ACKERMAN: A St. Louis Sports Renaissance?
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Ah, July. Swimming pools, ice cream trucks, lightning bugs. Baseball, cold beer, Ted Drewes.
July also means it’s hype time for the local professional sports scene. What will the Cardinals, the best team in baseball, do at the trade deadline? NFL training camp is underway: are the Rams ready to break out? Blues fans miss the daily banter of goaltending, goal scorers and line combinations…but it won’t be long before the boys are back on the ice.
It’s a good time to be a St. Louis sports fan. For the first time in a decade, all three teams in this river city have the locals buzzing. Not since 2003 — when the Rams were still legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Cardinals were in a fierce division race and the Blues fought their way into the postseason — has St. Louis had this kind of playoff potential.
Take a look:
The Cardinals are the first team in the National League to 60 wins. They’re hitting a ludicrous .337 with runners in scoring position. Of their six All-Stars, three are involved in the NL batting race (Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter), one is a Cy Young candidate (Adam Wainwright), one is Top 15 in nearly every NL offensive category (Carlos Beltran) and another is approaching 30 saves (Edward Mujica). They also have a possible flaw that needs to be addressed, however: the ability to log innings in August and September. Can this rotation hold up? If John Mozeliak is able to find the right trading partner and add a stable veteran starter, look out. The pieces are there for a Redbird run to a 12th world championship in 2013. And the organization’s farm system has the Cardinal primed for long-term success.
The Rams have an opportunity to make some noise in a very competitive NFC West. Last season, coach Jeff Fisher was 4-1-1 in his division by introducing a resurgent, in-your-face defense. This year, the 49ers and Seahawks figure to be even better, but so are the Rams – especially offensively. QB Sam Bradford has been handed the keys to a garage filled with sports cars: WR’s Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Stedman Bailey. There’s also an SUV in TE Jared Cook and a truck in rookie RB Zac Stacy. The most important vehicle Bradford will utilize? A tractor: Jake Long, the best OT in St. Louis since Orlando Pace. If the offensive line does its job of protecting Bradford, get ready to see some points. A word of warning, though: the toughest positional adjustment from college to the NFL is wide receiver. That could mean we’ll have to temper our enthusiasm for rookies Austin and Bailey. But watch out for the second-year deep threat, Givens.
Speaking of the Rams, forget about a potential move out of town. Don’t let it spoil your season. I’ve said this since Stan Kroenke took complete control of the team: I believe Kroenke will end up building a new stadium, investing in St. Louis and keeping the Rams here. Remember what he said when he took over as majority owner? He wants revenue. You think his best opportunity to make money is in Los Angeles, where the stadium/land cost (whenever they get a real plan together) would be astronomical? Does Kroenke want to share revenue with someone else? Forget about it, relax, watch some football. Yes, we’ll eventually have to put up with a year-to-year lease (after 2014) and endless drama. But try to remove yourself emotionally from future negotiations. There will be as many leverage plays as football plays. It’s business. Trust me, you’ll feel better. Some day, you’ll be tailgating outside Kroenke’s new retractable-roof palace in the county and laughing about it.
Each season, the Blues have a chance to make St. Louis sports history. But with coach Ken Hitchcock at the helm and general manager Doug Armstrong making smart decisions, this really is the best-run Blues organization in years. It also has an owner (Tom Stillman) who, when he’s not skating himself, approves big contracts in spite of a challenging financial situation. With the leadership in place, it’s time for the players to be held to a higher standard. There’s nothing wrong with being angry about a first-round playoff exit, even if it was to a superior team (Kings). Anything short of the team goal (the Stanley Cup) is disappointing, right? So, let’s see the Blues get ticked off. There’s something admirable about players striving to succeed…and also being motivated by the fear of failure. The survival instinct – it’s a playoff neccessity. Do the Blues have it? We’ll see.
In the meantime, enjoy living in a pro sports town with three teams on the rise. There are many cities that would gladly trade with you.
Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter: @Ackerman1120