Monday, January 28, 2013

Stan's Challenge

Sunday evening at the Blues game I was asked to read a script accompanying a ceremonial puck-drop that was meant to honor the life of Stan Musial. Mr. Musial's grandson, and almost constant companion in the last several years, Brian Schwarze came to center ice to drop the puck between Blues captain David Backes and his Minnesota Wild counterpart Sakku Koivu.

These types of ceremonies are done occasionally by the Blues when a particularly historic event occurs, such as the passing of "Stan The Man", or if a famous person is in attendance whom they wish to recognize in some way. Members of the Cardinals, for instance, were on hand to drop a puck after their 2011 World Championship. It's a way for a hockey team to say "we are proud of you" or "we're glad you are here with us", something like that.

But this ceremony honoring Stan was quite different for me as public-address announcer. It was not just reading a script without messing it up. It was the one public opportunity for me to do my best to honor my hero. I wanted to make sure the words were right and my delivery was dead-on.

The script, in its original form, was adequate for the occasion. But I thought it could stand a little more in the way of poignancy. I re-worded a few things, presented the ideas to my supervisor, and approval for the revisions was gained. I was satisfied with the new script. It went like this:

Ladies and Gentlemen, over the weekend the St. Louis community laid to rest a sporting-world icon and the greatest St. Louis athlete of all time. Stan Musial was not only known for his record-setting accomplishments on the field, but was also a true civic treasure and example of what a true gentleman should be. 

We now direct your attention to center ice for this evening's ceremonial puck drop and ask you to welcome Stan's grandson Brian Schwarze, as he drops our ceremonial puck in honor of his grandfather Stan "The Man" Musial. 

Thank you Brian Schwarze...and thanks for the wonderful memories Stan "The Man" Musial. 

It was a simple tribute, to be sure. But also said exactly what needed to be said on behalf of some 18-thousand St. Louis sports fans to the Musial family. It turned out perfectly from my view.

Tributes have come from all directions in the days since Mr. Musial passed away on January 19th. One of my favorites was written by Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Dan is obviously much like me, a devoted and adoring Stan Musial fan his entire life. You can read his tribute here.

But what I hope people who loved Stan and his approach to life would see going forward is the challenge his legacy presents. How do we live up to his standard? How can we live our own lives as effectively and generously? Bernie Miklasz, also of the Post-Dispatch, asks himself these questions in this carefully thought-out column.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Social Media Changes Everything

Saturday night was supposed to be all about Blues opening night. It was supposed to be the start of a hope-filled season for St. Louis Blues fans. But at 5:45pm Saturday, January 19th Stan Musial passed away and the tone of the night could have dramatically changed at Scottrade Center.

Many Blues fans are also Cardinals fans. So a high percentage of the 20,035 hockey-starved patrons who showed up to watch their Blues take on the Detroit RedWings that night also had a soft spot in their hearts for "The Man". Those of us who work at the games also have that spot. We found out that Mr. Musial had died shortly before the introductions of the 2013 Blues team members were to take place prior to the start of the game. Because of social media, the fans found out around the same time.

Prior to the days when everyone carried a cellphone, I, being the public-address announcer at Blues games, would have had the duty of informing the crowd of the passing of St. Louis's number-one sports icon. It would have been a shocking moment in the evening for most. Some would have gone straight into a depression-like state. Some would have immediately sought more information. Some may have left the building. That would have likely killed the opening-night "buzz" in the arena, probably for the entire game.

As it was, a majority of the crowd likely learned of the passing of Mr. Musial not too long after our game presentation staff and the media did. So, our job in presenting "the show" Saturday became one of determining the best way to pay tribute to Stan-the-Man, and not one of breaking the news. We decided to put up a picture of Stan on the Jumbotron between the second and third periods and accompany it with some appropriate words.

The management entrusted me with composing the message. I delivered it. And the game and it's presentation weren't radically altered. People stood and applauded. And because of social media and the rapid spread of information about Mr. Musial's passing, the atmosphere in the building was preserved. In this instance, social media changed the game experience for the better without many realizing it.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

How Close Were We?

One has to wonder, after 113 days of life without NHL hockey, just how close we came to losing another entire season to labor strife. Not that long ago we went through an entire year without the puck dropping in St. Louis, and the rest of the hockey world. The comeback from that incident was painful, as the casual hockey fan had written off the sport as something they could live without. The Scottrade Center (then Savvis) was mostly empty for the next few seasons. Of course, the dismal state of the Blues roster in the post-Bill Laurie ownership period had a lot to do with that too.

As a part-time employee of the Blues, I had some inside indications that Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners had no intention of losing the entire season. It's my belief that they felt that the fan base was secure enough to bargain hard with the players to get a deal that they wanted to live with long term. They were ready to lose around half of the season to do it, and they did. Now the business of repairing the damage has to begin. Good luck to new Blues owner Tom Stillman, and his local group of investors, in recapturing the love lost for The Note over the last few months. It's comforting to know that we won't have to go through this again for at least eight years.