Much of the charm of the I-70 World Series lay on Missouri's back roads. Drivers who left the highway for even a couple of miles saw SHOW-ME SHOWDOWN posters taped on quaint drugstores. They saw the last gasp of fall foliage, burnt and fiery—the leaves favored the Cardinals, and the sky leaned toward the Royals. St. Louis gave us Yogi, and Kansas City gave us Casey; what straight, fast highway could connect those two?
Among the fortunate were those motorists who left I-70 halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City late last Saturday afternoon, at the town called Midway, and stopped by the annual Country Ham Dinner at the Midway-Locust Grove Methodist Church. All the talk there was of baseball. Written on a green chalkboard in the Sunday-school room were the words WE SUPPORT THE ST. KANSLOU CITY ROYDINALS IN THE WORLD SERIES. As two elderly women ate their boiled potatoes and Boone County ham, they repeatedly checked the clock. "You're sure we'll get home for the game?" asked one. The other nodded emphatically.
Just down the road that night, a group of fans gathered at the Midway Auto/Truck Plaza to watch Game 1 on a big-screen TV. Split evenly between K.C. and St. Louis supporters, they drank beer, cheered, hooted and even performed a miniwave. Owners Bob and Donna Bechtold, outfitted in red and blue, respectively, told of how they'd spent the last 15 months rebuilding the truck stop after it had burned to the ground. "This Series has done so much to raise the spirits of our staff," said Donna. "I hope it never ends."
On the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, also just off I-70, the brothers of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity wrote a World Series song ("It's brother against brother like the Civil War/If you're from the opposition, I ain't opening my door"). A friendly rivalry between two frat roommates, one from St. Louis and one from Kansas City, advanced so far that the entire house ended up being marked off with masking tape into Cardinal and Royal halves. "I've had an I-70 sign on my door for a month," said senior Shawn Link, the Royals fan. "I'd say 75 percent of the people around campus are for the Cardinals...but we've already beaten one set of Birds."
Such was the excitement along the 257-mile stretch of I-70 between K.C. and St. Louis that someone suggested painting Cardinal red and Royal blue stripes down the interstate. But so many carloads of brightly adorned fans filled the route that one driver said, "The road seemed like a party," without stripes.
While the coining of the term I-70 Series was both logical and inevitable, it seemed sadly sterile for a state in which the Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail and Pony Express all originated. The Missouri portion of I-70 was completed in 1965 (the full highway runs from Maryland to Utah), replacing a route known affectionately as "ol' 40." "I really miss ol' 40," says journalist, author and Cardinal fan Martin Quigley of St. Louis. "It was the first transcontinental highway and just so romantic. It passed through all these small towns, and curved around hills instead of slashing through them, like a river."
I-70 does bring traffic close to some of Missouri's history. Its eastern half passes by the memorial for Daniel Boone at Marthasville and a memorial to Winston Churchill in the town of Fulton, where he made his famous Iron Curtain speech. Fulton was the setting for the film Kings Row, starring Ronald Reagan. The western half of I-70 runs near the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site near Higginsville and on into Independence, which gave us Harry Truman and Ginger Rogers.
What I-70 has apparently not done is help bring Missouri's two antipodal World Series cities much closer together. It was a major step for the respective mayors to agree to a Series wager, Vincent Schuemehl of St. Louis putting up beer, Richard Berkley of K.C., ribs. The winner also gets to run the other city for a day. "The interesting thing about Kansas City and St. Louis is that they look in opposite directions," says University of Missouri rural sociologist Daryl Hobbs. "St. Louis looks back to the east, Kansas City looks out to the west—and they both look over their shoulder at each other. There's so little interaction between the two, it's almost like two separate worlds."
Even before the Royals-Cards rivalry, the state was never exactly known for its unity. In the Civil War, it provided 110,000 soldiers to the Union and 40,000 to the Confederacy. The St. Louis Browns headed one way in 1953 and the A's the other in 1967. "If you look at the U.S.," says Hobbs, "Columbia is where the Corn Belt starts, the South starts, the East starts, the West starts. Really, you can call this the middle of everything."
By last weekend, Missouri was certainly in the middle of its greatest week of baseball. State officials expect the I-70 Series to generate $60 million for the Missouri economy. The Cardinals, leading 2-0, seemed to have hauled out an old state myth: "A Redbird perched nearby is a good omen."
So it was not surprising to see feathers ruffled at the Midway truck stop when ABC's Al Michaels introduced Game 1 by saying, "Welcome to this little intrastate squabble." A pair of young women looked at each other, incredulous.
"Squabble?" asked one.
"Little?" said the other.