Decades ago, pro ballplayers were working stiffs who hauled freight or sold cars to get through the off-season. Players' unions won a fair piece of the financial pie for their members, but one regrettable effect is that the gulf between players and fans gets wider every year. Even a mediocre middle reliever or backup catcher brings home a huge paycheck by the standards of the masses. Millionaire superstars glide through a world most of us never see, protected in their gated mansions by layers of security personnel (especially after some high-profile incidents of fan violence in recent years). To the average fan, the local heroes are remote quasi-gods who barely share the same universe, never mind the same neighborhood.
The Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up aims to counter that perception via three days of fan elbow-rubbing with current and former Redbirds to raise money for the team's charitable arm, Cardinals Care. With spring training just a little more than a month away, it's also a good time to shake off the cobwebs of World Series despair and turn our eyes toward the new season. Autograph tables, baseball clinics, kids' amusements and Q&A sessions will help warm the frozen cockles of baseball hearts. Want to ask Walt Jocketty what happened with the Randy Johnson deal, or whether Roberto Alomar will patrol second base at Busch this season? The Cardinals senior vice president/general manager will be at the Warm-Up. Ever wonder what some of Tony La Russa's favorite vegetarian recipes are? Bring some index cards and ask him yourself.
The Cards are being cagey about the exact roster of players appearing at the event this year, but the team's vice president for community outreach and Cardinals Care, Tim Hanser, says "nearly all the current Cards, dozens of former Cardinal greats, Hall of Famers, even batboys and broadcasters and organists -- basically anybody who has anything to do with the team" will be present. This year many of the 1985 Cards will be on hand to mark the twentieth anniversary of their National League championship, including slugger Jack Clark and '85 MVP Willie McGee. (Don't bother bringing that cream pie: As of press time, Series-stealing ump Don Denkinger is not slated to appear, alas.)
So will you and Albert Pujols play some poolside dominos while Jim Edmonds orders another round of margaritas? Probably not, but you can get them to sign something for you. Most autographs are included in the $35 three-day admission pass ($10 for kids ages five to fifteen and free for kids four and younger), but you'll have to donate more money for the really big names -- anywhere from $5 to $50 on up. Hanser says that the extra charges keep lines manageable while raising more money for Cardinals Care. The especially generous and/or covetous can also pony up for big-ticket memorabilia and other items at live and silent auctions; now's your chance to replace that signed So Taguchi photo you left on the bus. All proceeds go to Cardinals Care grants and projects for young people.