Want to tell you a true story today about something that has absolutely nothing to do with the Bassmaster Classic. Doesn’t have anything to do with bass fishing period. In fact the only connection it might have with bass fishing is that they both take place outside.
The reason to tell this? … It’s timely.
I was born and raised in Overland, Missouri, suburbs of St. Louis.
In 1945, I was 8 years old and began understanding the sport of baseball. Listened to Harry Caray broadcast the Cardinals games regularly, and the game, as well as the Cardinals, are still engraved in my life.
I’ve told you before, but once again let me say I’m a huge fan of all sports and I have my heroes just like any sports nut. Many of them you probably never heard of, like NBA star Bob Pettit and Bill Russell. Sam Snead will always be up there with me, and there’s Paul Hornung, Jim Hart and Deacon Jones from the NFL.
Can’t leave out Dance and KVD, but there’s one who towers over everyone on this list. One that has all the things in place to be called everyone’s superstar. Although it’s been 50 years since he last played, he’s still known by all sports fans, and I’m talking about “Stan the Man.”
I know thousands of people will argue with this statement, but I was and still am Stan Musial’s biggest fan. He of course was the Cardinals greatest player, maybe baseball’s greatest player, who passed away last week at the age of 92.
Stan Musial is the star of my story today, and I’ll take you back to 1949. I play catch in the backyard with my buddies or my dad daily, and I practice pitching. Can’t throw very hard but even though I’m only about 12 I have learned to throw a really good curveball.
Now of course my world spins around my little league team, and I’m an outfielder. I’m a good defensive player, but stink the place up when it’s my turn to bat.
Don’t really get a chance to pitch, because I don’t throw hard enough, so the coach never knows I’m a 12-year-old with one heck of a curveball, and I never bring it up.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Still 1949 and next Saturday, all 8 teams in our little league are supposed to meet at the Home Heights middle school ball park at 10 a.m. At that time, Cardinals players Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst will be there to visit and instruct for about an hour, so bring your gloves.
As Harry Carey would have said “Holy Cow!” I am going to stand on the same baseball field that Stan Musial is standing on. Is someone playing a cruel joke on me?
I remember not believing that this was real but I was up early Saturday morning, ready to go check it out. I lived on Brown Road, which was of about a dozen streets that would take you to Home Heights field. I sat on my front porch for at least one hour, watching cars go by and looking closely to see if Stan Musial might be driving one of those cars. Hey folks, you have to remember, I was only 12 years old.
Ten minutes before 10, I jumped on my bike, with my glove hanging on the handle bars, and made the quick run to the field where about 100 other kids were waiting.
Shortly after that, in full Cardinal uniform, No. 6 on this back, walks in Stan Musial. That was 64 years ago, but it seems like last week. Mr. Musial does visit with us for a while, then says alright now I’m going to hit some balls, so one of you catchers put some equipment on.
Then he had all the third baseman go to third, shortstops to their position and the same with second and first baseman.
He hadn’t called outfielders yet, so I was still standing there when he asked for pitchers to go to the mound … and no one made a move. I know they were scared to death to throw the ball to Stan Musial, and he asked again “who’s a pitcher?” I raised my hand.
My team manager was standing there and was quick to say “you don’t pitch Jerry.”
Don’t know how I responded to that, but next thing I knew, I was on the mound, the only one, and Musial was standing at the plate with a bat in his hands.
Wish the next 10 to 15 minutes were in slow motion. Maybe I could remember them better. I do remember that he didn’t curl up in this famous batting stance; it was just a semi curl. I remember worrying about hitting him. After all, that was my first time on a real mound. I also remember wishing he’d smash one into the grocery store parking lot, but I think he took an easy swing and grounded one to second base. Then I was done because now all the real pitchers wanted a turn.
However, if I had not raised my hand, I would have been a little league outfielder for about 2 more years, and never really played the game again. But because Stan Musial asked “who could pitch,” I played 8 more years at no other position than pitcher.
Had a great high school career, then played professional for several years. My baseball life was a real blessing and maybe because I ran into my lifelong sports hero … when I was 12 years old … at Home Height middle school baseball field.
Wow – I pitched a baseball to Stan Musial!
By the way. I caught a 3-pound bass when I was 20 years old and never played baseball again. But that’s another story
I sure will miss Stan the Man.