If you want to go to sleep, count sheep. If you want to boil your synapses to the breaking point with excitement, anticipation and delight -- and, oh yeah, you're a Cardinals fan -- start counting the past and present Redbirds who will be appearing at the eighth annual St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up, the team's big fundraising event for its charitable foundation, Cardinals Care.
Tony La Russa. Albert Pujols. Edgar Renteria. Bo Hart. Scott Rolen. Jim Edmonds. Lou Brock. Stan the Man. And for the first time ever this year: Orlando Cepeda. Julian Javier. Jack Clark. And the National Baseball Hall of Fame's most shameful oversight, Marty Marion.
All of these boys in red are not just "appearing," mind you, but actually getting face-to-face with the fans, signing autographs and sitting in on Q&A panels. ("Mommy, are we in Heaven yet?") No wonder the Cards raise buckets of cash -- much of it earmarked to build and maintain inner-city baseball fields -- each year during the three-day Winter Warm-Up.
"Cardinals fans treat this like a baseball carnival," says vice president of community relations Marty Hendin. "There are about a dozen teams nationwide that hold these kinds of fundraisers, but this is the most successful by far."
The Cardinals organization shows as much enthusiasm for the event as the fans do; about 90 percent of the current team roster is expected, and everybody from "the owners to the batboys to our organist" turns out, says Hendin, even though, he adds, local fans are notorious for holding people's feet to the fire come Q&A time. "Our fans don't just ask the polite questions," says Hendin. "They're not afraid to ask La Russa 'what-the-hell-were-you-thinking?' questions."
In addition to the panel talks and autograph signings (some of the latter are included in the price of admission; others require additional, à la carte payment), live and silent auctions will bid away everything from Cardinals memorabilia to books on baseball to restaurant gift certificates to getaway packages.
The pièce de résistance of the Winter Warm-Up? Members of the 1964 World Champion Cardinals will make an appearance to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that championship season.
If all of that still isn't up-close-and-personal enough for you, spring for a slightly steeper seat at St. Charles' Hot Stove 2004, a luncheon where you can pick the brains of Cardinals radio broadcaster Wayne Hagin, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Rick Hummel, and former Redbird hurlers Todd Worrell and Ricky Horton.