My daughter Ella Beth calls them her "birthday team." That's because on the day she was born — October 19, 2006 — the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Mets in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series to advance to their 18th World Series. Eight days later, the Redbirds won their 10th world championship against the Detroit Tigers.
But as Ella Beth became familiar with her temporary surroundings in Erlanger East's Magnolia Suite that long ago autumn night, some young catcher named Yadier Molina hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to hand St. Louis a 3-1 lead against New York in the Big Apple. Some long, lanky guy named Adam Wainwright came on to get the save in the bottom of the inning.
In one of those surreal moments that sometimes happens in sports, the now 40-year-old Wainwright is expected to start Wednesday night's NL wildcard game for St. Louis against the defending world champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
And in a fact that dwarfs that for unbelievability — given the daily physical and mental stress and strain that all catchers must deal with — the 39-year-old Molina will once more be behind the plate for the Cards against the Dodgers when it matters most.
"We were kids together in the big leagues," Wainwright said last week. "And now we're old geezers together."
They are also an increasingly rare phenomenon in all professional sports: They've spent the entirety of their big league careers — 16 for Wainright, 18 for Molina — on the same team.
Wainright, a native of Brunswick, Georgia, was originally a member of the Atlanta Braves, having been chosen with the 29th pick of the first round of the amateur draft in 2000, but was traded to St. Louis while still a minor leaguer for J.D. Drew.
When asked why he wanted to return to the Cardinals in 2022 for what most expect to be a final season, Wainwright replied, "I don't want to be anywhere else. Who am I kidding?"
As for the Puerto Rico native Molina, his 2,119 games played in a Redbirds uniform — including 2,080 games behind the plate, the most of any catcher for one team — are the third most games ever played by anyone in a Cardinals uniform, trailing only Hall of Famers Stan Musial (3,026) and Lou Brock (2,289).
That said, it's unlikely the parallel careers of Wainwright and Molina will grab the biggest share of the headlines when the playoffs begin tonight with the wildcard matchup to end all wildcard matchups in the American League between the bitter rival Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
In fact, should neither the BoSox nor Yanks make it to the World Series, it's highly probable that the television ratings from tonight's one-game playoff will top any other single game throughout MLB's postseason, so passionate and far-reaching are both teams' fans.
But the wonderful storylines don't end with Wainwright-Molina or Boston-New York. The NL division series between the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers sends the Braves against their former city in the same year their shared baseball legend — Hank Aaron — passed away. If TBS — which will begin televising the best-of-five series on Friday night in Milwaukee — doesn't have an extended tribute to Aaron's legacy, something's wrong.
Then, of course, assuming the Cardiac Cards — who had to win 19 of 20 games between Sept. 11 and Oct. 2 just to reach the playoffs — don't shock the Dodgers on Wednesday, you'll have the two best teams in baseball throughout the season facing off in a best-of-five NL divisional series with San Francisco owning home field on LA.
And all of that fails to bring up Tampa Bay versus the Boston-New York winner or the Chicago White Sox and their ageless manager Tony LaRussa — who guided the Cards to world championships in 2006 and 2011 — against Houston.
If there's been a better, more attractive group of playoff pairings at the start of the postseason, I've missed it.
Yet partly because of my daughter and mostly because both my father and grandfather so loved the Cardinals, my heart will be with the Redbirds.
My father grew up in the Great Depression. The only vacations of his childhood came when his parents would venture to St. Louis for a single summer weekend, where they would hope to catch a doubleheader on Saturday and a single game on Sunday sandwiched around a single night in a hotel before driving home to Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Sunday evening.
Such history gets in your blood. I spent my childhood falling asleep on summer nights to 50,000-watt KMOX, the matchless Jack Buck calling Cardinals games. Say what you will of modern technology, of the MLB network TV package, but imagining the action through another man's eyes is sometimes vastly superior to witnessing it through your own.
So when the Cards take the field in LA on Wednesday in basically the same uniforms they've worn since 1922, the two bright red cardinals iconically perched on either end of a baseball bat, I have but one request of the organization.
While St. Louis has had more celebrated players than Wainwright and Molina — legends such as Stan Musial, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock, to name but four — would it be the worst thing in the world to name those two redbirds atop that bat for the loyal old geezers "Yadi" and "Waino?"
Especially if the Cards somehow win world championship No. 12?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
5-at-10: Weekend winners and losers, MLB enters dream post season and what's the most entertaining college football rivalry?