ST. LOUIS — Illinois and Missouri got the thrill of playing at Busch Stadium. The St. Louis Cardinals played gracious hosts while giving the ballpark a dry run five days before the home opener.
It was far from just another game Wednesday night for college players who snapped photos on their cell phones before the first competition at Busch since the Los Angeles Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of St. Louis last October.
"It's an awesome ball park, and it's a ton of fun to be able to play here," Missouri star first baseman Aaron Senne said. "Your heart's beating a little bit faster."
Coaches were just as excited. Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb noted his entire roster is from the Midwest.
"A fun day and a memorable day for all the players," Hartleb said. "I'm sure they'll look back on this time and tell their kids and grandkids they had an opportunity to play."
The Cardinals made sure everything was in working order for an expected opening-day sellout next Monday against the Houston Astros. Still on the to-do list: A neon bulb remans dark on the Big Mac sign above the left field wall, although it's shifted from the "I'' knocked out by an Albert Pujols blast to the "G."
The new Cards Cash system, which allows fans to add dollar value to tickets for use at concession stands and shops, was unveiled with a $10 credit for the $15 ticket price.
It's the second straight year that Missouri played the first April game at Busch The novelty, it seems, doesn't wear off.
Missouri coach Tim Jamieson is a lifelong Cardinals fans and could easily connect retired jersey numbers on the center field wall to the players' names.
"I think it's a big deal, and I know it would be if I was playing," Jamieson said. "Are you kidding me? To be able to play not just in a big league ballpark but in a park with a franchise of this stature is special."
Both schools are interested in making this an annual event that's more about the wow factor than the game itself. Top pitchers were held back for weekend conference play, and Missouri even left three starters at home to rest before traveling to Oklahoma on Thursday.
"If we can keep the border war, per se, going just like Illinois and Missouri basketball, we will use it in the recruiting process," Hartleb said. "Hopefully, it'll be an opportunity that keeps presenting itself."