Alas, the Cardinals know us too well. Two days before the festivities kicked off, we were informed that our behind-the-scenes passes had been — gasp! — revoked. The reason: RFT published the home addresses of a few past and present Cardinal greats in our spiffy Riverfront Times Guide to All-Star Week.
In protest, Unreal pointed out that the information is public record and easily accessible on St. Louis County's website. The Redbirds' media-relations honcho replied that we had made it "too easy," presumably for potential stalkers and gawkers. And besides, he added, RFT has a history of "misbehavior" when it comes to these kinds of things.
"You should have asked our permission," was his final retort. Oh yeah, simmered Unreal, maybe the club should have consulted us before signing Khalil freakin' Greene.
After the aforementioned door to baseball paradise was slammed in our face, it dawned on us: We don't need no stinkin' press credentials. Roughly a quarter million people were expected to visit downtown during All-Star Week, and come Hell or high water, Unreal would be among them, Budweiser in one hand, a digital camera in the other.
In the end, Unreal did manage to swing a pair of tickets to the midsummer classic, but most of our time was spent in, ahem, foul territory. We attempted to crash nearly every event in town. We staggered into every dive between Laclede's Landing and Busch Stadium and then sipped cocktails at the swankiest clubs in town. If anyone was an All-Star last week, it was Unreal's liver. Somehow we managed to keep a running diary, the highlights of which are transcribed below.Friday, July 10 — 8:47 a.m.
We just ran over two small children and fended off a Little League mom with a tire iron in order to get a parking spot within two blocks of America's Center. The gates to Major League Baseball's All-Star FanFest open in about fifteen minutes, and Unreal is itching to be first inside.
As we head toward the entrance on Washington Avenue, we spy a slight, bearded black man in a white Ozzie Smith jersey. He's flanked by a phalanx of big, burly security guards. He doesn't have to do a back flip for us to figure out that it's the Wizard himself. We snap a picture (those bodyguards are huge!) and ponder the fact that both Ozzie and paparazzi are spelled with two Z's. Coincidence? We think not.Friday, July 10 — 9:35 a.m.
We work our way inside just in time to see the FanFest turnstiles open and a stampede of fans clad in Cardinal red clamoring into baseball's equivalent of a three-ring circus.
There's memorabilia for sale at ridiculous prices, such as a Milwaukee Brewers league championship ring for $557. There's an autograph at every turn. There's enough merchandising, product placement and advertising that Unreal could have sworn we felt our wallet lighten without it ever leaving our pocket.
Our favorite feature, though, is the photo opportunities. There's a place where fans can climb a makeshift outfield wall and pose like they're making a home run-robbing catch. This leads to a plump, middle-aged lady struggling to make it up the rungs. She falls down. The exhibit's helpers hoist her up from behind while she reaches over the wall with her glove and says, "Cheese." A Web Gem if Unreal has ever seen one.Saturday, July 11 — 7:15 p.m.
Sitting beneath the Arch and awaiting the arrival of Sheryl Crow. It's so humid the New Yorkers are all sweating through their Derek Jeter T-shirt jerseys. Nearly 50,000 people are expected to attend. Roughly half of these appear to be hoosiers with mullets. Or, as the female version of the coif is known, femullets. Saturday, July 11 — 8:05 p.m.
Crow strides out onstage wearing blue jeans, a black tank top and enough green eye shadow to earn a supporting role on The Drew Carey Show. Everyone roars when she proudly states she was born in "Kennett, Mizz-urr-ah." Then, like a good Mizz-urr-ah girl, she makes an InBev joke and proclaims, "I gots to have my Bud Light."
Suddenly, the real reason Crow was picked to perform dawns on Unreal: She is the Bud Light of music. Not much flavor and a little watered down, but with enough "drinkability" to appeal to most everyone.Saturday, July 11 — 10:12 p.m.
Laclede's Landing is billing itself as "Baseball Heaven," but after the Crow concert, the only addition to the Landing's usual debauched brand of charm is ten times as many people. Outside one bar, a trampoline is being wildly enjoyed by a bouncing congregation of soon-to-be-puking fraternity brothers. Heavenly, indeed.
Everywhere, it seems, a makeshift bar has been set up on the street. On one corner, a group of college-aged girls are swilling beer from large plastic pitchers. Across the street, a trio of St. Louis police officers observes the rowdy scene with complete indifference. One officer informs Unreal that the force received orders to turn a blind eye toward public drinking over the weekend. The out-of-towners love it.
Later, at the Hair of the Dog pub on Washington Avenue, a very tan man in his fifties strolls in and asks for his Bud Light in a red plastic cup. He says he's from Las Vegas, by way of New York, and gleefully declares, "In Vegas you can walk around [with a drink] on the strip, but if you go a couple blocks off it, they'll bust you. I've never seen a big city where you can just walk around with an open container. It's wild."Sunday, July 12 — 12:03 a.m.
