On Friday night, as long as all goes as scheduled, Joe Kelly of the St. Louis Cardinals will toss the first pitch of the National League Championship Series to Carl Crawford of the Dodgers. This will be the fifth playoff meeting between the two franchises (if you include the 1946 tiebreaker series) and the team from the Mound City* has won three of the previous four.
* Mound City is an old nickname for St. Louis referring to earth mounds built by early North American inhabitants of the area.
There aren't any left in the city of St. Louis, There is one left in St. Louis, and there are still some across the Mississippi River in Illinois.
The Dodgers and Cardinals are far from sentimental favorites for anybody in the country. The Dodgers are the big spending team that has seemingly bought its way to a divisional crown. The Cardinals are the team that keeps winning playoff series no matter what, crushing the dreams of the Brewers, Rangers, Nationals, and Pirates in the past three seasons. The Cardinals have a farm system with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of prospects.
My family came to Los Angeles from the St. Louis area back in 1960 (my parents were actually living in the farm town of Breese, Illinois at the time, but my mother grew up in St. Louis proper) and I still have family living in the area. One of my brothers actually ended up moving back to St. Louis for family and career reasons and he'll be covering parts of the NLCS for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The cities of Los Angeles and St. Louis are quite dissimilar. While Los Angeles sprawls over 500 square miles, St. Louis takes up about 66 square miles. St. Louis, a haven for immigrants in the late 19th Century, is nowhere near as ethnically diverse as Los Angeles. St. Louis is a Midwestern city with a hint of the South tossed in. Los Angeles is ... well... Los Angeles. It is what it is. And no one really knows just what Los Angeles is because it seems to change constantly. Except for the traffic, that is pretty much constant.
The Dodgers and Cardinals spent much of the 20th Century fighting taking turns being the dominant team in the National League. Both franchises were formed to a great extent by Branch Rickey, who laid the groundwork for the massive farm systems that both the Dodgers and Cardinals had in the reserve clause days.
These days the franchises have much different images. The Cardinals are still the favorite team of a large chunk of the Midwest. The city of St. Louis remains one of the few in America where baseball is the most popular sport. Cardinal fans show up in large numbers for every game. They are the self-proclaimed "best fans in baseball."
Dodgers fans, even though there are a lot of them, are not a beloved bunch in the world. Dodger Stadium is a great venue, but Dodger fans carry, rightly or wrongly, the stigma of the senseless violence inflicted upon Bryan Stow on Opening Day in 2011. Besides the violence, Dodger Stadium is known as a place where fans arrive late and leave early and the fans supposedly don't even pay attention to the game. But the Dodgers draw a LOT of fans, and, with the exception of the darkest years of the McCourt era, they've always drawn a lot of them. And the Dodgers are the franchise that has featured two of baseball's most iconic figures in Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax.
In reality, the fans of both sides are not that much different. But that won't stop each side from claiming moral superiority over the other. (Little known secret: neither side is morally superior.)
The non-Dodger, non-Cardinal baseball fans of America are probably going to struggle to find someone to root for in this series. But, it should be an enjoyable series between teams that are evenly matched. There are great players on each side. Both franchises have long and memorable histories and have been playing each other since 1884, when both teams were in the American Association. (The first meeting was on May 29, 1884 Brooklyn beat St. Louis 2-1 that day. St. Louis won the next day against Brooklyn as part of a four-team Memorial Day doubleheader that also the New York Metropolitans and Indianapolis Hoosiers.)
Who will win this series? I have no idea. I just am glad to have a rooting interest left in the playoffs after spending 2010 and 2012 doing nothing else than hoping the Giants would lose. (They didn't. I was unhappy, but I got over it.)
It is a red versus blue battle. But we won't be able to declare the winner early. We'll just have to sit back nervously and watch and wait to see who comes out ahead.
And it will be a lot of fun. Nerve-wracking, but fun. I just hope I don't up end seeing something like this again.
LA Observed photo at Dodger Stadium: Sean Roderick