The bustle of the All-Star Game thrummed in the visitors clubhouse a few hours before the first pitch, music blaring with bustling reporters and star ballplayers with big names and huge talent talking and chatting and joking in one small, electric space.
Luggage and equipment were wheeled briskly into the room, VIPs whipped out, the crowd hummed as it filled the seats above the bowels of the stadium, and a sense of the hype-machine-in-overdrive that is the All-Star Game kept building and building. It was loud, exciting, a place full of people drunk on the joy of a game that in the end was more showcase than crucial competition.
But just a few feet away, through the door, where the noise stopped and a solemnity started, sat Tony La Russa -- a man to whom this All-Star Game might have offered more meaning than any other person in attendance.
After all, it was this city that kicked off the retired manager's now-bright career -- one that ended in glory with last season's World Series title and Tuesday's All-Star Game win, but that started with a striking lack of success that must have bordered on humiliation.
"I signed with the Kansas City A's in 1962," La Russa told reporters earlier in the week, "and to think that the last time I'm going to put on a uniform is going to be in Kansas City is just an unbelievable coincidence."
It began when he was a bonus baby promoted immediately to the majors at the tender age of 18. It was a promotion forced by rules that required young talent skip the minors, and even today, 49 years later, the memory is not a pleasant one. That became clear the moment he was asked to contemplate those early days.
What exactly did he remember about the beginning of his big-league career?