Cards Winter Warm-Up turns into Musial tribute

Fans, players take time out to reflect on life of St. Louis legend at fanfest

Cards Winter Warm-Up turns into Musial tribute
ST. LOUIS -- With news of Stan Musial's death still raw on Sunday, there was a noticeable shift in tone at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up. An event designed to spur excitement about the upcoming season turned largely into a gathering of folks paying tribute to one of the sport's all-time greatest players.

The morning began with a short on-stage tribute to Musial, who spent 22 years in a Cardinals uniform. Many fans wore No. 6 jerseys and brought stories of "The Man" with them to the Hyatt Regency at the Arch hotel.

"I never got to see him play, but my parents remember my grandparents watching him play," said Andrew House of Springfield, Ill. "He was part of the family tradition. It was almost like an extended member of the family died. Beyond the statistical consistency he provided during his career, he was an even better human being. He was always ready to give a hand. He was the definition of a gentleman."

A Musial memorabilia stand that was to be open during the Winter Warm-Up had been taken down by mid-morning. A Cardinals spokesperson said that the decision was made to remove the display out of respect for the Musial family.

Many of the event ushers used masking tape to dress their uniforms with a No. 6 on the back.

A few blocks down the road, Musial's statue had become a growing memorial site. Several fans flocked to the site immediately after learning about Musial's passing on Saturday night. Flowers, beer cans, baseballs, stuffed bears and T-shirts were among the first items fans left at the base of the statue, which has an inscription that reads: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."

At times, the crowd grew so large that it blocked traffic on the adjacent street.

"I think he is St. Louis," said 23-year-old Cardinals fan Matt Cook. "I can't think of a bigger person, period, in St. Louis than Stan Musial."

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said that the team has already begun to consider ways to honor Musial during the upcoming season. The organization is also deferring any decision about holding a public memorial service for Musial to his family.

"It's the end of an incredible era," DeWitt said. "Stan epitomized everything that is great about Cardinal baseball in every way -- his performance on the field, his incredible integrity, his citizenship. ... You can go on and on talking about the adjectives, and they're all true."

With Musial's health having declined in recent years, many of the current members of the Cardinals' roster had only limited interaction with the Hall of Famer. His appearances at the ballpark dwindled, but he'd always be there on Opening Day and for other special occasions.

"For me, one of the best parts of any baseball season was Opening Day when you got to shake his hand and knowing that you're going to be a part of an organization and a team that was his organization," reliever Mitchell Boggs said. "We are his team. He set an example for not only baseball players, but anybody to live by, and not because he was a good baseball player. He was so much more than that. You look at his life, his 22 years playing for the Cardinals was a small part of that, in the grand scheme of things.

"And the reason he connected with people, the reason he had such an impact on people was because he was a real person. He didn't mind shaking your hand. He didn't mind signing your baseball. That goes a long way with normal people. At the end of the day, he was a great baseball player -- one of the best to ever play. But he was a whole lot more than that."

Musial made his final appearance at Busch Stadium on Oct. 18, when he delivered the game ball to manager Mike Matheny before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

"Honestly, growing up in Miami, we don't have that rich baseball tradition," center fielder Jon Jay said on Sunday. "I've really learned that here in St. Louis. He's a role model to everyone. You see what he did in the community. He won an MVP and then left to serve for his country. It doesn't get any better than that. You learn that there is more to it than what we do on the field. You want to impact the community, too."

"I met him a couple times, but I didn't really get to sit down and talk with one of the greatest baseball players ever to have played. I regret that," said Shelby Miller. "St. Louis lost a good one. He was a great baseball player, but I hear about him being even a better person than he was a baseball player."

First baseman Allen Craig said he once sought out Musial when he heard that the legend was sitting in Tony La Russa's office before batting practice. Craig introduced himself and shook Musial's hand.

"That's one of the first guys you learn about when you put the uniform on -- especially when you step foot in the big league clubhouse -- is Stan "the Man" Musial and everything that he stood for and everything that he was," Craig said. "I think that his nickname -- "The Man" -- kind of says it all. I think it stands for how he played on the field and the person he was off the field."

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