ST. LOUIS -- The procession began as they always do when Busch Stadium opens its door to a new baseball season each year. In came the Hall of Famers, dressed in red suit coats, riding in convertibles from the right-field corner, around the warning track toward home plate. On Monday, Lou Brock led the way, followed by Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter and Whitey Herzog.
But, in fact, it wasn't as it always was, as there was an absence without Stan Musial, who died in January at the age of 92, in that line. He had been a constant presence on Opening Day in St. Louis for the last 70 years. But while he may not have been at Busch Stadium on Monday, he emerged as the centerpiece of the Cardinals' home opener festivities.
Following the introduction of the club's six living Hall of Famers, a tribute to Musial was played on the video board. It began with the speech that President Barack Obama gave when he presented Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. Tim McCarver and Jack Buck were then shown speaking about Musial's legacy.
The video ended with Musial's own words, the 22-year Cardinal saying, "As far as I was concerned, I was happiest when I put on a uniform and played baseball."
Minutes later, Musial's four children unveiled a No. 6 decal on the left-center field wall that will remain all season as a remembrance of the impact Musial had within the organization and the St. Louis community. The decal mirrors the uniform patch that will don the Cardinals' jerseys in 2013.
"The first thing I did when I got here was make sure that patch was on my jersey," third baseman David Freese said. "It's going to be a special day. I think everybody in the stadium will be thinking about Stan."
Even the national anthem was a nod to Musial. It was performed by the Gateway Harmonica Club of St. Louis, of which Musial was an honorary member.
"The only great thing that we know is that Stan is in a better place and he is carrying on that tradition somewhere else," Adam Wainwright said. "He's a big, big part of why St. Louis is where we are today in the world of baseball."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.