Meteorologists trying to cope with vagaries of atmospheric convection have long noticed the mercurial nature of the Earth’s climate. The overall structure of air convection is so sensitive to minuscule fluctuations and so efficient in propagating them that - figuratively speaking - a single flutter of butterfly wings somewhere in the lower Yucatan can cause dramatic changes in weather patterns over New York. A phenomenon known as the Butterfly Effect.
Sometimes, our lives are subject to the same physical mechanism. One small, hardly noticeable decision influences another, then another and the actions soon trigger an unintended chain of events, which in turn precipitates unexpected rains in completely unrelated departments. Before you know it things are happening all over the place in a cascading avalanche of turns and the car of your life is careening through its vicissitudes as if it was driven by a deranged crack-smoking monkey with an expired driver's license.
In June 2004, shortly after I returned from my first ever visit to St Louis, I had little idea that the Cardinals even existed, much less that they were one of the most prominent teams of MLB history. But the butterflies of happenstance have already fluttered their wings irrevocably and one month later I found myself perching on a Cardinals rooting stool on which I remained transfixed till late October. Perhaps I could have used my coincidental visit as an excuse, but claiming Cardinals’ fanship on those grounds would be like a pork chop claiming to be sea food, just because the pig from which it was once cut fell into the ocean. So I’ll just blame it on butterflies’ wings. Actually, now that I think of it, I wish meteorologists had used cardinals' wings in their jargon, rather than those of butterflies. That would have made this line of reasoning much more melodramatic. And it would read really well during a distant summer thunderstorm, possibly with a hairdryer blowing conspicuously into one's mane.
I have to admit that I like rooting for underdogs. Nothing warms your heart more than a good Cinderella story. Part of the reason why I chose to adopt the Cardinals was that at the time I perceived them as such. Little did I know in June that in the first season of my affiliation with Cardinals’ fandom would I be given the emperor’s gift of seeing the team that I grew to admire to advance to the World Series. After all, many Cards’ fans had to wait their whole lifetime to witness this event, and here I was - a baseball ignoramus - slowly digesting the rules of the game and undeservedly feasting on ambrosia that was withheld to so many for so long.
Not that I am an expert on divine cuisine, but I have to admit that some of that lightly sauteed ambrosia tasted really well. Edmonds’ homer in the 11th inning of game 5 against Houston was one of those unique and truly mesmerizing sporting moments, whose intensity, at least in my mind, was comparable only to Antonin Panenka’s cheeky penalty kick from 1976 European Soccer Championship final between West Germany and Czechoslovakia, two state formations that ironically no longer exist. The penalty kick that became affectionately known as the “falling leaf”. I was only a teenager then, but I still remember vividly the lightly chipped ball that took seemingly infinite time to drift into the very middle of the goal, much to the chagrin of the German goalkeeper, who had already jumped and could only watch this giant round dandelion spore floating past him in slow motion. And I am pretty sure that 30 years from now I will remember equally vividly Edmonds’ insanely focused expression as his slug took seemingly infinite time to finally acknowledge the rules of gravity. Having just survived Brad Lidge, it felt like the Hoover Dam broke wide open.
But I firmly believe in the balance of things. If you receive, you should give. So I wrote this little book, a painting invited to a canvass by a blind man, as an attempt to thank the Gods of Baseball and at least retrospectively deserve some of the morsels that they handed down to me. After all, many fans paid for the sweet taste of the World Series with their own salty tears.
© 2005 Jan Rehacek
The Book of Cardinals 2004
In Spring 2001, a clerk at the American Embassy in Prague was sifting through a pile of tourist visa applications. One of them belonged to a friend of mine and I was almost certain it would get approved. But at the end the rubber stamp imprinted on that particular application read "rejected". I hope the clerk at least put a coat of red lipstick on that rubber stamp before kissing the application Good Bye. Such a simple act. And yet, if she didn't, my life would be moving alongside a completely different track, never crossing the path of the Cardinals.
It was just a little reminder how subtle and perhaps frivolous the flutters of butterfly wings can be and how far into the past one has to go in order to trace out their true origin. It wasn't the most important of the butterflies that precipitated my conversion, but somehow I find it the most comical one.
I can almost see the clerk sitting by an open window, drowsily biting a pencil and shooting candy ducks with her eraser. The warm spring air smells of the Vltava river and the nearby Petrin Hill is abuzz with insect. The rubber stamp hovers undecidedly over the application: Accept or Reject? And then in one fell swoop... Bang! Rejected. And a few fairly linear consequences later I purchased my first red cap with the letters STL embroidered on it.