Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stan The Man

You probably have heard that Stan has gone to his rest now. You can look up his dizzying statistics if it suits you; there is no need for me to do that here. The chase is this: Musial is one of the 5 best to ever play the game of baseball.

But I want to tell you about the time I met Stan. I was 12 years old. He came to a park near my house. Of course the autographs were free. He smiled at me, shook my hand, and signed my ball in blue pen. Being a baseball fan is a lot like being Catholic; there's a great Tradition that you become aware of, names you speak in reverence, and a whole host of other things. But if someone else gave it to you, you take it for granted. I took that day for granted. Wherever that ball is, it reminds me to slow down, to understand, to live the moments again. So many things become greater upon reflection.

I never will erase that smile from my memory. Everything that has been said about him as a man must be true, because the smile lingers in my head. You don't run into people often who truly enjoy living as much as he must have. I can only imagine that he smiles even bigger now, savoring eternal joy befitting a life well lived.

It seems weird, when you come to your first Cardinals game, and kids all of 10 years old are talking about a guy who played in the big leagues as a rookie in 1941. But you have to understand us here in the Gateway City; baseball is more than just our favorite sport; it binds us together in ways that trouble our pastors. It does have an oddly religious character here. We tell each other stories of men we never saw, because the ones we do see simply carry forward what was done before. Our joy is theirs, we owe it to them not to forget.

Stan understood from the beginning what it was like here. The connection between the team and its fans in this place, I still say, is different. He lived his life as a player, as a man, and an ambassador for baseball in such a way that we knew he understood.

Some people say that the movie "Field Of Dreams" is too sentimental, too reverential to fallible men who play and watch this game. There have always been dark secrets hiding in the closets of this game and the people who make it, they tell us. Well and good.

But Stan was the living refutation of all that. He was a living monument "to all that once was good, and could be again." And he knew the weight of that, the responsibility, and he bore it easily, with joy. He was the embodiment of the past we strive to remember. When they came out with the, "Play Like A Cardinal" tag line, it means, "Play like Musial." And when you're done, remember that this is more than a game to us. Treat it with respect. Treat us with respect.

Say what you will about the free agent departure of Albert Pujols; he understood. Only he knows what the money meant, and if it was necessary. But he knew he had to shoot down all the "El Hombre" talk as quickly as possible. There can only be one in this town who is "The Man." Maybe that was it. Either he knew he couldn't fill such lofty shoes, or it was wrong to try.

There were those who hit more home runs, who had a higher batting average, and so on. But Stan gave us permission to love the game, to enjoy it, and to do it without hesitation. There are still heroes in baseball, and he set about proving it long after his last game in 1963. That's why he's Stan The Man.

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