ST. LOUIS -- Willie McGee's stellar career spanned 18 years and included a multitude of great moments, but it was his rookie season that stands out as his most lasting memory.
McGee played in six postseasons and four World Series, but he won it only once -- in 1982, as a 23-year-old playing in his first year in the big leagues. He ended up playing in the Majors until he was 40, but for McGee, nothing will top that first year -- especially the October part.
"Individual stuff is one thing, but a team experience, where you're together and you're a unit, it's like a family," McGee said after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 at Busch Stadium on Saturday. "There's nothing like that when you reach the top of your profession as a team. You wish everybody could have that feeling just one time. There's nothing like it in the world."
Over 13 seasons with the Cardinals -- bookends to an 18-year career that included stints with the A's, Giants and Red Sox -- McGee compiled a .294 average, 1,683 hits and 301 stolen bases. In addition to the 1982 club, he was part of two more pennant-winning teams in '85 and '87. He played in one more World Series in 1990 after being traded to Oakland, and he made two more postseason appearances after that -- in '95 with Boston and '96 after returning to St. Louis.
McGee, who works with Cardinals Minor Leaguers as a special assistant to GM John Mozeliak, continues to be one of the most beloved sports figures in Cards history, a sentiment emphasized by the rousing ovation he received when he strode to the mound to throw out the first pitch. He was flanked by four Hall of Famers -- Lou Brock, Bob Gibson (who was spotted saying "Loooooooou" along with the crowd during Brock's intro), Red Schoendienst and Ozzie Smith.
"I don't get a chance to get back too much," McGee said. "But when you do, the old feelings come back. It's a great atmosphere, a great place to play baseball and a great opportunity for anybody to be able to come in here. I cherish it and I don't take it lightly."
Another pregame participant who also was taking things pretty seriously was Colbie Caillat, a Grammy Award-winning artist who admitted she was "terrified" to perform the national anthem before Game 3.
Her fears appeared to dissolve as soon as she belted out the first note, and she hit the proverbial home run with the performance.
"It is an overwhelming feeling being out on that field," Caillat said. "It's a little terrifying, but I've [sung anthems] five times before, and the whole field is filled with love and energy and excitement. There are so many people who put this thing on, and you don't want to let them down. It's a really important night, and I'm glad to be part of it."
The pregame ceremony was capped by another unforgettable Cardinals player who helped bring a World Series championship to St. Louis -- 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein.
Eckstein, who played for the Cards from 2005-07, escorted 18-year-old Kiana Knolland to the mound to deliver the first ball. Knolland, who is a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas in Wichita, is a freshman at Howard University in Washington.
Like McGee, Eckstein enjoyed his return to Busch Stadium and the quick reunion with old friends and colleagues. Around 30 minutes before the pregame ceremonies began, the area around the door to the Cards' clubhouse was a veritable who's who of Cardinals A-listers -- Eckstein, McGee and a slew of Hall of Famers, all converging to bring the special St. Louis flavor to the World Series.
"It's amazing to be in this city during this time period, with them winning and playing in the World Series," Eckstein said. "You see the sea of red, the fans going nuts and it's just a fun town to be in this time of year."
Eckstein also pointed to the very moment the Cards recorded the last out of the Series in 2006 as his most memorable moment.
"The pitch Adam Wainwright threw to strike out Brandon Inge," Eckstein said. "You dream about winning the World Series and being on a World Series club, and at that moment, it's when it actually happened."
The pregame ceremony also included a special video as a tribute to legendary Cardinals slugger and Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who passed away in January.
Sunday's pregame ceremonies will include a tribute to the Cards' 1967 World Series championship club.