Opening Day in Major League Baseball is always one of the greatest days of the year. I have been a baseball fan since I was a kid, and always look forward to another great season of watching my fantasy baseball team scuffle to another horrible finish. I already have both of my trips to other cities planned out for the year, and just yesterday purchased the tickets for my much lighter than normal slate of Cardinals games I plan on going to. While I’m generally pumped up around this time of the year, something last October put a serious damper on my enthusiasm for the sport I love, and I just can’t work up the excitement this year. It’s hard to explain, I mean, last year’s playoffs were some of the best ever, and the World Series was a classic the likes of which had not been seen in almost a decade….
Too bad I hardly watched it at all….
If you’re reading this from “Cardinals Nation” (And I can’t stand it when teams refer to their fans as a “nation”), you may know what I’m getting at here. You see, this critter, as critters are sometimes known to do, scurried out onto the ballfield in St. Louis during both home games of the NLDS against the Phillies last year. That critter just happened to be a squirrel. As crazed fans are wont to do, they turned him into an icon…. and since the Cards kept plowing their way through the playoffs last year, despite being written off for dead in early September, the legend of the “Rally Squirrel” only grew…. nevermind the fact that the Cardinals never staged an actual rally at any point during the playoffs….
Oh wait…. they did….
I still get sick just thinking about it…..
I’m probably the only non-Rangers fan who did not enjoy that game. It validated the damn thing. I was no longer the eccentric one who enjoyed squirrels, they were the popular thing in town, and I was just a happy bandwagoner. I couldn’t even make a Squirrel o’lantern to put out every Halloween like I had for the past two years…
But I’m not just upset that my squirrel love was co-opted by the local Major League franchise. Hey, I’ve been fighting for squirrel awareness since I created ES, so that itself wasn’t a bad thing. It’s just that….. well, I was drawing rally squirrels a full 2 and a half years before this one ever got its name in the papers. And even though I know it wasn’t actually any kind of theft, it still pisses me off, you know?
The above avatar was drawn by me on April 24, 2009. It was designed as a rally avatar for Fanny’s Denver Nuggets, who were about to face the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. ES is seen waving a Nuggets blue rally towel and stepping on the Hornets mascot, while MBRS cheers away. As the Nuggs advanced in the playoffs, I changed the mascot ES was squishing to a jackass with a Mark Cuban jersey for the Mavs (A classic if there ever was one), and a palm tree for the Lakers, who eventually did stop Denver’s run in the Conference Finals, probably because of how lame that idea actually was. The Rally Squirrels gained plenty of fame, and have reappeared in subsequent years for the Nuggets, as well as for the Colorado Rockies when they stormed their way into the playoffs in 2009 (none of which turned out very well, I’m afraid).
And I’m not saying there wasn’t outside inspiration for those rally squirrel avatars. Did you notice the date timestamped on the photo I led off this post with? That was just two days prior to that first Nuggets Rally Squirrel avatar. And that photo was taken at, where else…… Busch Stadium.
A little background. Since I generally attend games by myself, and thus buy single tickets, I tend to draw the same seat for most of the games I go to in any given year. In 2009, that regular seat of mine wound up being in the first row of section 511, seat 10, which is the last seat before the opening to the concourse. If you attend a lot of Cardinals games, you may be aware of a popular regular who has season tickets in that row, a sweet lady named Karen (I hope its spelled that way, and apologize to her or anyone who knows her if it isn’t) who has a whole litany of items and trinkets she sets up on the railing in front of her prior to the game. One of those items is what appears in that first photo, a little stuffed squeaky squirrel outfitted in a Cardinals helmet. I attended my first game that year on April 8th, and imagine my amusement to see that cute little squirrel perched on the railing not even a full year after I had created ES and became something of a sciurine aficionado. After I had mentioned it to my mom, who attended the next game with me on the 22nd, she took a picture of it from where we were sitting for that game. I never asked about the genesis of Karen’s “rally squirrel”, though if I were hazard a guess, I’d say it came from this game on September 4, 2007, which I also happened to attend, but since ES wasn’t even a glimmer in my mind at the time, I didn’t think much of. Notice the notes at the bottom of the game summary. The scoreboard operator at that game was going crazy flashing a picture of the thing on the scoreboard and calling it a….. yes, “RALLY SQUIRREL”, even though St. Louis never trailed in that game.
Anyway, after about 7 or 8 games sitting in that row with The Rally Squirrel Lady (as I always referred to her on my forum), I had concocted the idea to use ES and try to create something for her by the end of the season. I hadn’t made anything resembling a real piece of art before, but I managed to cobble together a nifty little design printed out on photo paper, put in a hand decorated matted frame, and on September 11th of that season, I presented to her the first official rally squirrel artwork ever drawn….
Oddly enough, 2 weeks after I drew that, I took a baseball trip to Cleveland to take in a few games at Progressive Field. Guess what one of the between innings promotions was during the second game I saw….?
Yes, the Rally Squirrel Shuffle was playing in Cleveland in 2009! At least it was for this game on September 23rd. That man won some booby prize for knowing which of these squirrels had the nut after they all diddy-bopped around on the Jumbotron for about 30 seconds.
The Rally Squirrel Shuffle amused me, but didn’t bother me….. because it was in CLEVELAND, which last I checked was about 500 miles driving distance from St. Louis. But did it have to happen HERE? And in such a glorious circumstance that it will never be forgotten and be around to haunt me for the rest of my life? Not only was I so depressed that I couldn’t watch the playoffs after the first round last year, but I even quit drawing ES and all squirrel characters for about 3 weeks from mid October until early November. Yeah, poor, poor pitiful me, right? I can’t even try to capitalize by throwing a generic Rally Squirrel t-shirt in my shop, because it’s just all so painful! Oh well, maybe by the time I attend my first game this year, I’ll put all this rally squirrel rubbish aside and be back in the old baseball spirit…
Just as long as some dumbass dressed in a squirrel costume doesn’t get within groin kicking range of me anyway….