Card Sharks

The St. Louis Cardinals want your money for their $370 million ballpark. But before the game begins, somebody needs to reshuffle the deck.

Marty Prather, who wears a red hard hat emblazoned with the words "Mac Attack Pack Charter Member," drives 200 miles from his home in Springfield, Mo., to catch as many as 40 games a year at Busch. He brings 20 or so hand-painted rah-rah signs, many of them signed by players. Tonight's game against the Cubs is being televised on ESPN, so Prather has brought a sign he hopes will get him on TV: "Every St. Louis Player is Nefarious." "What does 'nefarious' mean?" asks another fan who's come to the seats above the home team's dugout to watch the players warm up. "It means 'wicked,'" answers Prather.

A Cincinnati transplant, Prather shifted his allegiance from the Reds to the Cardinals in the early 1980s. He sees the beauty in Busch. "I kind of love this place," he says. "I hope we don't get a new stadium. But it's going to happen. It'll happen just because of the economics." As much as he loves Busch, Prather also loves a winner. And so he has accepted what he sees as the inevitable: Busch must go so the players can get paid. "I like the ballpark," he says. "I also like a winning team. I'd rather see a winner."

While team owners throughout the major leagues bemoan the impracticality and ugliness of multipurpose ballparks built in the 1960s and 1970s, Prather senses history slipping away. He ticks off examples: Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Busch, all on their way out or on the endangered list. "This is the best of the four, without a doubt," Prather says. "They represent the '60s and '70s. Busch is about the last one left. It would be a shame to lose this one. Even though it wasn't a good era, it still represents an era."

Cardinals president Mark Lamping: "I guess if every time there's going to be public dollars involved in any project that we're going to put it forth for the people to vote on it, then why do we need legislators?"
Jennifer Silverberg
Cardinals president Mark Lamping: "I guess if every time there's going to be public dollars involved in any project that we're going to put it forth for the people to vote on it, then why do we need legislators?"

Matthew Hathaway contributed to this story.

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