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Scott City 102-year-old never misses a Cardinals game
Les Grah is appropriately dressed in a Cardinals shirt and ball cap, hardly leaning on his walker as he offers me a seat in his Scott City livingroom. His daughter and great-great-grandson stand nearby, and we're quickly joined by Les' granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Five generations of a Cardinals-loving family gathered together. Les tells me he was born on a small farm in Chester, Ill. He's been a Cardinals fan for at least 75 years. Growing up, he played on a baseball team as a catcher. "I was paid $5 to go around and play with other teams," he says. "That was a lot to us then." He is the seventh of 10 kids, and the only one to play baseball.
Les would catch every chance that he had. The only protection he had was a catcher's mitt and a face mask, but he never got hurt. "I'd catch anything," he tells me.
Never missing a game, he'd listen to the Cardinals on the radio and attended when he could. "Every time I had the chance, I'd go to a game. We always had a good seat when we went up there."
They took a Model T Ford to the games and always had a carload of people. "We'd have to back up the hills," he said. Back then the games were only on Sundays. His favorite players? Easy. Red and Stan, he says, as if they're old friends. And after 75 years of the Cardinals, in a way they are. He's even fed them.
When Grah owned a tavern on Horseshoe Lake, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial and August Busch all came to eat there. After the meal, Busch asked to see Les. Fearing something was wrong, he hurried to their table. Instead, Busch told Les he'd eaten all over the country, and he enjoyed this meal there more than anything else.
These days, Les doesn't miss a game on TV. He likes Albert Pujols, but doesn't think much of manager Tony LaRussa.
"I don't know why, but I don't like him," Les shakes his head. "We should have traded him instead of some of the players we traded."
Every year, his family takes him to a game for his birthday. Last year, he was recognized on the field at Busch Stadium for being such a loyal, long-time fan. They wouldn't let a wheelchair or walker onto the green, so Les stood on the outside track. As they were waiting, he slowly inched his foot forward until he was touching the grass, then looked back with raised eyebrows, seeing if he could get away with touching the green. He did.
Les has also been interviewed by Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon in the radio booth at Busch Stadium and appeared briefly on FSN, a sports television station.
One year at a game, the stadium workers were worried about the heat affecting Les. They escorted him to an air-conditioned room with beverages and food. As Les describes it, "there were trophies all around and three beautiful girls that came and took their picture with me." They were the Team Fred Bird girls.
At the close of our conversation, Les pauses then says, "I've had a real good life. I've never imposed on anybody." He gives a slight nod. "Everything has been just lovely."