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BenFred: Everybody can find a story about Musial's magic

BenFred: Everybody can find a story about Musial's magic

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Swap a Stan Musial story today.

If you don’t have one, hear one.

It’s not hard.

You can’t throw a four-seamer in this city without hitting the glove of someone with one to share.

On the five-year anniversary of the day we lost “Baseball’s Perfect Knight,” find a moment to remember what made him so much bigger than the game.

I’ll go first.

Leo and Jane Garvin can’t forget their Musial story, because without Stan, there wouldn’t be a Leo and Jane.

The two were hesitant, at first, to share their encounters with Musial. They worried it might come across like they were close friends with him. It’s important, they insisted, to make it clear this was not the case. Acquaintances, more than anything.

In fact, Jane remembers the nerves that gripped her as she worked up the courage to invite Musial to her husband’s 50th birthday party.

And that right there reminds us of Musial’s magic, doesn’t it?

You didn’t have to know him all that well to ask him something like that.

He would drop in on a St. Louis University fraternity party and say hello to the boys who ran away from their dates to swarm him. He would flip signed baseballs to kids who helped him and his wife, Lillian, to their car after church. His countless good deeds prompted a local priest to start a file on Musial’s life so his acts could be remembered after he passed.

Stan Musial stories deserve to live on, passed down from generation to generation like the balls he gave away. They should not fade like the ink from a felt-tip pen. They should remain crystal clear, preserved forever like the Musial autographs that were properly spritzed with hairspray.

“He was the symbol of what you would want your child to grow up to be,” said Jane, who is a teacher at St. Joseph’s Academy on South Lindbergh Boulevard. “He was a gentleman. He was kind. He was humble. He was friendly. He was spiritual. He was devoted.”

“If people didn’t like him,” said Leo, “they didn’t like anybody.”

Leo and Jane first met on a double date. The location? Busch Stadium I. The occasion? Musial’s last game, the final of the 3,026 he played. It was Sept. 29, 1963.

Musial rode around the field in a red convertible before the first pitch. “This is a day I’ll always remember,” he said then. He wasn’t the only one.

The Cardinals beat the Reds 3-2. Leo’s ticket cost $1. He still has the stub.

“He got two hits,” Leo said.

The third hit?

Leo and Jane.

There was just one problem.

They weren’t each other’s date.

She, 18, was from Webster Groves. He, 19, was from South City.

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A friendship sparked between the two St. Louis University students. They ended up in a lot of the same history classes.

She hated when he would skip, then borrow her notes, then score higher than she did on the tests.

She got over it. They got together.

They fell in love.

They married on Nov. 19, 1966. They had five children, including the son they lost. They anchored their faith at the Church of Annunziata in Ladue.

Same parish as Stan.

It was this connection to the man who caused their first encounter — and perhaps the fact that Lillian Musial took a liking to the cream-cheese brownies Leo brought to church functions over the years — that inspired Jane to go out on a limb.

She was planning a 50th birthday party for Leo. She was hoping Stan might send a card. Or perhaps make a phone call. Then, in the moment, she grew bolder.

Would he come? It would be the best surprise.

The day was Dec. 30, 1993. Musial, 73 at the time, didn’t just show up. He apologized for arriving late.

“He got out the harmonica and played,” Jane said.

“‘Happy Birthday’,” Leo said, motioning toward his living room while remembering the songs. “‘The Wabash Cannonball.’ He took requests.”

Musial isn’t gone.

His statue stands outside of Busch Stadium, looking over the Cardinals fans who gather at his feet.

His name is on the awards given annually by the St. Louis Sports Commission to folks who display the compassion and sportsmanship Musial exemplified during his Hall of Fame career.

He remains the shining example of how to maintain class and dignity in the white-hot glare of fame.

It’s been five years since we lost him, but he’s always just a story away.

It was during a recent trip to Boston that a friend of mine from St. Louis introduced me to his co-worker, who happened to be from St. Louis.

This guy had a heck of a Stan Musial story.

Patrick Garvin was a sixth-grader when “the Man” showed up at his doorstep during a birthday party and turned his 50-year-old father into a kid again.

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