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Redbird Nation rejoices in Cards' title

Redbird Nation rejoices in Cards' title

ST. LOUIS -- Matt Thomas had traveled halfway around the globe and waited a lifetime for this moment.

It was a few minutes after the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, and Thomas, standing in the upper deck along the first-base line, looked down at Jeff Weaver on the field and smiled. When Weaver started joyously yelling, Thomas, decked in Cardinals red, joined in with the rest of Redbird Nation, shouting, "Weaver, Weaver, Weaver!"

"This is a dream come true," he said, sharing the sentiments of thousands of Cardinals fans at Busch Stadium, celebrating downtown or watching from their sets. "In my lifetime, I didn't want to see them win it, I wanted to see them win it at home."

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Thomas, 40 "going on 14," was raised in St. Louis, but moved to the United Kingdom. He's married to a Russian woman, Svetlana Thomas. Most of his immediate family lives in Russia. His 8-year-old son, Andrew, was born in the U.K. and cheers for Arsenal and other English Premier League teams.

But Matt Thomas shared the love of his beloved Cardinals with his son and family, watching games on the Internet and reading about the Redbirds whenever he could.

"I live in a six-hour time difference, and almost every day I go into work bleary-eyed because I haven't gotten enough sleep," he said. "I am just absorbing any article I can find, any news on the Cardinals. I have a hard time watching the playoff games. I have to turn it and turn it off."

He went to some of the 1987 World Series contests, a losing seven-game effort against the Twins. When the Cardinals reached the Fall Classic this year, Thomas jumped at any chance he could to see a game -- no matter the cost.

"Money doesn't grow on trees; any time the Cardinals win the World Series, it is money well-spent," he said.

On Thursday morning, at 7 a.m. London time, he boarded a plane for St. Louis. He landed about three hours before Game 4 started and quickly went to the field with Andrew. They had perfect seats, right down the first-base line.

When Albert Pujols walked off the field between the fifth and sixth innings of Game 4, "El Hombre" -- a player Andrew's dad had told him stories about during the past few years -- pointed to the boy and tossed him a ball.

"My son has a game-used World Series ball," Matt Thomas said, smiling, recalling a moment that his son will never forget.

One night later, he watched his team win the World Series, recalling a goal that he set many years ago.

T.J. Mulder didn't travel halfway around the world. A St. Louis native, he graduated from Western Illinois University and came back home. Born on Sept. 9, 1982, Mulder was less than two months old when the Redbirds clinched their last World Series title.

Twenty-four falls and several near-misses later, he was there to experience the 10th championship in the storied history of the Cardinals and the first at the new park, in its inaugural year.

Mulder, dressed in a Cardinals fleece, bought tickets for about 30 games. He was also standing in the upper deck when Adam Wainwright punched out Brandon Inge for the final out of the 2006 season.

"It means the world to me," he said. "It's been an amazing experience. I finally got to go to the final game, and it's been great."

He was hugging anyone he could find and planned to enjoy himself Friday night.

"I am going out to the bars," he said with a smile.

Bob Wendel, wearing a Cardinals fleece, followed the throng of hundreds of Cardinals fans headed for the exits. Spontaneously, he lifted his hands in the air and shouted, "Yeahhhh!" over and over. He slept outside the gates before the 1982 World Series and bought season tickets the following year.

He has had them ever since. Finally, they resulted in a World Series championship.

"St. Louis showed up," he said. "They showed up and were up to the task. Detroit had some bad throws and their pitchers had bad fielding in every game."

Outside the park, Madeline Orling and Jen Blues joined the throng of fans headed for parties and the bars. For a few minutes, though, the two women paused against a brick wall and drank in the scene.

"The last time [the Cardinals] won the World Series, I was negative two. It is great to be in a city that has so much life and so much spirit for the game of baseball," Blues said.

The pair didn't have tickets to the game, but watched the contest from a nearby sports bar. When the Cardinals entered the ninth inning with Wainwright -- Orling's favorite player -- on the mound with a two-run lead, they started walking to Busch Stadium and were among the fans that were allowed to enter the park.

"We wanted to be part of history," Orling said.

And they were -- just like the rest of Redbird Nation on a night that no Cardinals fan will ever forget.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["world_series" ] }
{"content":["world_series" ] }