Opening day for the St. Louis Cardinals has arrived. Here are reasons why it is so special

In the Cardinals clubhouse, attached to a prominent, central pillar, is a flat screen television that scrolls through announcements. That’s a place where, on a given day, you might find the lineup, the name of the person catching the first pitch, and any relevant pregame timing announcements.

Wednesday, following the team’s final preseason workout, the run of show for Thursday’s opening day festivities included a helpful note about the annual parade of Budweiser clydesdales: “If you’re new, watch from the dugout. Trust me.”

The horses, the team hopes, will not be the most exciting thing to watch.

“I think this is one of the most special or magical opening days in the league,” Cardinals righty Miles Mikolas said.

Pressed into service following Adam Wainwright’s groin injury, Mikolas is set to make his second opening day start for St. Louis a week after agreeing to a two-year contract extension.

“I’m honored and humbled to get that experience,” he added.

Mikolas isn’t new, but Willson Contreras is. In front of his locker, which is no longer permanently located at Wrigley Field but did previously belong to Albert Pujols, he showed reporters the cleats he plans to wear for the home opener. They read “Respect 4” in honor of Yadier Molina, overlaid on a design which wraps up the Arch and the city flag.

After a winter spent ingratiating himself to his new hometown fans (and rankling the old crew up north), Contreras’s home Cardinals debut is sure to draw excitement from fans and teammates alike, some of whom gawked at the length of the home runs he unleashed during his first home Busch Stadium batting practice.

It was also a first batting practice at Busch for Jordan Walker, the 20-year-old phenom who kicked through an available door and pushed his way onto the opening day roster. Walker will be in Thursday’s lineup, manager Oli Marmol confirmed, leaving a broadly grinning rookie to confirm that “a lot” of the fans in the stands on Thursday will be members of his family.

Traditionally, the Cardinals bring their first round draft pick to the stadium after signing in order to meet team officials and get a feel for the environment. For Walker, drafted in the throes of the pandemic, that wasn’t possible. Wednesday was his first time on the field in uniform, and he confirmed that a quick look at his surroundings showed that the ambiance was, “everything I thought it would be.”

It’s also the first opening day at Busch for a number of Toronto Blue Jays, but one in particular was slightly more amped up than his teammates. Trevor Richards, a relief pitcher and native of Aviston, said that he never got a chance to see opening day in person while growing up a Cardinals fan in the metro-east, though he did say that he’s been able to keep his ticket list under control.

“I’m sticking to family,” he said, adding that it’s easy enough to see the folks he needs to see when his teams swing through. Rather than taking his room at the team hotel, Richards stays with his parents and commutes to the ballpark from Clinton County. The cooking, surely, is better there.

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Miles Mikolas tosses up a ball during a baseball team workout prior to the start of the 2019 NLCS. Mikolas will start the Cardinals’ home opener Thursday and had this to say about it, “I think this is one of the most special or magical opening days in the league ... I’m honored and humbled to get that experience.”

Waino ready for his final home opener

It is not, however, the first opening day for Adam Wainwright. Indeed, until his inevitable induction into the Cardinals Hall of Fame, it’s scheduled to be his last. Pushed off his opening day start by injury, Wainwright scoffed loudly when asked if he’d even considered remaining in Florida to continue his rehab and missing out on his final opening day parade as an active player.

“I didn’t even ask,” he said. “I’ll go to (physical therapy) down the street if I have to.”

Wainwright, famously and persistently reluctant to discuss the pending end of his career, did allow that he’s thought about the gravity of his last first day, but added, “I’m ready for it ... I’m excited to have one great season and move on.”

Asked if he would do anything outside his ordinary routine to remember the day, Wainwright said he would — and then added, with a trademark smile, “nothing I’m gonna tell you.”

Take it in and enjoy it

There is something to the magic of an opening day — whether in St. Louis or not —whether it’s a first or a last. To mark the start of a new season is to mark a brand new set of possibilities, and for all of the pomp and circumstance which surrounds it, the day also ends with a regular baseball game that counts in the standings. It’s normalcy and promise all in one, and it marks the convergence of countless career paths.

“I think sometimes our biggest regret when we accomplish something cool is, we look back and say, oh man, I wish I would’ve enjoyed it a little more,” Marmol said. “Just reminding guys to take it in and actually enjoy it.”

Or, put it another way — if you’re old, new, or in between, watch it. Trust me.