To St. Louis

Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty

First off, from the bottom of my heart: I want to say thank you. 

St. Louis, I want to tell you — with all the love and respect in the world — how grateful and appreciative I am to have been a part of this community for the past six years. 

I’ll never forget how awesome it felt to walk around this city, knowing that I was a part of something truly unique. Being a Cardinal in St. Louis is just special. And I just want to make sure all the fans understand how much I enjoyed playing in front of you guys every single second. I always felt that love. It was real. You notice the sound, you feel the noise, your jersey vibrates. That’s the easiest way I could describe it. And I always cherished those moments. I used your energy and support as fuel to go out there and be the best ballplayer I could possibly be. The passion involved with it all was for you guys. 

 And I never took that responsibility lightly. Never took the uniqueness of all this for granted. 

This isn’t one of those deals where it’s like, “Well, looking back on it now … it was definitely pretty cool.” No. Every single moment I was playing for this team, putting on that Cards uniform, sharing that bond with our fans … I knew how special it all was. I soaked in every second of it. And I played my ass off to try to live up to it. 

Harrison Bader | To St. Louis | The Players' Tribune
Billy Hurst/St. Louis Cardinals via Getty

From Day One, everything about this place was magical to me. 

I still get chills thinking about driving to Busch Stadium from Memphis with my dad for the first time after getting called up. That whole day was like a dream. I’m walking into a locker room with Yadi and Waino and all the guys — not just veterans, but legends. 

The support I felt from the fans in St. Louis, it always meant the world to me. 

Harrison Bader

And when I first showed up in St. Louis, I had no idea what to expect. The first thing Yadi told me was like, “Hey, we’re all equals. We game plan together. We do this together. We win together. We lose together.” And you’re trained, especially from a younger age, to just be so about yourself. But now it’s like, O.K., I got to be on a team, because that’s how we win. It’s no longer about Harrison Bader. It’s about the St. Louis Cardinals.

I was all in. Right from the start. Just absolutely fired up. 

So on that day, I was just so ready to go out and help my team win and to show this city what I could do. But at the same time … I was also ready to throw up. I was so nervous, just totally pumped full of adrenaline. Then to score the winning run that day — with the crowd going nuts??? I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

I still have a picture of me celebrating that moment hanging in my apartment. I had it blown up real big and framed. It’s one of my favorite things I own — I like how it represents the start of something, you know? It was like, If this is how good this all feels right now, at the very beginning, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.   

From there, things just continued to get better. And the support I felt from the fans in St. Louis, it always meant the world to me. 

I didn’t want to be a type of player where I only get cheers for one part of my game. And the one thing I’ve always noticed is, all the fans cheer just as loudly for a home run as they did an infield single. All parts of my game were constantly cheered for, which … I could not thank you guys more.

This really has been a wonderful journey. And sitting here now, it’s definitely pretty surreal, thinking back on that first game, and then seeing how things have come full circle. I was thinking the other day about how I entered St. Louis with short hair — buzzed on the side, with a little hair on top. And now I’m actually leaving St. Louis with a haircut that’s very similar. In the time in between, my hair got longer and sort of came alive. But more importantly, during that time, the city of St. Louis became a part of who I am. It really shaped me. I feel like I grew up as a player and as a person because of St. Louis, and because of how the people of St. Louis allowed me to develop and show what I was about.  

If there’s one thing that I’d want St. Louis to remember most about me, it’s my smile.

Harrison Bader

And obviously that doesn’t mean everything was 100% rosy. Nothing in life ever is, right? There were times when our fans expected more from me, and they called me out. And you know what? They were right to do that! I understand that that stuff is rooted in passion, in a love for the team. I understand that it comes with the territory. And that’s exactly the way it should be. 

And that actually reminds me of the one thing I’d change if I could do it all over again. A few years ago, I made an offhand comment about how there’s so much love in St. Louis … but there’s also some hate. And it still gnaws at me that I said that. Because I totally worded things incorrectly. Having lived and played ball in St. Louis for six (amazing) seasons, what I was getting at is definitely not hate. I think it’s more like an expectation — one that’s justified. It’s a deep caring. And it’s a good thing.

The reality is, in my time as a Cardinal, I couldn’t possibly have been surrounded by better or more loving people. And I want you all to know how meaningful it’s been. 

Harrison Bader | To St. Louis | The Players' Tribune
Michael Reaves/Getty

Last thought here: If there’s one thing that I’d want St. Louis to remember most about me, it’s my smile. Just because of what it represents in my mind. 

The origin of this smile for me in St. Louis, it wasn’t the diving catches or the home runs or winning runs, whatever it was. The smile was the reaction to the fans cheering that that just happened on the field.

Like if I drove in a run, or if I made a diving catch, I didn’t pop up smiling because I made the play. That’s my job, it’s what I’m supposed to do. (And I take what I do very seriously.) I was smiling because of what you all did — because I heard Cardinals fans cheering, and yelling, and it made me feel good. And I guess that’s why my smiles were always so big … because the cheers were always so big. Because you all cared as much as I did, and were so kind.

So for that, and for so many other things, let me say again: Thank you, St. Louis, for six seasons in the big leagues. Just thank you. It was an honor to play here.

And no matter where my career takes me, the smile I’ll have about this place is forever.