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10/03/05 8:57 PM ET

Cardinals fans gear up for playoffs

St. Louis faithful celebrate Rally Monday

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals fans showed their true colors on Monday.

Just 24 hours removed from the emotionally charged final regular-season game at Busch Stadium and a day before Chris Carpenter will throw the first pitch of the National League Division Series against San Diego, Cardinals fans showed up at the Gateway Mall downtown ready to cheer a little more and a little louder for the Redbirds.

Marty Prather, 47, said he got chills during the weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds and was one of the first to arrive for Rally Monday.

A season-ticket holder since 1983, Prather lives in Springfield, Mo., 220 miles from downtown St. Louis. Prather brought his wife and daughter to town so they could experience the last regular-season game at Busch Stadium, drove them back home on Sunday night before heading back to St. Louis for Monday's pep rally and Tuesday's playoff opener.

"I got about six hours of sleep and did four hours of work," Prather said. "I spent more time on the road than I did in my bed. I couldn't miss it. This is the payoff, today and tomorrow, for driving to those 40 games a year."

Prather, who is known among Cardinals fans as the sign guy, was there early Monday afternoon, wearing a Cardinals jersey with the No. 97 on it. The name on the back was "Bartman," and below the 97 were the words "years & counting," a not-so-subtle dig at the rival Chicago Cubs. He already has a new jersey with the No. 98 ready for next season.

Prather is well known among his peers, but he pointed out Jacque Niekamp as the biggest Cardinals fan he knows. Niekamp, 61, is from Frontenac and is a frequent visitor to Busch Stadium with her 86-year-old mother, Mary Jane Thaman.

Like Prather, Niekamp was one of the first fans to arrive at the Gateway Mall on Monday afternoon.

"There's so much enthusiasm," Niekamp said. "I think this year it carries over from the game yesterday and all the special ceremonies following the game. There's always incentive to win and we know the Cardinals always have a good chance to win, but with it being the final year at Busch, it would only be fitting if the Cardinals go out with a championship."

Cardinals fans young and old were treated to the festivities on Monday, which included performances by the band Cowboy Mouth and appearances by Fredbird, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, Cardinals president Mark Lamping, Cardinals players and broadcasters and more.

Sherry Jackson, 45, from O'Fallon, Ill., stood out in the crowd. Jackson wore a white T-shirt with the words "Vote for Pujols" on the front. She was also accompanied by her 7 1/2-month old border collie mix, Liberty.

"The Cardinal fans, even in small numbers, are noisy," Jackson said.

Todd Thomas was the M.C. for Rally Monday. Known as "That One Guy," and sporting a red Cardinals jersey with that name and the No. 1 on the back, Thomas is a regular at Cardinals promotions and was feeding off the vibe from the fans.

"The people down here are full of energy and shows what Cardinal Nation is all about," Thomas said.

Thomas and Team Fredbird threw shirts and other souvenirs to the frenzied fans and also gave away tickets to Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday. When Thomas tried to find the oldest Cardinals fan in attendance for two tickets on Tuesday, the winner was 82-year-old Paul Pagano, who is best known in St. Louis as "Father Time."

"It's just fantastic the turnout of all these people that come to these rallies and really enjoy them," said Pagano, dressed in a Cardinals No. 1 jersey, red hat, red shoes and red socks with a sign around his neck with the words, "Cardinals, It was an exciting year. Thanks for the memories."

Pagano added: "It seems like this year, people are more keyed up about it than last year. It's exciting."

Many of the fans who turned out on Monday, and 40,000-plus of their friends, will be back downtown on Tuesday for the start of the Division Series when Carpenter takes the mound against the San Diego Padres' Jake Peavy.

"Now the real season starts," Niekamp said. "I can't wait for tomorrow."

Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.