The City Cards
Recently I found a team photo of the 1985 St. Petersburg Cardinals. A wave of nostalgia splashed over me. I covered the "City Cards" for the St. Petersburg Times, then the Evening Independent. My first baseball beat.
Mostly I covered the home games from an open-air press box at steamy Al Lang Stadium. Though I also traveled to road games in Clearwater, Tampa and Fort Myers.
Joe Magrane stands tallest in the photo. The Cardinals drafted and signed the 6-foot-6 lefthander that summer. He'd go on to start World Series Games 1 and 7 for the Cardinals in 1987 and win an ERA title in 1988 (2.18 ERA) before injuries derailed his career. Later, he sat alongside Dewayne Staats in the broadcast booth, offering insights and witty quips during Devil Rays games, and during the first season of Rays games.
Manager Dave Bialas is sitting in the middle of the photograph. At the beginning of the season, he passed along this wisdom to his Single-A team: "The cream rises to the top. But so do the turds."
Ralph Miller, City Cards owner and general manager, is wearing an island shirt and a smile--a dead ringer for Vincent Gardenia. The man was a hustler, who noted, "Promotion is the backbone of the minor leagues. You got to work at it."
Miller's teams routinely led the Florida State League in attendance. He came off as a used-car salesman, but brilliance was in there somewhere. Discount tickets. Giveaways. Anything to push fans through the turnstiles. Once inside, he believed, they would buy beer, hot dogs, popcorn and souvenirs. Miller made his profit. Fans didn't leave the ballpark with an empty wallet. They had money to spend for return visits. Miller used to come to mind when I'd add up the cost of a family of four going to a major-league game (prior to Covid-19).
Finally, backup catcher Sal Agostinelli is standing in the second row. Early in the 1985 season, Sal found himself leading the FSL hitting. At that point, he told me he no longer wanted to be known as "Sal" rather "Salvatore." After a hitless week that saw his name drop from the FSL's leading hitters, Salvatore told me he wanted to change back to Sal.
Sal is now the Phillies international scouting director.
In addition to Magrane, others who got to the major leagues from that team were catcher Marty Pevey, outfielder Lance Johnson, and left-hander Greg Matthews.
Speaking of being at the ballpark (Remember when you could attend games?), I always wondered which music got the fans more fired up, the Adams Family theme or the Mexican Hat Dance? I've never resolved that one.
Here's another unanswered question: Who was a better ball player, Herman Munster or Mr. Ed? Both had tryouts with the Dodgers and raked.
Finally, the many responses to my request for readers to recount their first trip to watch a major league game reminded me of dialogue from City Slickers. The 1991 movie staring Billy Crystal captured how baseball fans can recite even the most insignificant facts from the national pastime. Take the dialogue between Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern) and Barbara Robbins (Patricia Wettig).
Phil Berquist: Do you hate baseball?
Barbara Robbins: No I like baseball. I just never understood how you guys can spend so much time discussing it. I mean I think the game is great but I don't memorize who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960.
Phil Berquist: Don Hoak!
Barbara Robbins: See, that's exactly what I mean.”
If you understand the language spoken by Berquist, you understand the language of baseball. If you don't understand it, you probably don't.
In case you missed the beginning of this baseball discussion, click here.
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