My Cardinals: Mike Wilkinson
By Aaron Schafer
on Tue, Apr 7, 2009 at 1:10 PM
In the second installment of my look at Cardinal fans from around the globe, I spoke to Mike Wilkinson. Mike is an old friend of the family, originally from St. Louis, who lives out west now. He was nice enough to speak with me on the phone this past week from his home.
The good stuff, thank him. Any bad stuff, blame my shoddy dictation skills.
How did you become a Cardinal fan?
You know, I was never actually a baseball fan growing up much. Everyone else in my family was nuts for the game, though my mother was a Cub fan- she was originally from Iowa. But me, I didn't really like sports much when I was young. I liked books when I was young, and I liked girls when I got a little older. Course, if I had really stopped to think about it, the girls all liked the guys who were into sports, so maybe I would have looked at it a little differently. But I was just never real good at sports, always real small for my age. You wouldn't know it now to look at me (laughs)- too much good food and cheap beer. By the time I really got big I had already made up my mind I didn't really like sports much.
I didn't become a fan of baseball, and especially the Cardinals, until I was in my mid-20s, I guess. It's funny, but I really fell in love with the game when the Cards were probably at their worst.
At the time- and this was right around 1993, I think, the year of the big flood- I was trying to get to know my son. He was six, seven years old, and I had only seen him a couple of times since he was born. His mother was my high school sweetheart, and we dated from our sophomore year up through the year I graduated. She was a year older, graduated ahead of me. I was still in school when she came up pregnant. We tried to make it work, but I was way too young and couldn't stand to be tied down. I took off for college, she stayed back in St. Louis, and that was that. She ended up marrying a great guy years later, so it worked out for here in the end, but they had a pretty shit run to start off, and that was all my fault.
Well, in '93, I moved back St. Louis after my first job out of school sort of petered out. I had been working sort of as a consultant, and the company didn't need me anymore, so I moved back home to find something steadier. I ended up living two blocks over from my parents, and four blocks from my old girlfriend and my son, who were living with her folks.
Anyway, I started trying to go around, thinking that maybe I might try to have a relationship with them. Mary and me- Mary's my son's mother, by the way- ended up dating on and off that summer and into the fall. For my birthday that year, she got me an alarm clock, because she couldn't stand the sound of mine. Said when we got our own place, there was no way she was going to wake up to that every day. Three weeks later I took a job designing roads in Oregon. Left them again. Said I would be back in a couple of months, and we could all see about maybe settling down somewhere as a family. Well, obviously, that didn't happen.
But while I was there, I started watching baseball games with my son. Mary's dad was a big Cards fan, and my family was too, and so there was constantly baseball on the radio, or on TV, most nights of that summer. My son was in little league, and was just crazy about the game. It was the only thing I could really think of to talk to him about, so that's what we talked about.
His favorite player was Luis Alicea, because one of the announcers always called him a ninja for some reason, and ninjas were the other thing my son really loved. It's funny, but even though I had never really followed the game, didn't even like it all that much, I knew tons of stuff about it. I guess all that stuff that my parents were always talking about, that my older brother was always yelling at the TV about, just sort of passed to me by osmosis. Cody thought I was just about the best thing since sliced bread, because I would sit and watch a whole ballgame with him and never try to make him do his homework, the way his mom or grandparents would.
Over the next couple of years, even though I was out of town, I started following the team as much as I could, so that I would have something to talk about with my son when we got together, or when his mom would let him call me. By that time, she was seeing the guy she would eventually marry, and things were pretty cold between us. She would still let him call me once or twice a week, though, and baseball was all he ever wanted to talk about. So that's sort of why I stayed a fan, even when I was living in Montana, where it's pretty much impossible to get any sort of sports news. I became a fan because my son loved the game, and stayed a fan so he and I could connect on something.
How do you follow the Cardinals now? Do you take advantage of all the new technology to stay up with the team?
Yeah, we do. Cody actually moved up here with us a couple of years ago to go to school, and we had to get the big baseball package on satellite so we could watch all the Cardinal games. It's a good baseball culture up here, but it's definitely Mariner country- I live near Olympia, Washington- so you don't even get to see a whole lot of National League baseball, much less the Cards, if you don't go out of your way to find it.
My son follows a lot online, reads all the different blogs and stuff, just to stay up with all the news and stuff. I just watch the games, mostly. I'm a math person, so I enjoy all the advanced analysis and things that go on at the different websites, but I just don't usually have the time to read it all. It's a big part of what's so great about baseball, though, the fact that you can enjoy the game on several different levels, depending on just how you want to look at it.
So, what was it like growing up in a family with both a Cardinal fan and a Cubs' fan? Lot of bickering at the dinner table?
