Guest post by Laura
I was eating at Hardee’s with friends Saturday evening after a long day spent at the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up when my cell beeped, alerting me to Twitter activity. I glanced at my phone and saw this:
“@JMotte30 RT: @stanthemaninc: Stan the Man passed peacefully at home at 5:45 pm tonight of natural causes. Life will never be the same without baseball’s perfect knight.”
Amazing how something conveyed in 140 characters or less can have such a huge impact. I immediately reacted in shock and disbelief. My friends asked me what was wrong and, in a voice strangled by tears, I told them that Stan had died. They too were stunned, and then we were all overwhelmed by a simple urge — we had to go to Busch to the statue.
Outside Gate Three of Busch Stadium stands a giant tribute to a giant of a man, the Stan “The Man” statue. Anyone who has been to the stadium knows where it is and it is used as the landmark. “Meet you at Stan” is a common phrase used by people meeting up for games and that is exactly what we felt we had to do upon hearing the news. With quick detours to buy flowers and stop by the hotel to grab coats, we headed to Busch; we headed to Stan.
We weren’t alone in feeling the pull to that place. A handful of people were there, a memorial already taking shape at the base of the statue. A candle burning in a mason jar sat next to a single can of Budweiser. We placed our flowers, then stood and stared blankly, still trying to grasp the reality of the loss.
Tears flowed freely down the faces of men and women. The stories started, of seeing him at Opening Day, the roar of the crowd when he would go into his batting stance and swing an imaginary bat. If you live in St. Louis, you have a Stan story. You don’t even have to be a Cardinal fan to have a story, that’s how much he meant to St Louis.
St Louis is a baseball town, plain and simple. That’s not to knock the Blues or the Rams, but neither has the rich tradition and deep roots of baseball. We fans in St Louis love our Cardinals and we love the players. Stan was not just a Cardinal player, he was the Cardinal player. Having had Stan as that Cardinal icon all my life, losing him felt like losing a member of the family. The growing crowd at the statue was proof that I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
People started wandering in, all pulled to that spot where they knew they would be able to share their grief. Cars drove by, slowed and honked to show support. A truck pulled up, two children got out and made their way to the statue. They had a teddy bear they wanted to leave and fussed with it until they got it to sit up the way they wanted. With a glance up at the statue, they ran back to the truck and were gone. That scene seemed to repeat itself over and over as people brought more items to leave at the memorial. As the crowd grew, it spilled into the street but nobody seemed to notice or care. The focus was Stan and his amazing life.
I was comforted by the crowd, by knowing that I wasn’t alone in my grief. The sense of loss united us and people talked to each other, adding on to bits of other people’s stories or embellishing with their own remembrances. There were no strangers; we were all there for Stan. Laughter began to mix with the tears as people talked of Stan’s sense of humor, how he’d laugh at his own jokes no matter if anyone else found them funny, and so they’d laugh with him.
After a few hours, the cold forced my group back to the hotel and our places in the crowd were taken by new arrivals looking to make sense of their loss.