ST. LOUIS -- Goodbye, Busch Stadium. Long live Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals' new ballpark will have the same name as the old one, and similar dimensions. It will be located right next door. The team hopes it will have the same electric atmosphere on game nights.
The Stan Musial statue will move next door, greeting fans as they enter. And of course, the seats will still be red.
Sure, a few things will change -- the seating capacity will be a bit smaller, for one thing. And the facilities will be newer and nicer. Architecturally, the "space-age" concrete look of the old place will give way to a brick façade.
"It's going to be different," said Cards center fielder Jim Edmonds. "It's going to bring a little bit more excitement and a little bit more fun to the everyday drag. I really think it's going to be exciting for everybody. It's going to bring fans maybe a little closer to the game and give them a little bit more access. I think it's going to be a neat situation."
The most immediate difference between the two parks is a drop in capacity, especially at first. The current Busch Stadium has held 50,345 since the 1997 installation of a large manual scoreboard in center field. That will be down by about 10 percent in the new place, and the number will be even lower at first.
"The expectation is that on Opening Day next year, if we decide to bring in some temporary seating -- which we are considering -- we could have a capacity for the first half of the season of just over 42,000," said team president Mark Lamping. "Then, once the pavilion seating is done, by mid-year next year, we'll remove the temporary seating and have a total capacity of just over 46,000."
The timetable will be tight for the Cardinals, especially if they play as deep into October as they hope to. The current facility has to be demolished in order to finish the new one, and of course that can't be done until the 2005 season is over.
The current Busch Stadium has seen plenty of significant work over the years. In addition to the new scoreboard, the club replaced artificial turf with grass before the 1996 campaign. The current park is the furthest that an old "cookie-cutter," multi-purpose stadium could be turned into a true ballpark. The new one will be all ballpark, through and through -- even if it takes a little extra time to get it completely finished.
"It's not the easiest way to put a field in, but we do have a very successful experience already under our belt -- putting in the field between the 1995 and 1996 season," Lamping said. "That field did not go in until sometime in February, so it can be done. If you talk to people who put fields in, the hardest part of putting in a field is to get the subsurface, the irrigation and the drainage system in so it drains properly. If you get a great subsurface in and you have a field that drains well and has good irrigation, that all contributes.
"It's not the perfect scenario, but it's the scenario that we kept in order to build the ballpark in what we thought was the perfect location," said Lamping. "This is a long-term decision, a 50-year-plus decision. If it means a little inconvenience during the construction during the initial season, when you look at how long this will be the home of the Cardinals, it's not that much. The fact that much of the infrastructure is already there, the minimal disruption to business, and that our fans are used to going to that location. Our belief is that this location makes downtown St. Louis stronger, and that's good for everyone."
One advantage for new Busch: the views. The circular, all-enclosed setup of the current place limits how much fans can see outside the park. The new stadium will open to the northeast, allowing fans a view of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis.
Visually, the new park will of course have the bricks-and-girders style that many new stadiums feature. But it will also have some St. Louis touches, most notably arches along the top and around the entrances. The park will be new, but it will be familiar as well.
"They've made a concerted effort to make the experience a good experience," said broadcaster and former pitcher Rick Horton. "So you're having a good experience at the stadium. You're going to have a new stadium, but I think the idea is to transport that experience to a different building."
For fans, the Cards promise a slew of comfort and convenience upgrades. Concourses will be wider, escalators and more elevators will be available and sight lines are expected to be better. The club asserts that food options will be upgraded and restrooms will be improved.
From a baseball perspective, it should play like the current place -- basically neutral.
"I heard it's going to play like this thing," said manager Tony La Russa. "The only thing I emphasize is just to make sure it doesn't play any smaller."
Still, there will be an adjustment period for the team as it familiarizes itself with a new home. The park will open April 10, 2006, with a game against the Brewers, but it's not clear at this time whether that will be the first game of any kind. Ideally, the Cardinals would play some sort of exhibition beforehand, in order to get a feel for the grounds.
"It would be nice," said La Russa. "I heard one time there was some talk about playing an exhibition game, but they don't know if the field will be ready. We may just come back for a workout."
As the Cardinals wrap up their 40th and final season in the old Busch Stadium, most of the focus is on winning a World Series title. But sometime in the coming weeks, they'll start looking at the new place. And though the address will change, it'll still be Cardinals baseball.
"I just look at it as, it's going to be a better work environment, it's going to be a more fan-friendly place," said TV announcer and former St. Louis pitcher Al Hrabosky. "You'll get off at the same exit and go the same way you came. It's still right in the neighborhood."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.