There were no Clydesdale horses galloping across Busch Stadium tonight. There were no red jacketed men lined up in front of a sold out crowd. Whitey Herzog and Tim McCarver did not grace the halls of the stadium. But St. Louis Cardinals Baseball was played.

I’ll admit, I had 10 different stories to finish and publish on Dugout Dish — each a different version of baseball and some even showed how through the pain and the absence of normalcy, baseball remained unbroken. But this, this is what felt right to write.

Major League Baseball returned tonight. Fans stood waiting for so many months — mimicking a wife waiting for her husband’s return from sea. A lighthouse guiding our favorite players and teams back home.

124 days ago, I wrote about how the pandemic and quarantine felt different. The stoppage of professional baseball felt odd, uncertain, and fragile. I didn’t know when I would see Busch Stadium again. Unsure of when Jack Flaherty would throw another slider. But an old friend, my old childhood friend returned and for a moment, the world felt right again.

I have a love for many teams, many players, and ultimately a simple childlike foolish love for the game itself. I mourned for baseball. I cried for baseball. And for a moment, it felt like baseball had forgotten me. The negotiations, the endless dramatic fireworks of players and owners — our old friend had worn down and almost did not return to us at all. But it did.

I did not truly believe I would become emotional when I saw my favorite team lined up in an empty stadium, but it happened. I had longed for this moment. Seeing the men I shared words with in January — which seems like another life.

All standing proudly, able to play a child’s game. As names were called, memories of each player from the previous season came flooding back. The endless high leverage games. The moments of defeat. Game 162. I had missed those bittersweet moments more than my heart had realized.

And yes, I know, I have loved other teams longer than I have loved the Cardinals. I will be the first to tell someone, “I dig the Mets.” But boy, those Cardinals are special.

A moment in July, one year ago in the sweltering heat, when Paul Goldschmidt said the words, “Jesus loves baseball,” I knew I had found a home in St. Louis and those birds on a bat.

The first strike thrown by Jack Flaherty. The first home run by Tyler O’Neill. A moment when Dexter Fowler proved so many, oh so wrong. Paul DeJong going 0-2, just to show everyone what he can truly do at the plate.

An old friend has returned in a mad dash to the finish line. A 60-game sprint with one thing in mind. While I do not know how this will all end, I’m truly thankful that my old friend has returned.

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