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Pallante, Nootbaar among Cardinals to experience first full-capacity opening day at Busch Stadium since 2019

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St. Louis Cardinals 2022 opening day

Members of the St. Louis Cardinals high-five each other during introductions as part of opening day ceremonies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Thursday, April 7, 2022. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Clydesdales circling the warning track, player entrances on a motorcade, and, perhaps most notably of all, a sold-out Busch Stadium on Thursday marked the return of the full opening-day tradition St. Louis is accustomed to.

For a number of Cardinals players, the festivities for the start of the regular season were their first experience of a “normal” opening day that hadn’t occurred at Busch Stadium since the 2019 season. 

The 2020 season was played without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 home opener was played in front of a limited capacity (almost 15,000 fans) due to pandemic-caused restrictions.

The list of players that experienced a full-opening day at Busch Stadium for the first time as Cardinals included: Nolan Arenado, Tommy Tommy Edman, Edmundo Sosa, Andrew Knizner, Dylan Carlson, Génesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Kodi Whitley, Jake Woodford, Aaron Brooks, Steven Matz, Andre Pallante, Drew VerHagen, Nick Wittgren, Lars Nootbaar, and Corey Dickerson.

Pallante is the only rookie among the bunch.

“I'm really excited,” Edman said before Thursday's 9-0 win in front of a sellout crowd of 46,256. “It's going to be definitely a little different experience from the past couple years. Last year was just a little sneak preview, and this year I'm excited to get the full experience.”

For players like outfielder Nootbaar and Sosa, their first opening day in Cardinals jersey was a family affair as Sosa had his wife and daughter at the ballpark while Nootbaar had his parents.

“I watched it from the stands last year,” Nootbaar said pregame. “I was at the alternate site. I came down and watched it. Got a little taste of it. It was freezing cold. This year, having a jersey on, is going to be different. Excited. Anxious. I'm excited my parents get to share the experience with me."

It was also a chance for players to meet some Cardinals royalty and their idols that are in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

“It was an unreal experience being able to meet the legends (like) Mark McGwire for the first time... I grew up watching him (and) he went to USC, so he's been a hero of mine,” said Nootbaar who went to University of Southern California.

For rookie reliever Andre Pallante, Thursday’s opener was his first in general as both a player and a fan.

The Southern California native didn’t attend an MLB opening day growing up. He attended Angels and Dodgers games, and had opportunities to see Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw pitch on three different occasions. But an opening day game was not one of them.

“They told us exactly what it was going to be, and it was awesome,” Pallante said. “And the fans went crazy loud. Being able to meet the Cardinals Hall of Famers was awesome. It was just really good experience. I'm glad I was able to be there for it.”

However, Pallante’s milestone came without his family in the stands, for a somber reason. Pallante’s grandfather died at the age of 97, and his family was not able to travel to St. Louis due to Pallante's grandfather's funeral services. He said knowing his family was following the game on TV kept him motivated.

“They're going to be watching, so I'm going to have all the support I need,” Pallante said prior to Thursday’s opener.

The rookie reliever did have one personal supporter among the sea of red at Busch Stadium. Adrian Damla, Pallante’s friend and former teammate from his college days playing for the University of California-Irvine, made the trip to the Midwest to share the moment with Pallante.

Pallante said Damla, who played first base for the Anteaters, flew in two days ago after Damla promised he would be at the ballpark whenever Pallante got his call to the big-leagues.

The right-hander earned a spot on the 28-man opening day roster after a spring where he threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed one hit and one walk in three Grapefruit League appearances.

Pallante didn’t get called out of the bullpen Thursday. He said when that time comes, he’ll be ready for it, with the hopes of making a strong impression.

“Hopefully I get the opportunity to pitch,” he said. “That's the one thing I'm focused on really.”

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter

dguerrerro@post-dispatch.com

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