Tony La Russa and the love of the game

Sunday, November 6, 2011

By Steve Duniphan

We attended a Cardinals game in the late '90s with our ball team, the Jackson Giants traveling squad, which consisted of boys 11 to 12 years of age. They were loud and spunky, just like they played.

The boys were enjoying themselves, replete in their orange, black and white Giant uniforms, and the coaches of the team were relishing the fact that we were helping to pass on the love of the game to America's youths. Believe me, we had earned this trip.

Like the rest of the fans, our boys were jockeying for autographs from Cardinals players who were coming in from the bullpen.

I was at the railing with two of our players, my son -- Cody Duniphan -- and Cody Crowden. The were ready with baseballs in hand, when down on the field Tony La Russa walked by on his way to the dugout. In a courteous manner, I yelled, "Hey, Tony," and pointed at the two bright-eyed boys in their pin stripes. Tony immediately raised his hand and caught the first ball, which he autographed, and likewise did the second. He didn't just scribble on the baseballs and sling them into oblivion, but took some real earnest care (just like he managed) to make sure the young ballplayers got their priceless memorabilia back, essentially ensuring the boys experienced an unforgettable baseball moment. They told him thanks, and Tony grinned and gave the thumbs up, exhibiting tremendous ardor.

My son was 11 then, 24 now, and vividly remembers that rich meeting with the assured first-round Hall of Famer. He still treasures that baseball.

As we all watch Tony La Russa retire as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, there is something prodigiously compelling about those "old bulls" easing off into the sunset. Oh, it certainly isn't comparable to watching a dad leave you as cancer chokes his last breath, but it can cause one to reflect on those staggering moments and make you realize the importance of cherishing memories spent with love ones.

Baseball and the protectors of the integrity of the game -- the Tony La Russas -- help you examine the march of time and realize how it stops for no one.

Good bye, Mr. La Russa, and may the class you exhibited in "the game" go with you in other worthwhile causes.

Steve Duniphan is a resident of Burfordville.

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