ST. LOUIS (AP) — Bedecked in Cardinals red, Sue Cunningham bolted into the main souvenir store at Busch Stadium with one objective.
“Got to get a Rally Squirrel, right?” she said.
Actually, she bought four of the 6-inch stuffed toys Wednesday before Game 1 of the World Series between St. Louis and Texas. Got a mix of them, too on sale were Eastern grays and reds. They cost $6, or $12 for the version that made a little squeak when they were pushed near the little play acorn they held.
The Rally Squirrel has quickly become incredibly popular, ever since a couple of the critters showed up at Busch during the first round of the NL playoffs.
Funny thing, the first time a squirrel started running loose, St. Louis lost to the Phillies. But the next night, when a squirrel scampered across home plate while Skip Schumaker was batting, the Cardinals won and their fans went crazy.
“It’s been nuts,” longtime Cardinals player and announcer Mike Shannon said, so to speak. “Even in Hollywood, they wouldn’t dream up something like this.”
A person dressed in a squirrel costume sprung up, and has been cheering on the Cardinals’ surge. He wears jersey No. 11 as in, the Cardinals are trying to win their 11th World Series championship.
The new team mascot was at an event Wednesday afternoon where Michelle Obama and Jill Biden honored military veterans.
Inside the Busch store, Cunningham perused all sorts of squirrel-themed merchandise. There were red T-shirts emblazoned with “got squirrels?” and a foam hand that pictured a cartoon version sliding across the plate. A few minutes before the shop opened, employees hurried to break open boxes and display more souvenirs.
Cunningham came from Effingham, Ill., about 100 miles away, with her granddaughter, Morgan Sturgeon. First and foremost, Cunningham plucked several of the furry toys off a shelf.
“I have to get them for my grandchildren, don’t I?” she said. “If the Cardinals win, this will always be remembered as the Year of the Squirrel.”
Because of health concerns, the Cardinals set peanut butter-baited humane traps to nab the real squirrels running loose. They’ve caught four so far and released them outside the ballpark, but aren’t sure they’ve corralled all of them.
Naturally, some fans have wondered: What if a ball hits a squirrel during the World Series?
“We’re all aware of what could happen,” Major League Baseball umpire executive Rich Rieker said, hours before Game 1. As to whether it would be discussed when umpires and managers meet at home plate, he said, “Not necessarily.”
In short, here’s the general rule: A ball that hits a squirrel, or any animal on the field, remains in play. In 2001, Randy Johnson threw a pitch during an exhibition game that killed a dove that was ruled no pitch, because the ball never got near the plate.
If the Rally Squirrel happens to run up the leg of a hitter, Rieker added, it would be the umpire’s discretion to make a call.
Copyright Associated Press