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Jaime Garcia's Mexcellent Adventure In White St. Louis

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From the El Birdos of the '60s to the Running Redbirds of the '80s, the Cardinals were once an institution that crossed lines of race, class, and creed. It seems as if this is no longer the case.

A rookie has emerged to dominate the National League in a matter not seen in some time. As the records fall by his proverbial wayside, young Jaime Garcia, 23 months removed from Tommy John surgery, electrified the Cardinal faithful once again this sizzling July week, allowing one run over seven strong innings against the two-time defending league champions from Philadelphia.

Now 24 years old, new to both the national spotlight and the long grind of a 162-game schedule, he rebounded triumphantly from previous starts, which many thought illuminated the young Tex-Mex lefty hitting the rookie wall. Garcia will, next month, approach his plateau of innings pitched in his brief professional career, but he's done so with a sterling ERA of 2.21 over 110 innings [3.30 FIP, ERA+ of 184, 2.4 WAR ($9.5M value)].

He's good.

Here is my problem: The last time a Mexican rookie pitcher had these kind of numbers four months into the season (let alone two), his local Latino community had damn near knighted him. Granted, that was Fernando Valenzula, and he took not just Los Angeles but the entitre country by storm, but I honestly feel that by now the St. Louis Latino community should be having weekly parades down Cherokee Street in Kid Garcia's honor.

So where, in the burgeoning St. Louis Latino community, is the disconnect? Maybe I have been disillusioned by reading too many Roberto Clemente books this summer, and wish the bodegas still swung to the rhythm of Spanish speaking announcers calling ball games while men wearing awesome hats did whatever they damn-well needed to do, but has the Latino community in not just St. Louis, but most of America, stopped following American professional baseball the way the African-Amercian community stopped following a generation ago?

This is a headier subject for a better journalist than myself (paging The Riverfront Times!), but the racial demographics at Busch Stadium are an affront to the actual demographics of the city and region. The city, as of 2000, was 51.2 percent African-American and 43.85 percent Caucasian, but if you judged it from an afternoon at Busch, you would think the metro area is whiter than a Dave Coulier comedy special. The Latino and Asian aspects of the city may as well not be represented at all.

The common reason given for the disparity at Busch Stadium is that the cause isn't race but socio-economic conditions. That the poorer classes, often people of color in the region, have been priced out of the game and the experience. While I won't dispute that the exorbitant prices at Busch have kept many families away, I will say that the folks out in the bleachers aren't exactly the Rockefellers. There are still a lot of poor people spending their hard-earned money on the local nine. But why they are seemingly always white families, I don't know.

I have no answers here, and I realize this (race) is an unpopular subject for anyone to bring up, but it does make me wonder, as I look around Busch Stadium: Why are the only people of color I see the hired help in the stadium? When did the Cardinals go from being a civic institution of the city to an institution of the haves of St. Louis?

And more importantly ... why?