On Thursday, Nolan Arenado hit a go-ahead two-run home run in his first home game as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. As often happens at Busch Stadium, the roaring crowd demanded that Arenado, following his return to the Cardinals’ dugout, hop back out and salute the crowd. He did, the crowd got excited once again, and thus the curtain call was complete.
It was a perfectly inarguable moment for St. Louis and for Arenado and it was ultimately all pretty harmless. Was it necessary? No, probably not. But there are two important factors here that I would dare say are the only relevant factors at play. One is that St. Louis loves to give curtain calls. I’m not entirely convinced that the city’s love of baseball isn’t just that it is a loose framework around which to organize curtain calls. We gave a curtain call to Arenado, an MLB veteran, for hitting a home run in his first game as a Cardinal, just as we gave one to Oscar Taveras, a twenty-one year-old rookie in his Major League debut, when he hit one in 2014. We gave one to Matt Holliday for hitting an objectively pretty meaningless home run in what was widely believed to be his final at-bat in St. Louis in 2016. We gave Albert Pujols, a visiting player, a curtain call for hitting a home run against the Cardinals in 2019. The second factor is that players really seem to enjoy to receive them. False humility aside, who doesn’t enjoy being recognized for doing something good?
During the postgame press conference, Arenado claimed that this was the first curtain call of his career, a fact immediately tweeted out (as most Cardinals press conference tidbits are these days) by Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat. Admittedly, this tidbit took me aback at first, though at no point did I question whether or not Arenado actually said it. It seemed inconceivable that something would happen in Arenado’s first game in front of home fans in St. Louis that hadn’t happened in his 513 home games played in front of fans at Coors Field. Maybe he had forgotten something while caught up in the moment.
But Colorado Rockies fans immediately rushed to the defensive, claiming that Jeff Jones had made up the story (I would like to think that if a professional sportswriter were going to concoct a story, he would make up a better one than this one and also wouldn’t give it away for free on Twitter). What came next was an even more fascinating reaction–I don’t condone yelling at a reporter for reporting a thing, but I understand having a visceral reaction if one feels slighted–which was that a number of Rockies fans and bloggers responded with videos of Nolan Arenado…not giving a curtain call. And articles about loud ovations…which do not include curtain calls. And it occurred to me that maybe baseball fans across the country do not have a uniform definition of what a curtain call is.
The more I think about it, though, it makes sense that Arenado never received a curtain call. I have not kept an encyclopedic record of the matter and am perfectly willing to be proven wrong, but I tend to think Arenado was telling the truth, but that it is perfectly understandable from the perspective of Nolan Arenado superfans in Colorado. Arenado debuted/hit his first career home run on the road. He didn’t hit his first home run at home following the signing of his long-term extension with the Rockies (signed during the off-season) until April 22. Even if there had been a looming sense that he was definitely going to leave the Rockies following the 2020 season, there weren’t fans in the stadium to give him a curtain call. Arenado famously hit a walk-off home run to complete a cycle in 2017, but curtain calls in the traditional sense are all but impossible on walk-off hits.
This doesn’t mean that Arenado did not receive some rousing ovations in Denver, and it certainly doesn’t mean he wasn’t beloved by Rockies fans. It sure feels like a relatively bland statement of fact is being defended with the force of a thousand suns as a defense mechanism. It is stupid, but also, I get it, because one could extrapolate from “Nolan Arenado didn’t get a curtain call with the Rockies” to reach the conclusion of “Rockies fans didn’t care about Nolan Arenado”. By and large, media attention surrounding the Nolan Arenado trade to St. Louis has been negative towards the Colorado Rockies organization (I would argue it has been overly transfixed on general manager Jeff Bridich, who seems pretty bad at his job but also isn’t the person in charge of determining the team’s payroll budget, but that’s a different subject), but anybody who has ever watched Dan McLaughlin broadcast a (non-pandemic) Miami Marlins home game knows how quickly the narrative can shift from “wow, this team doesn’t care about winning and its fans deserve better” to “wow, these fans don’t care”. St. Louis, a city half a decade removed from weekly shaming for “only” selling 52,000 tickets per game for a football team openly attempting to relocate, of all places should empathize.
The alternative to getting mad at a Cardinals reporter for citing an Arenado quote (which was first confirmed by other reporters and then supplied with matching video) is getting mad at Arenado himself, which would be extremely silly and pointless, if ultimately harmless as long as the anger doesn’t go beyond booing him when the Cardinals play in Colorado over Fourth of July weekend. This was, of course, the action taken by Cardinals fans in the direction of Jason Heyward when he signed with the Chicago Cubs and famously (and, if you look at what happened to the two franchises over the next few seasons, correctly) cited the Cubs’ young core as a reason to want to go to Chicago. I thought booing Heyward was dumb, if completely unworthy of the Serious National Conversation that followed it, and I think Rockies fans who would get mad at Arenado are misguiding their anger, but I don’t think either action makes Cardinals nor Rockies fans particularly good nor bad because neither reaction is unique.
It is very obvious that Colorado Rockies fans loved Nolan Arenado, and I suspect that Nolan Arenado loved them back. And despite the quibbling that Cardinals fans, myself included, do about the roster, it is nearly impossible to argue that they aren’t in a much stronger position now and going forward than the Rockies, currently banking on Trevor Story and a cloud of dust. It is understandable that Nolan Arenado wanted to improve his baseball situation by going to St. Louis, and it is understandable that presented with a situation unlike any that Arenado had encountered in Colorado, the fans of St. Louis would demand a curtain call, and that Arenado, like most players, would enjoy giving one. It was an ultimately harmless gesture, and the reaction to it is quite obviously actually a reaction of fear that the Nolan Arenado: Colorado Rockies era is being erased. Which it isn’t–Arenado is on the Mount Rushmore of Rockies with Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, and Larry Walker. And in time, that will be realized. But for now, much ado will be made about nothing.