One of Unreal's favorite aspects of All-Star Week is seeing the people of St. Louis go gaga over the run-of-the-mill assortment of athletes and celebrities. Now, for instance, we're standing in the Buddha-bedecked bar of Mandarin, a nightclub in the Central West End. We just heard a gaggle of girls in skimpy dresses and uncomfortable-looking shoes all aflutter and squealing, "Oh my God, I just met Jacob Bell!"
Ever heard of Jacob Bell? He plays guard for the St. Louis Rams, and this is his official "All-Star Kickoff Party." And while we have to admit that the giant dreadlocked man does look dashing wearing his sunglasses at night, it's hard to imagine another scenario where a posse of twenty-something women would be fawning over an NFL offensive lineman.
On the other hand, nobody seems to notice that Rams linebacker David Vobora is drinking Hound Dog Sweet Tea vodka straight from the bottle. I guess that's why Vobora, the last overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, holds the title of "Mr. Irrelevant."Sunday, July 12 — 1:31 p.m.
Unreal barely escaped being washed away by a torrential downpour that briefly turned the streets of downtown St. Louis into the canals of Venice. Now, slightly damp, we're back at FanFest to see which, if any, St. Louis celebrities know their way around a Louisville Slugger. It's time for batting practice before Sunday's celebrity softball game.
Elbowing our way through a cluster of kids wearing giant foam tacos on their heads (the event is sponsored by Taco Bell), Unreal claims a spot close to the batting cages.
Chingy is first up. He holds his hands low and finishes his awkward swing at waist-level. Apparently, in batting practice, just like in music, Nelly's hits are significantly better. (Nelly would go on to be named co-MVP after clubbing a home run and making a dazzling diving catch.)
Actor Billy Bob Thornton is really the man we came to see. Thornton, who once tried out for the Kansas City Royals, describes himself as a "lifelong Cardinals fan." (A native of Hot Springs, Arkansas, Thornton is surely not the only Cards fan from the Ozarks named Billy Bob.) Thornton, though, is nowhere in sight, apparently reprising his role as The Man Who Wasn't There.
Meanwhile, actress Jenna Fischer (Pam from The Office) takes a few solid swings. Unreal wants to recruit the Nerinx Hall High School alum for RFT's office softball team. We ask if she'd like a new job as our receptionist, but she pretends not to hear. We'll take that as a maybe.Sunday, July 12 — 2:47 p.m.
It's still drizzling, and the festivities are in the midst of a long rain delay. At the typically raucous Paddy O's, the DJ tries in vain to revive the sparse, bored-looking crowd by spinning Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." "C'mon, I need at least one person up here dancing," he implores. But no backs are shook, and a weary Unreal heads home to dry out. Monday, July 13 — 3:35 p.m.
A beer is cheaper poolside on the roof of the Four Seasons Hotel ($6.50) than at the stands near the stadium ($8.75). And with a near panoramic view of downtown, the scenery is better, too. Wait, no, strike that. Unreal just spotted what looks like Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona lounging by the pool. He's shirtless and slathering himself with suntan lotion. We'll gladly pay the extra $2.25 to avoid that sight. Monday, July 13 — 7:25 p.m.
The scene is pure chaos on the streets outside the ballpark during the Home Run Derby. On Clark Street, hundreds of people are packed in between the fledgling Ballpark Village and the stadium, watching the action on the JumboTron. They roar every time they catch a glimpse of a long home-run ball soaring into the stands.
A few characters hold up a sign that reads: "Make steroids legal so we can catch one."
When Pujols steps up to bat at the end of the first round, the atmosphere is electric. There are chants of "Let's Go Albert" and "MVP." When he's down to his final two outs and looks like he won't advance, a collective sinking feeling ensues.
Meanwhile, a drunk with two gold front teeth is standing on a cooler taking $100 bets that Pujols won't make the cut. Everyone breathes a deep sigh of relief when El Hombre evens things up.
Behind us, a guy sipping a can of Stag says (and he's deadly serious), "This will be the greatest moment of our lives."Monday, July 13 — 7:46 p.m.
The booze is really flowing now, and it almost feels like Mardi Gras. Virtually everyone has their own fully stocked coolers.
In the thick of the crowd, some people are passing around a joint and sipping from what appears to be a bottle of Crown Royal. A guy in a Pujols T-shirt offers swigs to anyone in his vicinity asking, "Who wants the Jack?" Informed by Unreal that he's drinking Crown Royal, he replies, "No, trust me, it's Jack [Daniels]. I couldn't find my flask this morning, so I poured it into this bottle."
Assessing the scene around him, the dude, who introduces himself as Kenny, says bluntly, "I'm from St. Louis, and this is as good as it gets."
Nearby, a guy in a Giants hat compares the scene to his hometown ballpark in San Francisco saying, "I feel like I'm in McCovey Cove in a kayak right now."Monday, July 13 — 7:51 p.m.
