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Cards excited to be in Civil Rights Game

Cards honored to play in Civil Rights Game

JUPITER, Fla. -- Just like the city of Memphis, the Civil Rights Game, presented by AutoZone, means all sorts of different things to different people.

The city that is home to Stax Records, Graceland, FedEx and Rendezvous barbecue will host the inaugural Civil Rights Game on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CT (5:30 ET). It's an ambitious event with a slew of different aims.

For the National Civil Rights Museum, it's a wonderful showcase and fundraising opportunity. For the Cardinals and Indians organizations, it's a chance to be part of a nationally televised event that Major League Baseball is putting its weight behind, not to mention a chance to do some good.

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And for the players involved, it's one final chance to get tuned up for the 2007 Major League season, which starts for the Cardinals on Sunday night. Right-hander Adam Wainwright, who will start for St. Louis, relishes the chance to pitch in front of a packed house at AutoZone Park, with the lights on and a crowd twice the size of what he's seen in Grapefruit League play.

The game will be aired by ESPN and MLB.TV. A two-hour pregame show on MLB.TV will begin at 2:30 CT (3:30 ET).

"I look forward to a night game, playing in the late afternoon and getting a good baseball atmosphere like I'm used to," Wainwright said. "Plus the crowd -- any time there's a big crowd, I'm more comfortable. So it's exciting. And it's for a good cause."

The conditions, and the opponent, should present a stiffer challenge than what Cards pitchers have faced this spring. For just about all of March, the wind blew in at Grapefruit League parks.

Memphis isn't a hitters' haven, but it's a tougher place to pitch than southeastern Florida in March. And then there are the Cleveland hitters -- a group that includes mashers Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. Cleveland finished second in the Majors in runs scored in 2006.

"The exciting part for me is that they have a really, really good lineup," Wainwright said. "An amazing lineup. So it's an opportunity for me to test what I'm coming out of Spring Training with against one of the top lineups in the game."

The Civil Rights Game itself is only the centerpiece of a weekend full of events in Memphis. The Cardinals were chosen to play in the game partly because of their relationship with the city -- it's the home of St. Louis' Triple-A affiliate.

"It's important to commemorate and remember the Civil Rights Movement in our country," said third baseman Scott Rolen. "It's a great opportunity in a historic city that the Cardinals have a tie to, and it will be great to be a part of the event."

Said Cards general manager Walt Jocketty: "It's good to be part of an inaugural event that recognizes the Civil Rights Museum, the importance of it. Hopefully we will raise awareness and help bring some revenue to help their cause."

At the announcement of the event, last December, Major League Baseball laid out another intended effect of the game. Baseball hopes to draw more young African-Americans to play the game, reversing a steady decline in recent years.

"I'm not sure that one game necessarily helps that strategy, but I think that it's important for the industry that we try to attract African-American players back to the game," Jocketty said. "Major League Baseball is doing a good job of that right now with the academy in Compton and some of the other initiatives.

"But it's important. This game helps, and everything we can do to help raise that awareness is important."

It's just one more goal for a game and a weekend intended to accomplish so much.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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