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'He is THE Cardinal. He is The Man'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 1, 2010 - It was such a St. Louis moment: the Cardinals and Colorado Rockies pausing in the middle of the sixth inning Saturday afternoon to join 39,000 cheering fans holding paper cutouts of Stan the Man as the baseball legend circled the field at Busch Stadium in a chauffeur-driven cart.

The 89-year-old Hall-of-Famer waved at his well-wishers with his beaming wife, Lillian, seated by his side. He wore a Cardinals red sport jacket and the Musial Smile -- that happy, eye-crinkling grin that says I-love-you-back. It was a picture-perfect scene, suitable for emailing, Facebooking and Tweeting across Cardinal Nation.

Hey, President Obama, are you watching this?

The tribute was part of the "Stand for Stan" campaign being mounted by the Cardinals to persuade President Obama to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Musial. The medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States.

Darla Maples, 57, of Granite City, and Lucy Sandifer, 58, of Fenton, who were seated high in section 356, had bought Musial shirts just for the occasion.

"I believe he needs to be stood up for to get that freedom medal from the president," said Sandifer, who remembers going to old Sportsman's Park with her mother to watch the Cardinals play.

Though she acknowledges that her childhood memories of Musial are fuzzy -- he retired in 1963 -- Sandifer's support is as solid as the bronze statue that stands in his honor outside the stadium.

"He is THE Cardinal. He is The Man," Sandifer said emphatically. "He is everything a Cardinal should be. He played because he loved the game, and that's what it needs to be now. Not so much of this money business, but play because you love the game."

Saturday's game was a well-played pitcher's duel between Cardinal Kyle Lohse and Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez that was eventually won by the Cardinals 1-0 in the 11th inning. But the highlight for many fans was rising to their feet to "Stand for Stan."

Afterward, Travis Hundley, 38, of New Franklin, Mo., said he got a little choked up. "It kind of gave me shivers, just hearing the crowd roar and the music and seeing him go around the stadium," Hundley said. "It was a really great feeling."

Hundley said that when he was growing up, he would always meet family and friends at the Musial statue outside the old Busch stadium. The iconic statue was moved to its new location outside Gate 3 of the new stadium and rededicated in 2006.

"As a young kid I had to find out who Stan Musial was because we met at his statue. He was the first Cardinal I knew about as a kid growing up," Hundley said.

Hundley was at Saturday's game with his wife, Wendy, sons Brendan 12 and Rylan 4; daughter Grace 10 and Gavin Bishop, 8, who proudly identified himself as "The Cousin."

Brendan said he had learned about Musial by watching TV, and Grace said a classmate had done a research paper on the former slugger.

"He was one of the best Cardinals," she said, knowingly.

There is still no word from the White House about the medal, said Ron Watermon, the Cardinals director of public relations, who has helped spearhead the campaign. Nearly 20,000 fans have signed the team's on-line petition at www.cardinals.com/stan since the campaign started in May. The cutouts fans were given on Saturday were "Flat Stanleys" -- drawn by St. Louis Post-Dispatch artist Dan Martin and inspired by the Flat Stanley Project that promotes international literacy.

Marjorie Wallace, 86, of St. Charles, said she has been rooting for Musial since she moved to St. Louis from Vermont in 1946.

"That was when Stan was really in his prime, and he helped win the World Series that year against the Boston Red Sox. I didn't get to go to any games, but I listened on the radio," she said.

Wallace, a retired nurse, wore Cardinals earrings and a Go Cards beaded bracelet and recalled meeting Musial at a party and getting to shake his hand.

"I think Stan is the greatest Cardinal of them all, and I will stand up for him in the sixth inning," she said.

Musial, who will turn 90 on Nov. 21, arrived at the stadium just minutes before his appearance and let his smile do the talking. He was still grinning afterward, as his chariot paused just inside the right field gate.

He reached out to shake the hands of stadium employees and assorted well-wishers assembled to witness the event. It was a sight to behold: Baseball's perfect warrior still winning hearts 47 years after hanging up his cleats.

As play resumed on the field, fans began to trickle out of the stadium, their Flat Stanleys, now meaningful keepsakes. Many paused at the big statue of The Man to read the career stats of the Cardinals great.

Tyler Mature posed at the statue, while his grandpa David Kesterson of St. Louis snapped a picture. Kesterson said they bought tickets to the game when they heard that Musial would be appearing.

"He's probably the greatest baseball player ever and the nicest person you'd ever want to meet. He's really friendly," said Kesterson who was moved by the outpouring of support for Musial. "It brings a tear to your eye," he said.

Mature credits his grandparents with teaching him about The Man.

"I've been loving the Cardinals since I was two months old, I bet," said Mature, who had just turned 20 the day before. "I don't think a lot of people really have a lot of knowledge about him. I play baseball a lot, and I've always looked up to him. He is the greatest baseball player alive -- and ever will be."

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.