Safe at Home?

At the end of a star-crossed season, Cardinal Nation still doesn't know where the Redbirds will roost after they leave Busch

With the Cardinals sweeping defending world champion Arizona three games straight and losing a tightly contested series with San Francisco four-to-one, DeWitt believes his team's on-the-field performance has an off-the-field effect.

Getting city, county and state government officials in line to support a smaller but still significant commitment of public dollars is helped by the general public buzz about the team. That the local daily newspaper publishes what amounts to an advertising supplement for the Cardinals and radio and television sycophants trip over themselves with new levels of hyperbole can only make an owner happy.

"I think it helps," DeWitt says of the playoffs' impact on stadium negotiations. "I think having a good competitive team is helpful in creating interest and generating enthusiasm. That's what we try to do. We're fortunate in the last three years to have been in the playoffs."

Lost in the hype over the Cardinals' overcoming adversity in the playoffs is this: The Cardinals were picked by many preseason prognosticators to win the Central Division and head to the World Series. Former baseball executive Bing Devine, general manager for the world-champion Cardinals in 1964, rates the current infield as one of the best he's seen.

"They can talk about the infields back to Ozzie Smith and Marty Marion, but this infield, defensively, I don't know when I've seen one like it," says Devine. On the basis of hitting and defense, Devine says, he considers Edgar Renteria the best shortstop in the National League.

The current Cardinal lineup is relatively young and largely under contract for the next few years. Compared with the Giants, whose Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow and Santiago are all 34 or older, the Redbirds look stable for years to come. Scott Rolen, 27, is signed through the 2010 season. Renteria, 27, is signed through the 2003 season, with a club option for 2004 and 2005. J.D. Drew, 26, has another year left on his contract. Albert Pujols says he's 22, although some sports-talk-show callers still speculate about his being older than he admits. There is no doubt the Cardinals will sign him to a long-term contract if they can.

Even those on the other side of 30 -- Jim Edmonds, 32; Mike Matheny, 32; and Fernando Vina, 33 -- show few signs of slowing down. Role-players Eli Marrero and Miguel Cairo are both 28.

Pitching is a different story. Starters Woody Williams and Chuck Finley will become free agents after this year. Matt Morris, although erratic in the postseason, is only 28 and still has two years left on his contract.

With that promising baseball reality in the offing, moving into a new stadium can be viewed as the sizzle or the steak, depending on whom you ask.

A veteran front-office executive such as Devine, who's more of a fan now, has a different perspective on the stadium negotiations. Even if the new venue is ready for All-Star Game baseball commissioner Bud Selig promised to bring here in 2006, that's four years away.

"Whether they like this stadium or don't like it, whenever the deal is made, for at least the next two years or so they're going to play right here," says Devine of Busch. "I'm in my eighties. Should I really worry if they're going to Illinois? Will I go to Illinois to see games? Two more years is a lifetime for me."

But for the owners of a 110-year-old franchise about to finish plans for a new stadium for the next 30 years, two years just feels like spring training.

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