He was 14, it was nearing the end of the school year and his grandpa said, "Let's take the afternoon off and go to a ball game." So in the friendly sun of a delicious school-free afternoon, Charles Pascal and his grandfather were sitting about 10 rows back along the right field line in Wrigley Field.
The St. Louis Cardinals had come to Chicago to play the Cubs. He remembers it vividly; May 13, 1958. He was excited because the Cardinals' all-star, Stan Musial, was in town. He had piled up 2,999 base hits. Chances were better than good that he would join the elite group of players with 3,000 hits that afternoon.
But the Cards' manager, Freddy Hutchinson, benched Musial because he wanted his star to hit the big number back home in St. Louis. Young Charles was crushed.
But midway through the game, the Cardinals were down. They needed the win. Musial came off the bench to pitch hit.
He whacked a double. And Charles and his grandfather went home smiling.
Charles Pascal is probably Canada's preeminent authority on early childhood education. He has been a deputy minister of education and is currently professor of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Toronto. He is also in love, beyond human reason, with the game of baseball. Earlier this week, he and I talked about Stan Musial, who had just died at the age of 92. "He was always the complete gentleman," said Pascal. "And it wasn't just the great numbers that made him great. He didn't have that Ted Williams chip on his shoulder."
Stan the Man, as he was called, hit 3,630 hits, including 475 home runs. He won the batting title seven times and was named an All-Star 24 times.He married his high school sweetheart, never took a drug stronger than aspirin and in more than 20 years, never got tossed from a game. He was one of the first white players in either league to openly support the racial integration of baseball with the selection of Jackie Robinson by Branch Rickey for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
On long train trips, he used to play Wabash Cannonball on his harmonica. Not only respected and feared for his bat, he was loved. His picture was scotch-taped up on my bedroom wall with the other heroes in the pantheon -- Mickey Mantle, Ted Kluzewski, Whitey Ford, Roy Campanella. "He had this insane corkscrew stance, the bio-mechanics were crazy. There was no way he could hit with it, but he was an amazing contact hitter," Pascal remembered.
I copied that stance. Knees bent, left leg pulled back, crouched over, bat held high, then the step into the pitch.
The priest/coach on my CYO team made me change, saying it would wreck my back.
When a ball player you adored in the green years dies, there come flooding back flashes of youth, but also intimations of mortality. Warriors shouldn't die, even gentle ones.
But there is something comforting, that the baseball hero should die in deep winter when the air is cold and the ground hard, instead of in the warming weeks of spring training or the high summer.
On Thursday, Stan Musial lay in state in an open coffin in Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. Thousands of people lined up along Lindell Boulevard for the visitation. The church bell chimed once as the doors opened. A woman named Evelyn Bourisaw, age 68 and dressed in a warm red coat, said in great voice; "Time to play ball."