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St. Louis Goes Crazy Over McGwire

September 8, 1998

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Mark McGwire’s 61st home run sent St. Louis into a cheering, horn-honking frenzy.

As McGwire rounded the bases after tying Roger Maris’ record in the first inning, Busch Stadium gave him an ovation that lasted well into the at-bat of teammate Ray Lankford.

McGwire gave high-fives to Chicago first baseman Mark Grace and third baseman Gary Gaetti, then lifted his 10-year-old son Matthew and carried him for several steps after crossing home plate.

The scene moved many in the crowd of 50,530, which included Maris’ sons. Even Chicago’s Sammy Sosa, who is chasing McGwire with 58 home runs, applauded in right field.

``To be here, I will remember and cherish my entire life,″ said Rick Faccin, 44, of Alton, Ill. ``The reception he received and what he did as he rounded the bases gave me chills all over.″

There were some tears, too.

``When I saw the ball hit off the glass and I knew he tied the record, I had a few tears in my eyes,″ said Don Fisher, 51, of Marion, Ill. ``It made me feel like I was part of history since I saw it live.″

During a curtain call, McGwire thumped his chest and pointed skyward as he looked to the Maris family, sitting behind photographers along the first-base line.

``He acknowledged us. He tapped his heart, like dad was in his heart,″ said Kevin Maris.

Downtown, horns blared in the minutes after McGwire’s homer. TV stations interrupted programming to announce the news.

The celebrations didn’t end even though McGwire failed to hit No. 62. In the eighth inning, the Blue Angels’ precision flying team roared over Busch Stadium, sending the crowd into another round of cheering.

It was a day St. Louis won’t soon forget.

The Cardinals have won 15 pennants and nine World Series, but the city hadn’t seen hysteria like this since the ticker-tape parade after Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic in the 1920s.

Red 60s were plastered everywhere _ billboards, store signs, even a few bare chests. By early afternoon, 61s were already going up.

In health clubs, grocery stores, restaurants, even taxi cabs and hospitals, all conversation centered around McGwire and Sosa.

``A lot of the nursing staff is wearing red today, and many of them brought small radios to work so they can keep track of the game,″ said Mary Jo Wich, a spokeswoman at St. Anthony’s Medical Center.

The radios weren’t really necessary. In virtually every patient room, the game was on TV. ``You walk down the hall and you can hear it everywhere,″ Wich said.

St. Louis County Cab Co. dispatcher Ron Gregerson said most of his 63 drivers were tuned to the game, not only for their own interest, but because their fares were demanding it.

``There better not be any Chicago fans among us,″ he laughed.

Typically, thousands of Cubs fans make the trek for games in St. Louis, and Tuesday was no exception. There were nearly as many blue ``Sosa 21″ jerseys as red ``McGwire 25s.″

``I’m here to see Sammy surpass Mr. McGwire as the home run king of major league baseball,″ said Dan Sherman, 30, of Quincy, Ill., wearing a Sosa jersey and Cubs cap. ``This is the best thing that I’ve ever been to.″

Most fans at the stadium were just happy to be there.

``To be a part of history is something I will never forget,″ said Bill Wethigton, 49, of Morris, Ill. ``For Mark to do it with Sammy and the Cubs in town makes it even more emotional. For me to be here and witness it is mind-boggling.″

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