ST. LOUIS -- For eight months, they lived as a family, spending more time with each other than with anyone else. On Sunday, the Cardinals got to savor the fruits of that labor with their actual families.
The city of St. Louis -- and frankly, the entire region -- came out to celebrate the World Series champions on Sunday afternoon. They lined city streets and packed Busch Stadium to fete the 11th world championship team in franchise history.
And as players, coaches, club employees and so many more rolled into the park, one thing stood out: Many of them were accompanied by the people with whom they get to spend so little time during the year. Friday night's champagne celebration was for the people in the clubhouse. Sunday was for everyone else.
"When you think about this in terms of how much you're working and how focused you are on the job, it's difficult to always weave your family into functions," general manager John Mozeliak said. "The travel is far more brutal than people think. It's a lot less glamorous. But for this day and this past week, I think everybody I've been around has tried to get their families to be more a part of it and feel more included."
Manager Tony La Russa led the parade, riding the Budweiser Clydesdales wagon with his wife and a dog mascot, arriving inside the ballpark around 4:40 p.m. CT. He was followed by principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and his family, the club's broadcasters, Hall of Famers, players, coaches and front-office personnel. All took a victory lap before ascending a red platform over second base.
The parade started at 4 p.m. and rolled past thousands upon thousands of fans in the downtown area. The Cardinals arrived in the park to a hero's welcome and even a couple of proclamations. David Freese, the World Series and National League Championship Series MVP, was presented with keys to the City and County of St. Louis. Freese is a native of the area.
"This is amazing," Freese said. "[Even] with all this talent, with the right trades, none of this is possible without St. Louis and all the fans. So I thank you guys. You guys are the reason why this is possible."
Freese was one of several players who addressed the crowd, but none was more anticipated or more loudly received than Albert Pujols. The slugger, who is now a free agent, received a standing ovation of approximately 45 seconds from the fans inside the stadium.
Asked if it was possible to do the whole thing again in 2012, Pujols gave fans a ray of hope, saying: "Hey, why not?"
La Russa, whose return looks like a bit more of a sure thing than Pujols', made sure to note not only the fans, but the support personnel around the club.
"We're all happy that you're enjoying this world championship," La Russa said. "We have a very great family here in this organization and you deserve it."
Which is not to say that there wasn't plenty of camaraderie shared by the men who actually played the games. One after another noted an especially close-knit clubhouse, a feeling that started all the way back in February in Florida.
"I've said all along that this group of guys is amazing," said ace Chris Carpenter. "We started in Spring Training. We have the best group of guys that I've ever been around. I will do anything for them. Being able to win this World Series, bring it back to our city, some of the guys that have never had an opportunity to do this, unbelievable, and I am so happy for them."
There was even a Rally Squirrel sighting, of course. As the celebration in the stadium was about to start, a squirrel was spotted in the stands down the third base line. The Rally Squirrel became a rallying cry for Cardinals fans during the Division Series and NLCS.
Following the event on the field, Cardinals players and club employees retired to a private event inside Busch Stadium. It was one more chance to share their triumph with each other, and with their loved ones.
"It's special," Mozeliak said. "It's really nice that we allowed everybody in our front office to bring their families in this parade. It's a special moment and a unique moment. It was time well spent."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.