Monday, August 22, 2011

Even the Browns Were Remembered; The Real Fans Don't Forget

They might get tripped up over today's date, but they still remember playing baseball with bottle caps and broomsticks in the streets of St. Louis.

Veterans with Alzheimer's disease and other dementia-related conditions met at Busch Stadium on Friday to reminisce over baseball memorabilia while sharing stories of the sandlots and heroes of their youth.

The Veterans Cardinals Reminiscence League is a new support group designed to ease anxiety and depression through the solace of America's pastime. The group of nine men and one woman, dressed in Cardinals and Browns gear, meet every other week to talk baseball with inspiration from the Cardinals' collection of signed baseballs, jerseys and photos.

"A lot of times in today's world senior citizens get left behind," said Rich Hoffman, 70, a Navy veteran and retired truck driver who now lives in Festus. "We chit-chat here. I enjoy listening to these other fellows, and I don't have to sit around feeling sorry for myself."

Hoffman, who experienced memory problems after a stroke, got the session started Friday by asking if the chunk of metal trim that fell off Busch Stadium earlier this month had been fixed. Cardinals staff assured him it had, and gently steered the conversation toward Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.

Volunteers passed around the battered base from 1974 that marked Brock's 118th stolen base of the season. Gibson's signed jersey from 1968 was mounted on a table at the front of the First Pitch conference room near the visitors clubhouse.

With Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, long-term memories are the last to fade. For St. Louisans, the community's long history of baseball can be a source of comfort.

"If you grew up in this town, you know Cardinals baseball," said Nina Tumosa, director of geriatric research at the St. Louis VA Medical Center, a co-sponsor of the program. "It's very affirming to know you haven't lost all of your memories."

Jim Carlson, who is usually first to arrive at the meetings, shared his story of riding on a train engine from Decatur, Ill., as a child just to watch Cardinals' games through a hole in the fence at Sportsman's Park.


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John Kunderman, 84 wearing his St. Louis Browns cap, looks at 118th base stolen by Lou Brock in 1974. John, a Navy veteran, participates in the Veterans Cardinals Reminiscence League, a support group that involves talking about baseball and looking at memorabilia to trigger memories. During the group meeting John talked about playing bottle cap baseball on picnics with his wife. "She was a good pitcher, she threw it in hard" he said. The group is a collaboration of St. Louis University, the VA, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Cardinals.

(Click on Photo to Enlarge)

 Emily Rasinski,