The restaurant was called Kreis, and it was known for a king-cut prime rib the size of Vermont. We had all ordered the next smaller choice and were still feeling lethargic.
Jason was an aspiring country singer, making the rounds to radio stations and playing his music for anyone who would listen. His style was unique, but his ex-wife was Lee Ann Womack, who just happened to be one of the hottest singers at the time. Unfortunately, most people wanted to talk about her, so I had spent our time at dinner making small talk about baseball.
Finally finished, we pulled on our winter coats and headed toward the door. Our thoughts moved toward finding a beer and a television - it was basketball season.
When we reached the sidewalk outside, we stopped to enjoy the chill in the air and Jason lit a cigarette. I turned back to inspect the restaurant once more and saw an older gentleman exiting behind us, pulling his trench coat over his shoulders as he walked. I did the classic double-take.
"You guys know who that is?" Scot knew, Jason didn't. It was 'The Man'. I could see in my mind the baseball card I owned as a kid. He played from 1941 to 1963, and only for the St. Louis Cardinals.
We stood motionless and quiet as Stan moved toward us. I had to say something to him, he had been my idol for 25 years. "Mr. Musial?"
"Yes sir, that's me," he said. He wore a wool beret and had a gleam in his eye. It was obvious he had never grown tired of fans.
"Did you get enough to eat in there?" I fumbled for something to say other than an obvious fan reference.
"They don't serve anything small, do they?" he quipped. I slipped my hands in my pockets as we laughed.
He had stopped to exchange pleasantries, but his glance toward the parking lot told me he was ready to move on. I decided to take the plunge. "Sir, I don't want to intrude on your evening, but I just wanted you to know that my friends and I have always been inspired by the way you played baseball."
He leaned forward a little, looking me straight in the eye. "Thank you son, I never get tired of hearing that." Then a smile crossed his face as if he'd remembered something. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pen and a stack of cards. "Would you mind if I give you guys a little something to remember this evening?" His speech and demeanor seemed reminiscent of another era. It felt a little eerie.
Jason, suddenly conscious of his cigarette, tossed it away. The last of the smoke hung in the air and mixed with the smell of the restaurant kitchen. Stan signed three baseball cards and handed one to each of us. I waved mine around in the cool air to dry the ink, then slipped it carefully into my pocket. "Thank you, sir." I shook his hand, then a flush crossed my face as I thought how he probably just wanted to get in his car and go home.
"What are your names?" he inquired.
I introduced the group and he shook each of our hands. I bragged that Jason was an up and coming country music star.
Stan's eyes lit up. "Is that right? I love country music! I loved listening to the Grand Ole Opry and square dancing when I was a younger man." As he spoke, I started thinking about the places he'd been and things he had seen.
He reached into his pocket again, this time pulling out a harmonica. "I can even play a country song or two on this," he said as he examined it thoughtfully.
We looked at each other, wondering if just maybe...
"Tell me what you think," he said, putting the instrument to his lips. The first few notes were all we needed, he was playing The Wabash Cannonball.
We tapped our feet and watched in amazement. He was very good, and indulged us with the entire first verse. When he finished and slipped the instrument back into his pocket, we erupted in applause. He took the slightest hint of a bow and smiled.
"Well, good luck Jason, I hope to hear you on the radio." He tipped his hat, nodded to each of us and strolled off into the evening. We said goodnight and watched him walk away. I sensed a spring in his step, and it was obvious he enjoyed playing for us as much as we enjoyed listening.
A solemn quiet came over us, standing there on that sidewalk. It was almost as if we'd seen a ghost. We watched as his car pulled off the lot and floated into the night, the exhaust hanging in the air.
Scan of my card from Stan Musial