When the World Series begins tonight at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the host Cardinals should consider voting at least one winner's share to the Atlanta Braves if they emerge victorious against the Texas Rangers in the best-of-seven format.
After all, had it not been for the Braves' epic collapse -- five straight losses to end the year after leading by three with five to go -- St. Looie would never have even reached the postseason.
And had the Redbirds not snared the National League wild-card berth on the final night of the regular season, the Philadelphia Phillies almost certainly would have won the NL pennant and become at least slight favorites to make a mess of Texas this week.
But the Braves did collapse and the Cards stunned the Phillies in the division series, then improbably rode their maligned bullpen to a win over Milwaukee in the NLCS.
So now the most storied franchise in the National League -- 10 World Series titles, 18 World Series appearances -- is up against the Rangers, who are playing in their second straight Fall Classic.
To further the Cards' underdog role, Texas is a favorite of 65 percent of voters in an ongoing ESPN Internet poll that has reached nearly 200,000 voters.
Should that poll prove prophetic, I strongly hope the Rangers will vote one winner's share to the family of Shannon Stone, the 39-year-old firefighter from Brownwood, Texas, who lost his life on July 7 attempting to catch a ball for his 6-year-old son, Cooper.
There are a lot of wonderful moments to remember about this baseball season. There was the Saturday afternoon when the Yankees' Derek Jeter drilled a home run for his 3,000th hit on a 5-for-5 day before the home fans.
There was the August night in Atlanta when the Braves retired Bobby Cox's No. 6, an evening that included a few tears, more than a few laughs, a Chipper Jones home run and one of the last joyous Bravo moments of a season that soon went south.
Though Atlanta fans always will wince at the memory, there will forever be that final night in September when Tampa Bay won its way into the American League playoffs by overcoming a 7-0 hole against the Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles outlasted a rain delay and a deficit to knock the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs and the Braves lost in 13 innings to the Phillies after leading 3-2 heading to the ninth.
Yet all of those were trumped in both a good and bad way by Shannon Stone's death while attempting to catch a ball thrown his way by Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.
Having seen father and son in the outfield stands that night, Hamilton tossed a third out their way early in that evening's game against the Oakland A's.
Stone lost his balance as the toss came his way, then fell 20 feet to his death after tumbling over a short railing.
Cooper watched it all in horror. It was, without question, the worst moment of the 2011 baseball season.
Now fast-forward to Friday night, Sept. 30, the Rangers all set to open their American League divisional series against the Devil Rays.
In what was certainly the most bittersweet moment of the baseball season, if not the best, Cooper Stone stood on the mound in Arlington, Texas, to toss out the ceremonial first pitch to Hamilton.
Standing nearby was Cooper's mom, Jenny, who wore sunglasses to hide her tears.
Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan has announced that the club intends to commission a statue of Shannon and Cooper that will stand at the ballpark.
"We want to have a memorial for Shannon Stone," said Ryan, who also ordered the stadium's short railings raised by at least a foot before next season.
"And I want the fans when they come in and see it to remember Shannon and Cooper and the fact that they represent what I think we're about, and that's making memories for our fans and family."
With the Rangers' resounding power and the Cards' cunning, this should become a Series full of memories, including the last time we may see Albert Pujols in a St. Louis uniform.
But if it's the Rangers who ultimately prevail, here's hoping they never forget to remember Shannon and Cooper Stone, who, through unspeakable tragedy, delivered baseball both its best and worst moment of 2011.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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