I feel like I've lost my very best friend.
But I never knew him personally.
He was great, played beautiful music and is the soundtrack to the greatest ballpark the world will ever know.
I never met Ernie Hays, the longtime Busch Stadium organist, but I was certainly in his presence for many baseball games. He died Thursday at the age of 77.
I feel like I'm at a loss of words, I really don't know what to say about Erine's passing. It's really, so sad. I can't think of those countless memories at the old ballpark and not hear those sweet organ renditions of "Meet Me In St. Louis" and Budweiser's "Here Comes The King."
Before there was all this top chart music played during batting practice and in the final moments before the first pitch, there were Ernie's continues little tunes played over the stadium sound system as the players got out of their warmup gear and played a final round of long toss while the grounds crew made the final field preparations.
I remember all the tunes like it was yesterday. To this day I find myself whistling them or humming them at random moments. They were that good.
I swear it was like clock work. Every time my family and I made our way to the ballpark, down to the box seats and got to section 136 behind the Cardinals dugout, "Meet Me In St. Louis" would play on the organ and Ernie's introduction would scroll up the left field scoreboard like movie credits.
I remember the quick "Wizard Of Oz" tune Ernie would play whenever Ozzie Smith came to the plate and the loud crowd-pleasers he'd play when the Cardinals scored a big run. And "Here Comes The King" wasn't just for the Budweiser Clydesdales. If a big hit was needed, the count was close or a visit to the pitching mound took too long, that song got the entire crowd clapping along and cheering.
Ernie Hays' organ renditions of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" and "God Bless America" were not songs at all, they were hymns sung in worship inside the United Church of Baseball.
I even get a kick out of the fact that I remember the tune Ernie would play during the final moments before the start of games and the grounds crew was making sure the base pits of the old Astroturf field were swept and clean around the edges.
Funny story, while coaching this summer I prepared the baseball diamond by dragging it with a four-wheeler and as I looped around the bases, smoothed out the dirt, I hummed Ernie's tune. For a brief moment, I was a grounds crew member preparing Busch Stadium, but I came back to reality when — well my Legion ballplayers can tell you the funny part that happened next, but lets just say it was a three-man accident recovery effort.
Page 2 of 2 - I could blame Ernie for having such a memorable tune to make me escape to yesteryear, but I won't do that, because of that tune I've got another memory to share — even though it ends with me being clumsy. Without that tune, the experience of preparing the field would have been boring.
I'm so glad I downloaded Ernie's version of "Here Comes The King" a while back. It's not only a ringtone on my phone, it's a memory worth having to escape back to the old ballpark and the man who filled the open air with beautiful music.
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