1 in favor of moving to the Midwest, I moved my comparisons on to the teams themselves. First up: managers, as both teams have new leaders this season.
One potential positive in Boston is that I could develop an easy sense of camaraderie with my fellow Bostonians by adding my voice to Bobby Valentine’s personal chorus of boobirds. It appears that Valentine has sustained last year’s legacy of internal strife, substituting fried chicken and video games for a new battleground of petty squabbles and wars of words.
New Cardinals manager Mike Matheny came aboard without any of the fanfare or previous managerial experience that Valentine had in his favor, yet he started his reign free of the drama that surrounded Valentine’s clubhouse.
The only major criticism of Matheny’s maiden season so far is his occasionally odd use of the bullpen, which has cost the team several games, but an infrequent lapse in how he handles the Cardinals’ admittedly weak relief arms pales in comparison to the dandy of a job Valentine has done in alienating players, coaches and fans alike.
Another point to St. Louis. In protest of this ruling, Valentine throws a press conference to absolve all blame and suggest that the Boston school’s admissions officers are not “as physically or emotionally into the recruiting process” as they have been in past years.
Not all would be lost by living in Boston, however. Red Sox owners have proven that they run a Yankee-esque Evil Empire for themselves, having promised $446.5 million in contracts signed by Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Josh Beckett over the past three years. The Red Sox would be willing to invest heavily in new players if their title aspirations were not met, a contrast to the more stingy Cardinals, whose presence outside a premium market restricts payroll.
Even in its World Series run last year, St. Louis’s big acquisitions at the trading deadline were for relief pitching; Octavio Dotel and Mark Rzepczynski were instrumental to the team’s eventual victory, but this issue reared its ugly side when the team could not afford to resign fan favorite and icon Albert Pujols, who has made a new home in Anaheim.
Boston pulls back within one point, three to two.
On to the players. At the rate that the Red Sox’ outfield seemed determined to occupy the disabled list (a less noble pursuit than the Occupy Boston movement that my classmates would consider joining, perhaps) – a task completed thus far by an astounding nine players: Crawford, Ryan Kalish, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Repko, Darnell McDonald, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Scott Podsednik, and Daniel Nava – I might be able to play leftfield myself by September, when another three or four outfielders have gone down.
In St. Louis, meanwhile, Allen Craig sported a .315 batting average with eleven home runs in limited playing time last season, yet he could not even grab an everyday starting spot.
While the prospect of providing the Sox with another body to man leftfield (hey, I can’t be any worse than Manny Ramirez) certainly sounds enticing, I think that my parents would like to be assured that I’m spending time on my studies, not shagging flies in extra innings on a week night. Living vicariously through Matt Holliday in St. Louis would be excitement enough for me.
With this final point, St. Louis goes ahead 4-2 and clinches the series. My decision-making process flawless, I went ahead and signed a letter of intent; my next four years will be spent shuttling back and forth between Busch Stadium and my nearby campus.
It was for the best. Had I lived in Boston, I would have been hard-pressed to attend any games at all, given the ongoing (wink wink) sellout streak at Fenway. I also will no longer have to contemplate learning all the words to “Sweet Caroline.”
Fast-forward to mid-August, as I prepare to depart for St. Louis. Both the Cardinals and Red Sox were in similar positions in the standings: facing a significant climb to win the division, but in the midst of a tight wild-card race.
Again, it looks slightly better for the Cardinals. The Red Sox currently sit sixth in the wild-card standings, with a record under .500. Even with the addition of a second wild card, they need to leapfrog four teams and make up 6 1/2 games in a month and a half. Doable, certainly, but not a done deal.
The Cardinals also need to play better to make the playoffs, but in their case, doing so requires passing only one team, the Pirates, with whom they were tied for the second wild-card spot, a much better bet.
Then again, in retrospect, had I wanted playoff contention and excitement in September and October, I should have stayed in-state in Maryland, where I could have taken advantage of the direct Metro line between campus and Nationals Park and cheered on the team with the best record in baseball.