My fifth-grade teacher was Mr. Stock.
He taught us linking verbs and sentence diagramming and an appreciation of Blues hockey. He was, really, the first huge Blues fan in my life – and my first exposure to what this team can do to a person.
At the fifth-grade “graduation” ceremony (Meramec Elementary, Class of ‘91!), Roger Stock even said to the audience: “Benjamin did his best to try to convince me that baseball is better than hockey.”
On Saturday, walking along Market Street next to Alex Pietrangelo and the Stanley Cup, I thought of Mr. Stock. What did all of this mean to him? Was he there somewhere?
So, I called him up. He’s 71. Just had a kidney transplant this spring – and another surgery, too. He said he couldn’t leave the house “without wearing a mask and gloves and this, that and the other.” He even watched Game 7 alone, though his neighbors, he suggested, might’ve heard his hollering.
“What has come out of it is just beyond belief,” he said of the champion Blues. “I don’t think I’ve seen our city this excited. You think of all the Cardinal championships and the Super Bowl. This Stanley Cup has brought St. Louis together for the past several weeks in a way I don’t think we’ll see the likes of for a long time. And that’s a really good feeling, because you take a look at the news, and you hear all the doom and gloom. …
“And the message that is given directly and subliminally is – there is hope in everything. And for St. Louis.”
This Blues championship was for all the Mr. Stocks (actually, he became Dr. Stock, “and icing on the cake, when I became a principal at Chesterfield Elementary, who do I have in my school? Jordy, Dusty and Drew Federko. I idolized their dad!”). There are so many men and women who feel this titillating, intoxicating connection to the St. Louis Blues. This team just does something to them. But by investing your emotions, by allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you open yourself up to heartbreak. And every Blues fan, no matter the age, at some time on their life, has felt heartbreak. A shared experience.
And so, like Mr. Stock suggested, that’s why this championship is just different. The Rams Super Bowl was scintillating, but a small part of us felt guilty that we only had this team for five years – could this bliss be truly full, if we didn’t experience a lifetime of this team (or even, at least, a decade?). And each Cardinals championship is special in its own way, and few things in sports can top the 2011 Cardinals’ run, though the 2019 Blues’ run sure does. But the Cardinals have won before. This Blues feeling was new. Unique. And – it’ll might not ever happen again, and even if it does, it won’t be as important, as special.
“For the last 52 years, you showed persistence, resilience and character,” Blues owner Tom Stillman said Saturday to the fans from the stage at the Arch grounds. “And what we did was – we fed off you. … We are a reflection of you.”
So many images and memories stick from the parade. One that stands out — the times a Blues player would walk by fans with the Cup, and as someone touched it, that person would just burst into tears. Saturday was a once-in-a-lifetime day for St. Louis and St. Louisans and St. Louis’ Blues.
The tears and celebratory chugging of beers. The turn to a loved one – there’s a kiss, there’s a hug, there’s a scream, there’s a look at the selfie with the Cup … followed by another selfie of their post-touched-the-Cup self, as if they changed forever.
And, man, the look on one little girl’s face as she touched the Cup – and then looked back to her mom and shrieked: “I touched the Cup!”
“It still feels like a dream,” said Melissa Plager Briggs, 43, the daughter of Blues legend Bobby Plager. “This is crazy, all these people here. I feel like next week maybe it’ll sink in, when I can comprehend it all in my brain.
“Just to see how everybody came together through this whole playoff run, and the whole ‘Gloria’ thing, and everywhere you go, you see Blues shirts. And all these kids, they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives – it’s like 1982, when the Cardinals won the World Series (for the first time since 1967). This is like their Cardinal experience. … There have been tears for, like, the last three weeks, OK? There have been tears when we win, tears when we lose, tears when I think about it, tears when I think about my uncle Barclay (Plager, the former Blues star), who’s obviously looking down and watching this.”
And then, she started tearing up again. We stood underneath the Arch. The parade and rally had just ended. Sunny afternoon. Blues players floated by. Jon Hamm. Al MacInnis. What a moment. Blues bliss. This city deserved this. Mr. Stock deserved this. And so did all the people he taught an appreciation of Blues hockey.
And all the people you taught, too.
Baseball is pretty great. But this is truly a two-sport town.