There is a tradition that has become so synonymous with Cardinals baseball that even in the heart of winter, it’s fun to think about when we will hear the hooves of Clydesdales trotting around the warning track of Busch Stadium again.
The Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales have become a staple of the Cardinals’ Opening Day tradition, and thus a symbol of Cards baseball and St. Louis for almost five decades. But when and how were these horses introduced to the Cardinals? There’s more to the story than just the Cards’ connection to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis.
The Budweiser Clydesdales were first introduced to the public on April 7, 1933, to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. August A. Busch Jr. presented the horses -- pulling a red, white and gold beer wagon -- to his father, August A. Busch Sr., outside the brewery. The hitch carried the first case of post-Prohibition beer from the brewery down Pestalozzi Street in St. Louis. Recognizing the advertising and promotional potential of a horse-drawn beer wagon, Busch Sr. sent the team of horses on a tour of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
The promotional appeal of the Clydesdales didn’t stop there. Advertising featuring the Clydesdales has become a longstanding Super Bowl tradition, and the horses have appeared in the Rose Bowl Parade, too. Many of Anheuser-Busch’s Clydesdales are raised at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis, and there is a breeding farm in Boonville, Mo., about 150 miles west of St. Louis.
The Cardinals and the Clydesdales didn’t become linked until Anheuser-Busch purchased the team from Fred Saigh for $3.75 million in 1953, and even then, it took about two decades for the horses to become a longstanding tradition on Opening Day. In the late '70s, the Cards wanted to make their home opener a spectacle -- something that would honor the rich history of the franchise while getting fans excited for the coming season.
Each year, the Cardinals’ home opener is really an experience rather than just a ceremony and a game. Fans fill the ballpark and city with red. “Here Comes the King,” plays on the organ continuously. And the Clydesdales lead the parade each year, pulling that iconic beer wagon, followed by cars carrying current Cards and Hall of Famers. The right-field gates at the past two Busch Stadiums were specially modified to allow for the Clydesdales to reach the warning track for the annual lap.
Today, the Cardinals aren't the only MLB team with the Clydesdales appearing on Opening Day, but because the tradition started with St. Louis, there is something special about it happening there. Until you’ve seen the Clydesdales leading the way around the warning track in person, you haven’t experienced the spectacle that is Opening Day in St. Louis.
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