Sitting around the restaurant waiting for the table was the worst part about going out to dinner with my family. But, on one magical night, I was sitting at a local pizza restaurant with my little brother, Peter, and in walked Cardinals legend, Stan Musial.
Everyone in the restaurant turned. Everyone knew who he was.
He was an older man at this point and could have easily ducked out a side door, but this was Stan the Man. He, the biggest name and celebrity in St. Louis, was listed in the phonebook; he was walking out like everyone else.
And he walked right up to me and patted me on the shoulder. I have no idea what he said or if he even said anything, but I will never forget it. A living icon taking the time to walk over to two young kids just to say, "Hello." As a lover of all things St. Louis Cardinals, this was my holy grail.
Stan the Man, indeed.
Upon retiring in 1963, Commissioner Ford Frick said of Musial, "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight." One of the best hitters of all time. The greatest player to ever wear the Cardinals uniform. A 24-time All-Star and first ballot Hall of Famer. Most importantly, a good man, a kind man, a family man, a Catholic man.
In an age of baseball in which the players are more and more disconnected from the fans because of the bloated salaries and controversies (real or media-contrived), Stanley Frank Musial stood a class apart. He was married to his high school sweetheart, Lil, for nearly 72 years. He attended Mass every week and oftentimes every day of the week. He even attended his grandkids sporting events.
Through it all, you never heard a public complaint or a cry for privacy. He signed autographs and even carried autographed cards to give away. He joked and laughed. He slapped you on the back. He made you feel welcome.
Stan Musial was a testament to what the grace and love of God can do through each of us when we allow it to permeate our hearts and souls. Our good qualities are magnified for the benefit of all and our bad qualities are minimized. We become men for others and bring others to Christ through the glory of simply being who God created us to be.
On Saturday evening, as I sat with Br. Raymond catching up at a nearby Bloomington watering hole, I learned that Stan Musial had gone home to the Father and I got a little teary eyed. St. Louis and the Cardinals had indeed lost an icon, but, for those who ever had the chance to meet him, even if it was just a pat on the shoulder as a 13-year-old, we all lost someone who helped us see the face of God and made us feel better about who we were.
Requiescat in pace.