By Herbert Morgan
As a boy, I harbored two dreams: play first base for the St. Louis Cardinals and become the first American pope.
I was a practicing Catholic, but spent more time practicing baseball. After school, on weekends, and throughout the summer, I scuffed up numerous balls by playing catch with the back wall of our brick house.
Sometimes I swung a bat at imaginary pitches, pretending to be the entire Cardinals batting lineup, which I knew by heart. Some days I selected an opposing team and batted through their order as well, playing out an entire game.
Each imaginary game took about 40 minutes to play, and at the end of that fantasy season the Cards finished with a record winning percentage of 1.000.
On Sept. 2, 1963, Labor Day, I saw my first Cardinals game at the old Busch Stadium (Sportsman's Park). They won both games of the doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Stan Musial played in the first game and hit his ninth double of the season, tying Ty Cobb's career doubles record. ("The Man" tacked on one more two-bagger before the season ended.)
For me, our trip to St. Louis from Sikeston, Mo., was for one purpose only — to see the Cardinals play. But my mother's agenda differed. For her, it meant doing some last-minute shopping for clothes and supplies for the new school year.
Planned or unplanned, we ended up at a religious goods store. I not only returned home with a Cardinals scorecard and yearbook but with a glow-in-the-dark crucifix and a glow-in-the-dark holy water fountain/light-switch plate combination.
Gathering memorabilia for my two future careers was in full swing.
On Sept. 29 of that year, Musial retired. And by then, hundreds of thousands of Americans had marched on Washington, D.C., for jobs and freedom. And terrorists had bombed a church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four young girls, one of whom was 11 years old. Same age as me.
The following month I turned 12 and was becoming politicized.
On Oct. 11, 1964, I climbed the stairs to the second floor of the Dunn Hotel in Sikeston because I was curious. I wanted to see what a presidential campaign headquarters looked like. There, I got a free political button and a free "AuH2O '64" bumper sticker even though I didn't own a bumper to stick it on.
As I walked down the stairs to leave, an announcer's voice on the TV set in the lobby called the long ball. I hurried toward the TV in time to see Ken Boyer rounding the bases — in glorious black and white — trailing three other Cardinals runners. His grand slam beat the Yankees 4-3 in Game 4 of the World Series.
Twenty years later, I moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where it became painfully clear that, among my friends, co-workers, and grad-school classmates, I was the lone Cardinals fan. In 1987 that soon became obvious to them as well when the local team, the Twins, faced the Redbirds in the World Series.
My employer, the Star Tribune, marketed what it called the "Homer Hanky." As an employee, I got three of them, gratis. Hungry Twins fans gobbled them up, and the newspaper made a Metrodome-full of money.
When the Series started, my friend and colleague Dave proffered a friendly wager on the outcome: "Loser has to wear a diaper to work."
We shook on it.
The day before Game 7, both of us started to get nervous about the bet; we decided it would be acceptable for the loser to wear the diaper under his pants.
Needless to say — well, I guess I'll force myself to say it — the Cardinals lost. When I went to work the next day, I was wearing an extra layer.
Dave was waiting for me, me in my suit, tie, and red Cardinals cap.
"I won't ask to see it," he says. "Just tell me if you are."
"I am," I say.
He pauses as though reluctant to ask what he wants to ask next.
"So ... where'd you find a diaper large enough," he says.
"I made it out of Homer Hankies."
The following year my father died, and in 2011 my mother followed him. Almost three months after her passing, the Cardinals won the World Series. I, of course, became neither pope nor Cardinal, but I am still a believer. And that belief is dyed-in-the-wool red.
Herbert Morgan is a freelance writer and author of "Through Shifting Currents: A History of the Memphis District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1982-1998." He lives in Urbana.