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Fans welcome home Cardinals, remember Musial

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ST. LOUIS (AP)

Opening day, always a festive occasion in St. Louis, is a little melancholy this time around. There was no Stan Musial for the first time in many years.

The Cardinals' opener Monday against Cincinnati was the first game at Busch Stadium since Musial died in January at age 92 after years of declining health.

Pregame ceremonies were mostly a tribute to The Man. Musial's four children unveiled a marker on the left-field wall honoring their father - his No. 6 inside a red circle with his signature across it. Fans stood, many with hats over their hearts, during a video tribute.

Even the national anthem paid homage to Musial's passion, since it was performed by harmonica players with the Gateway Harmonica Club, of which Musial was an honorary member.

Activities also included two pep rallies outside the stadium. Inside, the Budweiser Clydesdales circled the warning track followed by the parade of Hall of Famers in red Mustangs and wearing red blazers - Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter and Whitey Herzog. Ceremonial first pitches were thrown by two members of the 2006 championship team, Jason Isringhausen and Jim Edmonds.

Musial spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals, his 3,630 hits split evenly with 1,815 at home at 1,815 on the road. He won seven NL batting championships, three MVP awards and played on three World Series winners.

Musial was a revered figure in St. Louis as much for his kind and gentle spirit as for his baseball prowess, always smiling, always ready to pull the harmonica from his pocket.

Gary Leonard of St. Louis County stood outside the ballpark shortly before the game playing the harmonica in tribute to Musial, and wearing Musial jersey.

''It doesn't seem like a real opening day without him here,'' Leonard said.

Johnathan Hart of St. Charles has been coming to opening day since Musial was still playing.

''No one says St. Louis like Stan,'' Hart said. ''This is a happy day but a little sad.''

Even as his health deteriorated, Musial managed to make it to the ballpark every opening day and every postseason. His final appearance was prior to Game 4 of the last year's NL championship series against San Francisco, when the frail Musial rode a golf cart around the warning track before the game.

Since Musial's death, Missouri lawmakers have voted to name a new Mississippi River bridge under construction at St. Louis in his honor. The Illinois Legislature must also approve. A statue in his likeness already stands at the front of Busch Stadium.

The tributes aren't over. The Cardinals will wear a No. 6 patch honoring Musial all season. And at ''Stan Musial Night'' on Friday, every fan will get a harmonica. During the seventh-inning stretch, they'll join together to play ''Take Me Out to the Ball Game.''

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