You ever get a feeling you can't explain, you just know it's something that feels right?
That's what I felt when Stan The Man Musial passed away last month.
As a lifelong Cardinal fan, I felt like I had to be outside Busch Stadium for The Man's last trip by his famous statue the day of his funeral. I never knew Stan personally, I only got lucky to shake his hand once, but I felt obligated to be there.
I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know how the day would pan out, I didn't know what kind of spot I would get. But an early arrival, fully equipped with still and video cameras and a pocket radio to listen to the funeral Mass, got me a spot just off the right of the statue (looking from the stadium) next to the stop light pole.
There were some pictures to snap, a lot of moments to capture in the time leading up to The Man's final passing-by, but it was mostly a matter of waiting. I watched as firefighters lifted the giant American flag over the bridge that once led into the old ballpark. I watched the crowd attendance swell to just a few people bounded by connected bike racks, to hundreds wanting to do the same thing I was doing — just hoping for one last moment to be in the presence of Stan The Man.
I suppose the stars that aligned Feb. 26, 2013 and the law of averages knew I was a journalist (or maybe it was because I borrowed my father's large Nikon), but wasn't there on official duty. However, I must have picked the right spot because a photographer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis American started waiting next to me. St. Louis Police put up additional bike racks behind us — we were standing in the street along the curb — and within an instant I was in a makeshift VIP area.
The woman photographer from the Post-Dispatch introduced herself to the gentleman photographer from the American, and then she turned my way and said, "This is a lucky fan."
Haha, well, yes and no.
There was no way I was losing this spot.
"No, Hannibal Courier-Post," I said to her.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said.
There were cops around and people packed in behind us, no way was I going to say the wrong thing to get booted out.
The final pass
I updated everyone around me the stages of the funeral Mass; the homily, communion, euglogies, etc., and then the anticipation rose. Musial was being transferred from the Cathedral Basilica to Busch Stadium. We kept looking down Eighth Street for the approaching funeral procession. Some law enforcement vehicles and an ambulance flashing their lights threw us off guard, but not long after leaving the cathedral, the hearse carrying Stan The Man pulled right up in front of me.
Page 2 of 3 - Family members got out of their limousines and slowly proceeded towards the Musial statue. At the same time, the hearse crept up closer to be in line with the most popular meeting place St. Louis has ever known. The entire crowd was silent, all that could be heard was the cars driving by along the interstate.
As the family laid their wreath, they recited the Our Father. Soft participation from the crowd could also be heard, but the fans watching were mostly silent.
The whole time I kept quiet because I wanted to embrace everything as a bystander. If I was concentrating on participating, I worried I'd miss something. And then the greatest act only the best fans in all of baseball could pull off, the crowd came together and sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." It was like the scene from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," it started in low, then it started to grow. There's no better anthem for the greatest Cardinal of the all to leave Busch Stadium and be taken to his final resting place.
I'll admit, it was rough when that happened. "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" is always an emotional song, but hardly ever the kind of emotion that makes tears fill your eyes.
The crowd fell silent again as the funeral procession headed on, that is until a man shouted, "We love you, Stan!" The crowd erupted in applause as the hearse pulled away. Those who had the view to peer inside the vehicle could see The Man's coffin covered in an American flag. The last image of a human being who grew up to be a baseball player loved by all.
My fondest image of that moment will be of a man who climbed up on one of the landscaping walls to see over the crowd to get a view of the hearse. While the crowd cheered and applauded Stan one last time, this man — decked out in a Cardinals jacket — grasped the bill of his adjustable cap and waved it left to right. Like everyone else there, he surely has his own personal Musial story tell. And like everyone else, he felt like it was best to be at Busch Stadium for this day of remembrance. I didn't notice if he had a camera or not, but he did what most of us should have done. He removed his cap and waived it in vintage honor to Stan The Man.
The final resting place
I'm not going to sit here and be the guy who reveals where Stan Musial is buried.
I'll be honest, I thought about it. I mean every journalist wants to be the guy who breaks information like this, but this is different. I'm sure his family will make an announcement or word will get around as to where Stan's final resting place is. But I'm not going to be that guy.
Page 3 of 3 - My last visit to St. Louis I paid my respects. His name isn't etched onto the marble yet, but his wife's name, Lil, who preceded him in death, is.
I don't know the process of how long it takes for the engraver to come in and put the name in the marble, but looking at that blank portion of slate made me think of the Jimmy Dean classic "Big Bad John." At the end of the song when Big John's marker is erected it reads "At the bottom of this pit, lies one hell of a man."
Surely the Musial's will keep the etching simple, but everyone who visits Stan will observe his space in that mausoleum and say, "Behind this wall lies THE Man."