Bad appendix can't stop Cards fan
Hawaiian flies to St. Louis one day after having surgery
ST. LOUIS -- Maybe Venita Rae Smith wouldn't give up a body part to see her beloved Cardinals, a team she had a connection to even before she was born. But losing one didn't stop her from making the trip from Hawaii for the World Series.
Smith, 62, underwent an appendectomy Sunday morning. By Monday at 10:30 a.m. Honolulu time, she was boarding a flight to join family members in St. Louis.
Her story is part planning, part resourcefulness, part good fortune at a bad time, and all love for her favorite ballclub. It all resulted in Smith arriving in St. Louis in time for Game 3. She will share her tickets to the games at Busch Stadium with her younger sister, Bonita Stamper; Stamper's daughter, Jana Everett; Everett's daughter, Grace Elizabeth, 1; and a lifelong family friend, Linda Basnett.
It all began in the Great Depression in Lebanon, Mo. By all accounts, Ray Smith, Venita's father, was a good baseball player.
"Everyone says he was really good, good enough to go pro, but then came the Depression and the war -- World War II," Venita Smith said. "He didn't come back from the war. I was 15 months old."
Mom, Esther Smith, maintained her love for the Cards and passed it on to Venita. "We'd go to Ladies' Day games for a quarter," Smith recalled.
That's the way baseball is. A mother passes it to her daughter, and the little girl never lets it go. She still gets a thrill at the mention of Stan "The Man" Musial.
Venita Smith has lived in Hawaii for the last 26 years, working as an entertainment director for the U.S. Army. She runs a community theatre in Kailua, on the island of Oahu. But she often comes back "home" to see the Cardinals. She made it for a World Series game in 2004, when her club was swept by the Red Sox.
This time, she planned her trip to St. Louis based on hope.
First, she hoped that her team would make the Series. Then, she hoped she would get a special project completed. She has written a screenplay based on her parents' relationship. She said she and her partner in the project, Margaret South, who was a producer for "For the Boys" and "Beaches," are still trying to secure funding.
The search for funding has been going slowly, so at first, Smith decided not to make the trip. But during the National League Championship Series, she simply had a feeling, and logged on to bid for tickets and secure flights. All that worked out, so she volunteered to work some long days last week so she could have a leave from her job this week.
But she began feeling stomach pain at week's end. It was quickly determined that her appendix needed to be removed. Turns out she was lucky.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "It was Dr. John Payne, who is the trumpet player in my orchestra at the theatre. Isn't that unbelievable?
"I told him what I needed and he said, 'Don't worry. I'll go in through your navel. If you feel up to it, I'll have you on that plane.'"
This Series has a much more special feel for Smith than 2004, and not just because the Cards are up 2-1 as opposed to being swept last time. When Venita made the trip, her mom was ill and could not be with her.
Mom passed away last November. But her daughter has found peace.
"It's the first time ever that mom, dad and me will see a game together," she said. "I know they'll be with me. It's all right."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.