Many Cards faithful reside in Columbia

Thursday, October 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Doug Mirts, the Hickman athletic director, was a bright-eyed third grader when the St. Louis Cardinals came knocking – literally.

The Cardinals caravan, which offered communities around the state a chance to meet various players and coaches, stopped at his family’s Mexico, Mo., home to meet before it made its way through town.

Mirts’ father, Jack, was president of a local company that brought the caravan through town, so it was decided that the Mirts’ household would be a fine place to meet.

For the next half-hour, Mirts sat in awe as Cardinal greats like Stan Musial, Mike Shannon, and Dal Maxvill sat in his living room and made small talk with the family.

“It was amazing,” Mirts said. “Just really cool.”

Childhood stories such as these are common among Columbia residents who have spent significant portions of their lives in the town.

As the Cardinals earned a spot in the World Series, a certain Red Fever has undoubtedly swept through Columbia. But the city’s passion for the St. Louis organization, it seems, has spanned generations.

The team arrived in Missouri in 1892, when it joined the 12-team National League circuit, and quickly gained popularity. For the next half century, as far as Midwestern professional athletics were concerned, baseball in St. Louis was just about all there was.

The St. Louis Browns were another professional baseball option, but it was the Cardinals that Columbians tended to lean toward.

The Cardinals, led by Stan Musial, enjoyed considerable success throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, as countless baby boomers were growing up. Their success, along with baseball’s return to prominence after the war, is perhaps a large reason the Cardinals developed into such a household name.

While growing up in Columbia, mayor Darwin Hindman remembers sitting on his front porch and listening to games broadcast by radio station KRFU, which still covers most Cardinals games.

“It was a great pastime,” Hindman said.

“Of course, there was no television or air conditioning back in those days, so it was a great time for people to sit around and enjoy themselves.”

At the same time, the Cardinals faced almost no in-state competition. Until the Kansas City Royals arrived in the late 1960s, St. Louis was the primary draw for most mid-Missourians.

When the Royals did arrive in 1969, it offered the people of Columbia, located almost exactly between Kansas City and St. Louis, another option. But by that time, many residents say, the town had already developed a certain loyalty to the Cardinals.

“I think the Cardinals have had such a tremendously long history,” Jim Graigmile, who has lived in Columbia since 1959, said. “And so I think Columbia is a Cardinals town, more so than a Royals town.”

After the Cardinals’ passion developed in mid-Missouri, many fathers passed it along to their children and so on throughout generations.

Mirts, whose father died last April, continues to carry on the family tradition. When not bogged down with the unrelenting high school sports schedule, he takes his two daughters, Karley and Kelsey, to games.

“They’ve got their Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds jerseys,” Mirts said. “They’re pretty into it.”

Says Hindman, “The long tradition has been ingrained into younger generations, and they tend to pass that on to their children.”

Although the Cardinals fell 3-0 to the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, ending their hopes winning their first World Series title since 1982, it isn’t likely the passion of the Cardinal faithful in Columbia will soon waver.

“You always have that bond,” Mirts said. “You grew up around here, you were a Cardinals fan. There just wasn’t any choice.”

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