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Crow rocks St. Louis for cancer awareness

Crow rocks St. Louis for cancer awareness

ST. LOUIS -- On a midsummer night under a grand and glowing Arch, Sheryl Crow came out with Elvis Costello for an unexpected second encore and a trembling sea of baseball fans went wild. Among them leaning against the stage right in front was local resident Diane Huddleston, holding up a large sign.

It read:

I STOOD UP TO CANCER 4 TIMES!

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"I was proud to be here as a survivor," said Huddleston, wearing a cap and a smile that rivaled Crow's. Huddleston was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1982, then she was diagnosed with cancers in 1996, 2003 and 2008. She was smiling here and now because if it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.

"I just think it's so great that Sheryl did this," she added.

The music kept playing on this night at the All-Star Charity Concert presented by Pepsi, finishing with the bang of a fireworks show over the mighty Mississippi, right here on the banks where a rock star cut her teeth at a local bar a couple of decades back. The afterparty's sure to be a wingding, because this leads right into Taco Bell All-Star Sunday events and then the State Farm Home Run Derby and then the 80th All-Star Game at nearby Busch Stadium.

Crow, a three-year cancer survivor, was here for Major League Baseball to spread the word in support of Stand Up To Cancer, at one point prompting the entire hillside crowd to send a text message in unison.

"How many of you have had some association with cancer? Maybe your family or someone you know," Crow asked the crowd right after her band played the fitting "Home," one of Crow's numerous hits. "I remember [Richard] Nixon saying, 'We're gonna end cancer.' Well, here we are 30 years later.

"I want you all to take your cell phones out and text STAND to 40202. I know you have cell phones. You've been taking pictures of me. I've seen you. Take them out and text to 40202. You can help to end cancer in my lifetime. And yours."

There was a time when people pulled out lighters and held them up at rock concerts. Here, a crowd believed to approach 100,000 pulled out BlackBerries and iPhones and other devices per request, and many of them all texted at the same time -- and in so doing helped support an organization to which MLB just gave another $1 million.

"Thank you for doing that," Crow told them.

"It's really amazing," she had said a day earlier. "I don't know of a national sport that has embraced a cause like this and has raised so much money and made it such a high-profile issue. I don't need to reiterate the fact that that everyone has a relationship with cancer. Whether it's an individual-personal relationship -- whether it's with family or friends -- we've all been touched by cancer. So it's just an incredible blessing to see, because I have such a personal relationship with cancer, a sport embrace Stand Up To Cancer and make it such a massively-wide issue."

They were all here relating together on this night, people who love baseball, people who love rock music, people who want to end cancer in our lifetimes.

You know All-Star Week is officially in full force when you hear the thunderous jams. Last year this tradition began with Bon Jovi in Central Park.

"This has become a staple of All-Star Week and more important it's consistent with the Commissioner's theme of social commitment and with this All-Star Game theme of 'Going Beyond,'" said MLB President and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, in front of the stage before Tim Brosnan, MLB's EVP for Business, introduced her to the masses. "It's going to help Stand Up To Cancer and we couldn't be happier that to do that with Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello."

It was clearly a highlight for Crow on this night that Costello could come out and jam with the band. You could see it in the way she lit up strumming guitars alongside him through four songs early in the concert, and then the final two together. He came onstage the first time, wearing his trademark black shades and suit and cap, to the tune of "First Cut Is The Deepest." Then they played "Pump It Up," "Hard To Make A Stand," and "Peace Love And Understanding."

It was powerful stuff. Right before Costello came out, Crow was finishing up "Can't Cry Anymore." At the end, she wailed a series of familiar, high-pitched "hoo-hoo" squeaktones into the microphone, and the tribute was unmistakable as she did it again and again and again.

"That's for you, Michael," she said, referring to Michael Jackson.

"I can't cry anymore."

Crow related to the crowd frequently with references to the Cardinals and baseball. She had said the day before that her favorite player was Bob Gibson.

When she introduced the members of the band, she got to guitarist Tim Smith and told everyone that he is "an Atlanta Braves fan." Naturally the booing ensued.

"Tim, can you tell us who's in the All-Star Game from your team?" she asked him.

"We only have one player," he replied. "Brian McCann is the backup catcher." Then he told the crowd, "You've got the starting catcher."

At that point the boos were replaced by applause, as the crowd reacted to the fans' selection of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to start for the National League.

Crow wasn't done with that topic.

"Can we just celebrate Brian McCann for a minute to make Tim happy?" she asked the audience?

It probably was the loudest ovation McCann will get on this All-Star Week -- unless he should, say, hit a walk-off home run to give the NL its first All-Star victory since 1996.

Crow also acknowledge the most popular person in St. Louis.

"I'm dedicating this one to Albert Pujols," she said.

That was for the fourth song of the night, and this is what she sang:

Are you strong enough to be my man?

It was a night of utter joy by the Mighty Mississippi, where Crow learned to water ski, where she learned to fear the rolling river, and where she fell in love with it.

That was a long time ago. Today, she is taking a stand. So many others were here as well.

Right in the front rows during this concert were two women who took such a stand, they delivered an organization that made many people truly believe that you can get your arms around a heinous disease and truly marshal the human power to end it for good.

Rusty Robertson and Kathleen Lobb are the co-founders of Stand Up To Cancer.

"The word is 'grateful,'" Robertson said. "Because our year anniversary was last May, and I have to tell you, to have MLB's support in making such a big difference in cancer research is a gift from God. I feel it was meant to be, this entire relationship. A day doesn't go by that I'm not grateful to the Commissioner, to Bob DuPuy, to all of them. It's been interesting. This new tagline, 'Beyond Baseball' -- I think our missions merged right at the perfect storm. And we were fortunate to have them as our partners.

"I think we still have a lot of work to do, because people are bombarded with so many people asking them to do things. The mandate is collaboration. We're not accustomed to hearing people say, 'Just give.' We have a very wonderful funding model we're very proud of, but we want to just make cancer research an issue in this country. One person a minute dies, 1,500 a day.

"We want to create a movement, a populist movement, from the ground up. A groundswell -- to where we can engage the public, then we owe them something. We owe them to go back to them like we did nine months after our show to tell them where there money is going. And that's what I'm most proud about our organization.

"I don't think the public is accustomed to that, unfortunately. I think it's not because it was purposeful, it's just something we wanted to do, and it became an important opportunity."

Lobb said this concert, this awareness, just made a great difference. Among those who will benefit from the corporate and public contributions are "investigators" -- "people who are young scientists who normally would never get funded." Stand Up To Cancer is taking a unique approach, and it impressed MLB with how transparent it is, showing where everything goes.

One day, hopefully, the results will be felt.

Diane Huddleston would like to see that day.

Because a change would do you good.

"Oh, they're doing another encore," Huddleston said.

Sheryl Crow's band and Elvis Costello lit up the night a little longer.

Then came the fireworks. It was a blast. The All-Star Charity Auction is also a key part of the events and activities leading up to the All-Star Game. Bidding is under way at MLB.com Auction on more than 70 amazing items including: Derek Jeter autographed bat; Joe Mauer autographed jersey; Johnny Bench autographed baseball; trip for two to Cincinnati and meet/greet with Brandon Phillips; trip for four to Citi Field and batting practice opportunity; and a trip for four to Yankee Stadium and tour of Monument Park.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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