Holy Mary, mother of Jesus, Unreal has just met the pope! Well, it's actually a black guy dressed up like the pontiff, complete with a makeshift high-peaked Cardinals hat, Mardi Gras beads, batting gloves and, of course, a scepter. On second thought, it's probably more accurate to call him the Cardinals Cardinal. Either way, this is turning out to be Unreal's kind of party.
Monday, July 13 — 11:45 p.m.
Speaking of Unreal's kind of party, we're waiting in line outside of Lure, the glitzy nightclub on the corner of Tucker Boulevard and Washington Avenue that's hosting the "Playboy All-Star Bash." General admission is $175. There's an open bar, and the guest list is rumored to include most of the players from both All-Star squads, along with a dozen Playboy Bunnies and a myriad of celebrities, ranging from Charles Barkley to St. Louis' own Cedric the Entertainer.
Unreal's jaw drops when a gray-haired gentleman in line ahead of us is told that the cover charge for VIPs is $500 apiece. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he says he'll pay for two. Who says the economy's in the tank?
Once inside, Unreal is warmly greeted by a pair of body-painted women. Apparently, clothing is optional at this party. Before long, we see the same geezer who just dropped a $1,000 grinding with a Rihanna look-alike at least half his age. God bless America.Tuesday, July 14 — 12:33 a.m.
Two St. Louis police officers are stationed inside the club. Asked how they got assigned to this sweet detail, one replies with a grin, "You gotta know somebody."
Tuesday, July 14 –1:35 a.m.
On the club's outdoor patio, there's a giant ice luge shaped like the Playboy bunny logo. Cedric the Entertainer just poured a vodka shot directly into the mouth of a model-worthy brunette. Worth the price of admission? Maybe if Chris Rock were doing the pouring.
Tuesday, July 14 — 1:37 a.m.
Overheard at the bar: "There aren't a lot of real celebrities here, but there are a lot of people saying, 'Ooh look at me, I'm somebody.'" Unreal concurs.
Tuesday, July 14 — 2:02 a.m.
Red Sox players Tim Wakefield, Jason Bay and Jonathan Papelbon seem to be about the only All-Stars left in the building. After a round of shots, they sip Bud Lights while seated in the outdoor VIP area. The music cuts out for about five minutes, and when the DJ finally gets it going again, Papelbon shouts, "'Bout fuckin' time! Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!" Now that was worth the price of admission.
Tuesday, July 14 — 11:01 a.m.
A haggard Unreal stumbles upon the luncheon for the Baseball Writers Association of America. We overhear a couple sportswriters (easily identified by the newspapers tucked under their arms and little roller suitcases for their laptops) talking about the speech that "The Commissioner" is about to give.
Eager to hear Hall of Fame Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel (nicknamed "The Commish") give a talk in his hometown, we set up post in a prime, covert spot just outside the banquet room. When Bud Selig, the real baseball commissioner steps to the podium instead, Unreal walks away, severely disappointed.Tuesday, July 14 — 2:45 p.m.
After the All-Star red carpet parade through downtown, people are cutting out strips to take home as souvenirs. These are likely the same fans that bought the urinals from the old Busch Stadium.
Tuesday, July 14 — 5:05 p.m.
The lines to get into the All-Star Game are absolutely insane. One stretches almost the entire length of Walnut Street and is about ten people thick. Forget the metal detectors; soldiers are patrolling the entrances with Geiger counters, the little handheld devices used to detect radioactivity. They look like gadgets from Ghostbusters. Luckily, a breathalyzer is not one of the added security measures.
Tuesday, July 14 — 7:05 p.m.
Overheard in the seats behind us:
Husband: "What are the odds Obama rides in on one of the Clydesdales?"
Wife: "Gee, I dunno..."
Husband: "Why not? It's pretty hard to hide a bomb under a horse."
Tuesday, July 14 — 7:34 p.m.
Finally, after an opening ceremony that included everything short of a moment of silence for Michael Jackson, Stan Musial triumphantly enters the stadium riding in a golf cart, ready to receive the glowing tribute one of the greatest hitters alive deserves.
Unreal blinked and the Stan Musial "tribute" was over. Did we miss something?
Tuesday, July 14 — 7:39 p.m.
Wearing a White Sox jacket, Obama heaves a curveball that falls a good two feet short of the plate. If this keeps up, St. Louis will be voting Republican in 2012.
Tuesday, July 14 — 8:30 p.m.
After a weeklong buildup and a never-ending opening ceremony, Unreal found it refreshing to sit back, sip a cold beer and watch baseball on a clear summer night. During the game, there's no pomp or pageantry. Other than the complimentary seat cushions, the players in different uniforms and the snipers on the roof, it feels just like a regular evening at Busch.
Also, Unreal's view from just left of the foul pole by Big Mac Land beats the hell out of the one from the press box.