Monday January 21, 2013

ST. LOUIS -- Stan the Man was the dominant topic at the St. Louis Cardinals’ annual fan festival. Outside Busch Stadium, it was totally about paying tribute, too.

All day Sunday, fans ignored near-freezing temperatures and gathered around the larger of the two Musial statues at the ballpark, remembering the Hall of Famer and franchise icon who died Saturday at 92. Team flags were at half-staff.

Among the tributes was a statement from President Barack Obama saying he was "saddened to learn of the passing of baseball legend Stan Musial."

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called Musial "a great American hero who -- with the utmost humility -- inspired us all to aim high and dream big. The world is emptier today without him, but far better to have known him."

The team was awaiting word from Musial’s family on arrangements for a formal tribute. Weather could preclude a home-plate ceremony and casket viewing for fans such as was done when broadcaster Jack Buck died in 2002.

Despite the weather there was a game-day feel at the ballpark. Dozens at a time congregated around the statue, often blocking a lane of traffic to get the perfect photo. Many fans dropped off mementoes, including miniature bats, balls inscribed with messages, hats, flowers and flags at the base.

A tear rolling down one eye, 65-year-old Gene Sandrowski of St. Louis remembered attending a 1954 doubleheader when Musial hit five homers against the New York Giants at Sportsman’s Park.

The most expensive item in the team store came off the shelf. Richard Dunseth of Jacksonville, Ill., deemed the $900 price tag for an autographed Stan Musial jersey a bargain. For $169, you could purchase an autographed ball in a cube.

Inside the fan fest, those who knew Stan the Man best validated the outpouring of emotion.

Again and again, Musial was remembered as a superstar with no sense of entitlement or worries about privacy. Though Musial marketed autographs with a business partner in Stan the Man, Inc., he had no qualms about signing in abundance for free.