Busch Stadium is key for Illinois-Mizzou baseball rivalry

By Alex Roux

Sports are enhanced by great rivalries.

Almost every team in every sport has a rival. Rivalries can be born from tradition, geographic location or just plain hatred of another city, school or team. Sometimes it’s a combination of those factors. No matter the reason, teams have their rivalry games marked on the calendar before the season begins.

If you conducted a survey of the Illinois fan base, two or three Big Ten schools would stand out as teams Illini fans consider rivals. Indiana. Northwestern. Maybe Iowa. But with matchups guaranteed nearly every year because of conference play, the product can become diluted. If you polled the same Illini fans on our most hated nonconference rival, I believe the answer would be nearly unanimous: the Missouri Tigers.

The Illinois-Mizzou rivalry has all the ingredients necessary to keep it heated nearly every year. 

The states border each other. A three-decade long basketball series that has kept fans of both schools sharing a mutual contempt. 

And a major metropolitan area (St. Louis) located almost directly in the middle of the two campuses, which makes for a perfect location to hold neutral site games in multiple sports.

The Illini and Mizzou basketball teams have played every year in St. Louis since 1980 in the annual Braggin’ Rights game. The schools’ football teams have played several “Arch Rivalry” games in St. Louis as well. In 2010, Illinois and Missouri baseball joined in, starting an annual baseball Braggin’ Rights series that has been held at Busch Stadium, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The baseball series was set to lose some of its luster this year, with the Braggin’ Rights game scheduled to be played in Sauget, Ill., instead of Busch Stadium due to scheduling issues. Sure, the bases would still be 90 feet apart, but Sauget isn’t exactly Busch Stadium. Fortunately, the Illini received word Tuesday that the series had been moved back to Busch after the Illini, Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals found a mutual opening in their schedules, on April 2, for the game to be played.

Keeping the game at Busch Stadium is a huge boost for a Braggin’ Rights series in its fourth year (the 2011 game was rained out). A major-league ballpark offers a much better fan and player experience and adds a special aura to a regular-season game. Mizzou won the first two matchups since 2010, while the Illini picked up their first Braggin’ Rights win in 2013 with a 6-2 victory, making the series competitive. Good baseball can only keep the series going for so long; a unique venue can make it special. The Illini-Mizzou baseball rivalry isn’t on the same level as the basketball one, but playing in Busch Stadium will help it develop.

College baseball will never be as popular as college basketball, and the diamond version of the Braggin’ Rights series will never reach the heights of the one on the hardwood, but a special venue like Busch can elevate the series from “just another game” to a hyped-up event, and that’s what every good rivalry needs.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.