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Last year, for instance, MLB Network announcer Matt Vasgersian remarked during a live broadcast (one in which his hometown San Diego Padres were losing to the Cardinals) that he was fed up with St. Louis. "It's hotter than shit.... We get our asses kicked every time we come here.... I'm not coming here next year." He also instructed fans at Busch to "get in your El Camino and drive back to the Ozarks."
Later, in an interview with Deadspin, Vasgersian slammed the city again: "I hate downtown St. Louis," he said. "Build a friggin' convenience store somewhere in downtown St. Louis. It's a bad hotel town; in fact, it's a really bad hotel town."
An MLB spokesman did not respond to Riverfront Times' requests for an interview with Vasgersian, but his comments, which he later claimed were made in jest, do offer insight into the group the city is trying to charm.
"Maybe MLB announcers shouldn't be your target audience for tourism," quips Leitch, a vocal Cardinals supporter who was raised in Mattoon, Illinois. "They're more like traveling salesmen. They get frustrated that their continental breakfast ends at 10 a.m. They'll be cranky about any tiny little thing that affects their lives."
For the most part, event planners agree.
"Hopefully we'll do a good enough job of getting them out and around to make a good impression," says Ann Chance, the city's director of special events. "You can lead them to water, but you can't make them drink."
On the other hand, the crowd that nearly everyone agrees the city cannot afford to lose is the business executives who will be in town for the week's festivities.
Marla Miller, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of special events and the All-Star Game coordinator, says the league has already reserved almost 4,000 downtown hotel rooms for corporate sponsors, players and front-office officials.
With so many high rollers around, the All-Star Game is being treated like a weeklong sales pitch.
"A lot of people who will attend this are major players at a corporate level and a government level," says Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission. "The endgame, obviously, is to get them to come back for another reason — either for leisure visits, or to bring a convention group, or a corporate meeting or even to relocate a business."
Dick Fleming, CEO of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, says his organization is hosting a group of fifteen "national site-selection executives," advisers hired by companies looking to relocate or expand to new cities, for three days during the week. "Over half of them are working on active deals where St. Louis and the region are being considered for a location of a significant number of jobs," Fleming boasts.
The group will tour the city and take a helicopter ride "to see the whole region from the air" and end with a big luncheon before MLB's red-carpet parade through downtown. Attending the event, Fleming says, will be "business executives and civic leaders from here," and "a cross section of owners of MLB teams and senior executives of sponsors of MLB."
The party will be cohosted by Costas and St. Louis' own Cedric the Entertainer. Fleming describes the curious pairing of the straight-laced Olympics announcer and the occasionally raunchy standup comedian as "a wonderful opportunity to let people know this area is friendly and welcoming."
Still, not everyone is enamored with the city's strategy for courting investors.
"Having these big kinds of events, for people who live in the city, it doesn't cut it as far as ultimately attracting business over the long haul," says Early, the Wash. U. professor. "We have to improve our public schools. We have to do something with infrastructure here in the city, particularly all the abandoned homes. The quality of living in the city has to be dealt with."
Event planners predict that roughly 250,000 people will visit downtown during All-Star Week. In baseball-mad St. Louis, the five-day "FanFest" portion of the event, which features baseball exhibits and opportunities for autograph-seekers, has already sold more than 105,000 tickets, exceeding the sales in both New York and San Francisco, the last two host cities.
Many of the city's preparations are geared toward luring tourists back again next season. "It's just like having company over," Cloar says. "Pride spurs you to clean up your house."
Touchups for the guests' arrival include repaving the streets around the stadium, an increased emphasis on cleaning up litter and mowing down weeds. As part of its "presence program," MLB has also distributed several hundred banners similar to the one being sought by McGowan to veil Ballpark Lofts.
"It's big-time," enthuses Alderwoman Phyllis Young, whose ward includes Busch Stadium. "If we put on a good show, it sells tourism for downtown and St. Louis in general for a long time. The thing is to get people here. We have a great story, it just doesn't get out enough."
Police say "hundreds" of St. Louis' finest will be patrolling the streets. Metro, meanwhile, has temporarily rolled back the crippling service cuts approved by voters earlier this year and will operate MetroLink on a "rush-hour schedule" throughout All-Star Week.
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