(Laughs) No, never any bickering at the dinner table, at least not that I remember. My parents always seemed to do a good job of keeping things in perspective, or maybe my father just kept it in perspective for both of them. My dad was really easygoing about the team, never let it much bother him how they were doing one way or the other. You just heard him listening to the radio out in his workshop every night during the summer.
See, my dad was the guy in the neighborhood that all the neighbors brought their toasters and stuff to when they didn't work. So most nights he would be out there, tinkering with some woman's mixer or something, trying to figure out what was wrong with it, and the baseball game would be on. He never got upset, win or lose. He loved the game, but never got too high or too low however the team was playing. It's funny, but I had never seen Bull Durham until maybe five or six years ago, but when I did see it, and Kevin Costner's character-
Yeah, that's him. He has that great line about baseball, "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains," I immediately thought about my dad. That was just the way he looked at it. Whatever happened, happened. There would be another game on tomorrow.
My mom, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as easygoing. If the Cubs happened to be on TV, you checked the score as you walked through the living room. If the Cubs were winning, everything was fine, you could talk to her, maybe sit down and watch a little. If they were losing, though, you knew to just go on up to your room and find something else to occupy yourself, because she was in no mood to be bothered. She was always fine after the games, even when the Cubs lost, but while it was going on, she couldn't help but just get totally drawn in.
My dad passed away a couple of years ago, had a heart attack. I was actually in town a couple of weeks before that, and the three of us, him, me, and my son all went to see a Cardinal game. It was late in the 2005 season, and the Cards were trying to get to 100 wins. I think we saw win #92 or 93. I had to leave late that night to catch a flight back here, but I've always thought it was pretty much perfect that the last place I saw my father alive was at a baseball game.
After living in the city for so long, my mother has actually become sort of a Cardinal fan. Most nights, if you call her, she's sitting on the sofa and flipping between WGN and the Cards' game. If the Cubs played at home during the day while she was at work, she just watches the Cardinals. I asked her once who she roots for when the two play, and she looked at me like I had grown a second head. Didn't even bother answering. She may have learned to like the Cardinals, but she still loves the Cubs.
So which one are you more like, your mother or father?
Oh, I'm much more like Dad. Like I said, my son and I watch just about every game together on television, and we hugged and jumped around and cried a little that my dad wasn't there to see it when they won in 2006, but the outcome of the games don't bother me all that much. I like to watch a good game, and I always root for a win, of course, but to me, it's much more important to be able to watch the game and enjoy it.
I guess it's partially because I was out of my son's life for so long, and baseball became sort of that bond between us, but as long as I can share the game with him and the rest of my family, I'm pretty well satisfied. He and I just sit there and watch the game, and all the mistakes I made, and all the hurt feelings and stuff like that, just sort of stay in the past where they belong. Things are good now, and there's a baseball game on, and that's all that really matters. My wife- well, not technically, but you know what I mean- is a big Giants fan, from the Bay Area, so we always make fun of her. She takes it in stride, but has threatened on occasion to buy my daughter a little Giants jersey and put Bonds on the back of it. (Laughs) I've threatened to call child welfare if she does.
Now, my son, he's more like my mother. He tries to keep it in perspective, but when the game is on, he groans and yells just can't stand it when the Cards are losing. I always tell him it's just a game, but he has a tough time seeing it that way. Every time I see him slam his hand down on a pillow on the couch, I always laugh a little and think of my mom, the way she used to just sit there and glare at the television when the Cubbies were struggling.
Do you make it in to town for many games? Do you miss being here closer to the team?
We usually get back to St. Louis once a year during the summer, and we try to see a game or two then. Other than that, though, it's mostly Christmas for a week and things like that.
As for missing it, I miss St. Louis, but I don't really miss the team all that much. I became a fan mostly on television, and even when I was a kid, we didn't actually go to the game all that often. I'm not sure why. But I've always been more familiar with baseball on the radio and on television, so going to the stadium itself isn't a huge deal for me.
And last, give me your thoughts on this year's team.
Oh, I think they should be pretty good. It was mostly the bullpen that killed us last year, and I think that'll be better. I wish the Cards had tried to trade for J.J. Putz, the guy who used to close games for the Mariners. He's really, really good. But I think the kids they've got down there will do a nice job this year. The rest of the team should be okay, I think. With Carpenter hurt all last year, they still contended, so if he's back, that should make them a whole lot better. And a team with Albert Pujols on it is always going to score plenty of runs.
Thanks so much for doing this, MIke. I really appreciate the time.
Not at all. I'm just kind of enjoying the fact that someone actually wanted to interview me about something.