ST. LOUIS -- Waiting in the tunnel of Busch Stadium eight Clydesdales are each wearing approximately 130 pounds of harnesses and collars. Their hair is braided with red, white and blue ribbons. As they stand waiting for their traditional Opening Day appearance at Busch Stadium the Clydesdales receive a special visit from the players.
"Our guys, we always laugh, because when we go down in the tunnel the players all come out," said Jeff Knapper, the general manager of the Budweiser Clydesdale operations. "They know we’re there. They must make an announcement because the [players and coaches] all come out and they’re always in awe."
Knapper says many of the players have told him they believe their time with the Clydesdales in the tunnel before the game is a good-luck charm.
The Clydesdales hitch did five Opening Day ceremonies across the country but because the tradition started here there is something special about St. Louis.
"We had the exclusive for a long time," Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "But the Clydesdales are great. They are part of the Anheuser-Busch brand, but for Cardinal fans they are part of Cardinal baseball."
On Jan. 26, 2013, after Stan Musial’s funeral, one Clydesdale received a lot of attention as he stood over the memorial outside of Busch Stadium. Clydesdales are often called gentle giants and the lone Clydesdale standing by the memorial was the perfect picture of Musial’s grace and influence. Knapper said that Clydesdale was not apart of the hitch team for the Opening Day ceremony but he is part of the traveling team.
"We have a lot of Clydesdales in the organization, actually 170," Knapper said. "He’s a rotation horse that comes in and out. ... It’s an elaborate training process that we go through with the horses. From the time they’re born on Warm Springs Ranch to the time they actually make it out on one of our hitches it’s four years. There’s a lot that goes into that. A lot of that is getting them used to this environment and lifestyle."
Do the horses understand there is something special about Opening Day?
"Obviously there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and I’m sure they feel that and they understand that," said Knapper. "Do they know it’s Opening Day? Probably not, but they definitely can feel the enthusiasm and excitement and energy. So they definitely know it’s a special day."
Opening Day in St. Louis this year also marks the first time Cardinals fans have gathered at a ballgame since Musial passed away. Musial’s grandson, Brian Schwarze, said his grandfather loved the Clydesdales.
"I have some photos of him joking around, playing with the Clydesdales," Schwarze said.
Long-time Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon said because of what Musial meant to people all across the country the Cardinals honoring him on Monday and then throughout the 2013 season with a jersey patch is special.
"Stan Musial was the one person in this United States that everyone loved," Shannon said. "I don’t care if you are a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan. I have had guys like Ted Williams say, 'Hey Mike, make sure you tell Stan I said hello.' He’s an icon; he’s the greatest ever."
For Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, the ceremony honoring Musial put "an exclamation point on everything he did for this community and team. I imagine his legacy will always be remembered here."
Lou Brock, another Hall of Fame legend, was part of the ceremony. Brock was all smiles dressed in his red blazer and tie and stood talking to fans in the hallway before the game. While Brock never played with Musial he did have plenty of interactions with him over the years. Musial was also Brock’s general manager in 1967 when the Cardinals won the World Series.
Brock said Musial was the kind of guy who could make any person feel at ease. Musial didn’t have to work at it, but was just a natural part of his personality.
"It’s Cardinal spirit," Brock said.
The Cardinals lost 13-4 to the Reds on Monday. The game played will quickly be forgotten but Musial’s imprint on the city of St. Louis will be remembered forever. When Musial’s four children -- Dick Musial, Gerry Ashley, Janet Schwarze and Jean Edmonds -- unveiled the memorial marker honoring their father many throughout the stadium cried.
"The Cardinals happen to be Stan the Man Musial," Brock said. "It’s all about him. His spirit will hover over St. Louis for years to come, for generations to come."
Anna McDonald is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.