Pat Whittenberg’s white clapboard house stands like a sentry on a winding stretch of Strecker Road that cuts between the busy shopping districts and residential neighborhoods of Chesterfield, Ellisville and Wildwood. Thick woods and farm fields line the route, making it feel like a throwback to when this part of West County was still considered "the country."
“Oh, it was different,” Whittenberg, 80, said. “It was quite different.”
Whittenberg was only 18 when she married her husband and moved to St. Louis from Illinois. She didn’t know much about baseball then, much less the St. Louis Cardinals. But six decades later, the display of dozens of bold signs and banners outside her home have all but cemented her status as the number one Redbirds fan. Her daughter Karen estimates that it has been about fifteen years since the first few signs went up and the front yard became a tribute to Whittenberg’s favorite team.
Most drivers hit the brakes as they catch sight of the signs proclaiming loyalty to the Cardinals. On pleasant days, a life-size Elvis mannequin sits in the yard wearing the team’s regalia and nursing a Bud Light. A seasonal flag over the door features a leprechaun wearing Redbirds gear. One sign proclaims that “Chesterfield is Cardinals Country,” while another urges St. Louis fans to honk their horns to show their support. Many drivers do just that—at all hours of the day and night.
Besides the chorus of car horns, Wittenberg’s obvious passion for her team also inspires curious motorists to stop for a closer look at the signs. Some even leave game tickets and other gifts for her.
“Last year somebody put a [Cardinals] calendar in my mail box,” she said, “It was huge. It had all the games on it and everything.”
Former catcher Mike Matheny, Wittenberg’s neighbor at the time, made sure that she got tickets to the 2006 World Series that the Cardinals ultimately won.
“He always honked when he came by,” she said, with obvious fondness.
Wittenberg said her favorite Cardinal of all time is Stan Musial. Out of all the memorabilia that line the walls and shelves inside the house, her favorite keepsake is a tiny scrap of paper with Musial’s autograph. One of her sons collected it for her when he ran into the baseball legend at Six Flags amusement park.
Whittenberg also likes current superstar Albert Pujols. He sent her a signed get well card when she was in the hospital last year, but she won’t promise her loyalty if he ends up signing with another team at the end of this season.
“I hope he stays because he seems like a good person and he does a lot of charity work,” she said.
If he does decide to leave St. Louis, the Pujols signs in the yard will be a thing of the past. For now though, the family is keeping a sense of humor about the stalled contract negotiations. The newest sign pictures Pujols in uniform, with a declaration: “The $300 Million Dollar Question is…Boxers or Briefs???”
The past year has presented Wittenberg with a series of challenges to her health and she now relies on a baseball-adorned cane to get around. She doesn't know if she'll be able to watch many of this year's games live at Busch Stadium, but she's still counting the days to the official start of baseball season.
“She watches every single game, and if she’s not home, she tapes it, said her daughter Karen. "If it’s on the west coast, she stays up until 12 or 1 ‘o clock.”
Sitting in her cozy living room, surrounded by Cardinals-themed toys, autographed photographs and crowded shelves of bobble-head baseball players, Whittenberg suggested that her collection might be just about complete.
“I’m going to tell my kids not to buy me any more Cardinals stuff,” she observed of the cozy room. “I don’t have any place to put it.”