Brock's ceremonial strike highlights festivities

After life-threatening ailment and amputation, Hall of Famer makes emotional return for Cards' home opener

Brock's ceremonial strike highlights festivities

ST. LOUIS -- After all those days wondering if he'd able to keep his balance and all those practice throws to build up confidence, Lou Brock delivered the most meaningful strike of his life on Monday. The ceremonial first pitch, caught by Ted Simmons, punctuated a 45-minute celebration of Cardinals past and present, leading into the team's home opener.

The organization celebrated all eight of its living Hall of Famers ahead of the Cardinals' 10-1 win over the Brewers, but it was Brock's appearance that was especially significant. Brock, who stole 938 bases over a 19-year Major League career, spent the offseason first fighting for his life and then rehabbing after losing part of his leg.

An infection that he contracted from a golf shoe and complications from diabetes led doctors to perform an amputation below his left knee in late October. Brock remained in a hospital three months after the surgery so that he could learn how to walk again. That rehab kept Brock from a Cardinals Spring Training for the first time in two decades.

His biggest worry on Monday was that he wouldn't be able to stay upright. He did without issue.

"I thought I could participate in the parade, but then they asked about throwing out the first pitch. Now that's a challenge," said the 76-year-old Brock, who was introduced during a motorcade parade. "I went out to practice the balance [beforehand]. I had to learn all over again. It was a brand-new process."

Cardinals introduced at Busch

He chuckled afterward when someone quipped that after all these years, he had finally hit the cutoff man. Earlier in the day, Brock was moved by the raucous cheers he received when walking in a room to join his fellow Hall of Famers.

"I was actually thinking about Mr. Brock this morning as I was driving in," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Opening Days and throwing out the first pitch always has a special meaning to whoever is a part of that. But for him, I have to imagine that this might be the most special day he's ever gotten to experience. To go through what he's been through and know that he's going to be a part of this, says a lot and means a lot."

Mathews performs national anthem

Monday's pregame ceremonies began with the traditional parade of the Clydesdales, followed by an introduction of the team's Hall of Fame players and members of the current roster. The Cardinals recognized the late Joe Strauss, a former Cardinals beat writer, and Joe Garagiola with a moment of silence, and also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Busch Stadium with a highlight video.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.