My baseball life isn’t something I talk about much anymore. This is funny, now, because for almost ten years, I ate, slept, and breathed it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I spent the summer of 1992 in Saint Louis, Missouri, working with a group that ministered to the needs of inner city residents, mostly children.
If you know me, you know how fascinated I am by cultures that are different from mine, and how I want to know everything about everyone, and live every life, and have every experience. (Why, yes, I am a writer.) I relished almost every second I spent in Saint Louis.
What I did not relish was the part-time job I had to work so that I could actually eat while I lived there. Ahhh, Casa Gallardo. I was a hostess. I had to wear a fluffy, colorful skirt with an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse. At that point in my life, there wasn’t a lot to keep that shirt up. It was not hot, y’all. It was not even lukewarm.
One busy Sunday, a big family came in and asked for a table. I proceeded to put them on a long wait, along with all the other people in the lobby. No complaints.
I asked the man his last name so I could put him on the list.
He said, “Musial.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “Musial.”
I said, “How do you spell that?”
Forty-five minutes later, when I called the name out over the intercom, two things happened.
The first was that half the restaurant jumped out of their seats and rushed to the Dick’s Sporting Goods store across the parking lot to buy baseballs and Sharpies. The second was that my managers came running to the hostess desk from the back of the restaurant and pulled me to the side.
“Never, never, never do that again,” one said.
“Do what?” I asked.
“You don’t call famous people over the intercom,” the other said.
It was an innocent question. I grew up listening to University of Tennessee football, and while my town had a minor league team, I’d only ever been interested in who was the cutest in the program pictures.
“That’s Stan Musial.”
Me, still clueless: “Who?”
“Have you been to the Cardinals stadium? Have you seen the statues? Did you watch Happy Days? STAN the MAN?”
Miraculously, they didn’t fire me.
I watched a line form at Mr. Musial’s table, all those people with their freshly purchased baseballs, holding them out for the poor man to sign. So many he couldn’t even eat. I felt like CRAP. I hemmed and hawed, and debated, and finally got up the nerve to go over to his table. There was hand wringing. And probably sweat.
“Sir,” I said, kneeling by his seat. “I am so, so sorry. I’m from Tennessee, and I don’t really know much about baseball, but I wanted to say I’m sorry for making you wait, and for calling out your name —
He stopped me. Made me pull up a chair. Introduced me to his wife, Lil, who had on a fabulous blue pantsuit, and was accessoried like you read about, most notably with a smile. He took my hand in his, told me not to worry, and then he and Lil chatted with me for a few minutes about life in general.
He was unfailingly gracious and kind.
Fast forward two years, to the July 4th I met one Ethan McEntire, a minor league baseball player in the New York Mets organization. He proposed three months later.
Fast forward two more years, to the spring night I sat in a stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, where I met Mr. Musial’s son. He ran “Stan the Man.” I told him my story. He told me he thought he remembered hearing it. When he found out I was married to the left-handed pitcher on the mound, he told me that he would pass the story along to his father. He thought he would appreciate the way things ended up. (I often wonder what he would’ve thought if he’d discovered I was a general manager for the Kingsport Mets for three years.)
Since that day, I’ve never asked anyone famous for an autograph unless their express purpose at the time was giving them. Not even when I ran into Rob Pattinson outside the bathroom at Comic-Con last summer.
Stan Musial taught me something in five minutes of interaction, and I never forgot it. He showed me how to be gracious. How to have no pride in who you are or what you’ve done, but to instead show kindness for fellow humans whenever you can. Even to a country hick nineteen year-old girl who didn’t know a change up from a slider. I do now.
Sometimes, people autograph your hearts. Stan Musial did that for me, and the memory is more valuable than anything I could ever sell on EBay.
Rest in peace, Mr. Musial. And thank you.