It looked more like a pep rally for the St. Louis and Springfield Cardinals baseball teams than it did a funeral.
And that’s just the way Pat Rush wanted it.
After he died July 29 at the age of 72, the family of Patrick Joseph Rush carried out his most fervent wish regarding his memorial service: “All attendees come in their favorite Cardinals gear,” the invitation read. “No suits, please.”
So it was that funeral chapel pews were populated a week later by more than 60 relatives and friends of Pat, almost all wearing bright Redbird Red jerseys and T-shirts rather than suit coats and dresses in traditional somber colors.
“When he had to get into a tuxedo for the kids’ weddings, it was like torture,” recalled his wife of 48 years, Patricia. “He said to me, ‘I want to be buried in a Cardinals shirt.’”
Actually it was a scarlet Cardinals jacket that topped Pat’s final wardrobe. A banner touting the team was draped over the casket.
A display of treasured mementoes included the backrest of a seat from the former Busch Stadium bearing the signatures of past Cardinals greats Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. Another souvenir was a base from the minor league team’s first season (2006) in Hammons Field here.
Patricia — Patty to friends — noted that Pat also was an avid follower of the Missouri State University basketball team: “He loved the Bears, and he had season tickets.”
Pat earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the school in 1973 when it was Southwest Missouri State, with the aim of teaching. However, after graduation he tried other occupations, including working as a cook at the popular Gee’s East Wind restaurant, before signing on with AT&T to begin a 30-year telecom career, mostly as a customer technical support advisor.
Springfield became Pat’s adopted hometown when he attended SMS, but he had grown up in St. Louis, in the Italian neighborhood known as The Hill. “He was always proud of the fact that The Hill is the only place where three Major League Baseball Hall of Famers lived on a single street,” recalled eldest son Chris, referring to New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, catcher and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, and broadcaster Jack Buck.
“He told me many stories of playing baseball with friends on the streets of The Hill,” said Chris. Younger brother Tony said their dad played baseball in high school, too. “I don’t remember what his position was — I just remember he could give instruction on pretty much all of them.”
All four of Pat and Patty’s sons — Daniel and Darren are the other two — have fond memories of their dad playing catch with them, teaching them fundamentals of the game and helping coach their boyhood teams.
Darren recounted an especially memorable batting practice in which Pat was pitching to him. “Without me knowing, he threw a golf ball instead of a baseball, to see if I could hit it. I did hit it — and I remember him being so surprised and proud of that.” Pat kept score at Little League games, Darren said, “so he could tell me and my teammates our batting averages.”
Life lessons from a baseball fan
Chris learned a valuable lesson of another sort from his father via baseball:
“I am left-handed, and as a child at that time it was looked upon very negatively in school and in general, to the level of a disability. My teachers looked down on it and tried to force me to be right-handed. My dad, however, looked at it as a gift. He explained to me how it was an advantage in baseball, for left-handed pitchers, first basemen and so on. It really helped me as a child to view it in a positive way.”
The talk at the funeral wasn’t all about sports. One item on display was a newspaper clipping reporting that the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce had named Pat the “Good Citizen of the Year” for 1980. The honor stemmed from Pat’s service on a jury in a criminal trial during which he suffered a painful kidney stone attack.
“His doctor could not prescribe medication while Rush was on the jury,” the article recounted, “but Rush did not ask to be excused. By remaining on the jury through its deliberations, Rush prevented the case from having to be retried.”
Because the jury was sequestered during the trial, Patty had to rely on Judge James Keet to keep her updated about Pat’s condition. “The judge was so nice to keep me informed. He would call me every night and say, ‘Mrs. Rush, your husband assures me that he is doing OK, so don’t worry.’”
But there was concern for another reason: Shortly after being found guilty, the defendant escaped while being escorted from the courtroom back to jail. “The guy was on the loose, and he knew my dad’s name because the judge had asked him so many times if he was OK,” Tony explained. Fortunately, the fugitive was soon recaptured. “But it gave my parents worry until he was locked up again.”
Then there was Pat’s journal.
“He started it when he was in college to keep track of pinball machine scores he’d racked up,” said Tony. “Then he began to jot down notes about the day, and eventually it turned into a journal with a couple of paragraphs about each day. Any time there was a question or disagreement about an event or date or something that had happened, out came Dad’s journal so he could set us all straight.”
Of course, the outcomes of Cardinals games — the St. Louis team and, in more recent years, the Springfield farm club as well — were mentioned in the journal, too.
“My brothers and I went to so many games with him over the years, and he’d do things like saying ‘I wonder which one of you boys had the best win-loss ratio,’” said Darren. “He’d look back in his journal and figure out which one of us had the best winning percentage in games that we’d attended with him. I think I won that one.”
The family had to move from Springfield back to St. Louis for about a dozen years in the 1980s and ’90s as a result of the court-ordered breakup and reorganization of AT&T and Southwestern Bell. They moved back to Springfield more than 20 years ago, living most recently in Nixa. Yet some friends and neighbors from their St. Louis era drove down for the funeral service.
Cardinals gear aplenty, even for a Cubs fan
Among them were Peggy Dunsworth, in a Cardinals shirt, and her mother, Mary Koetting, sporting a jaunty Cardinals cap. They recalled that Patty had babysat Peggy’s two children as well as her sister’s two kids. One of Peggy’s, initially still an infant, was so fussy that she feared Patty wouldn’t want the job.
“It was Pat who saved the day,” Peggy said. “He had such a calm, sweet personality. He’d rock that crying baby and soon all was quiet. My kids loved them both — they called them Mrs. Pat and Mister Pat.”
Two of Patty’s cousins, Jim Kendall of Springfield and Jude Zamkur of Wentzville, described Pat with such terms as kind, gentle, intelligent, rather quiet, willing to help do anything that anyone needed done. Requesting Cardinals regalia be worn to the funeral was “a good move,” said Kendall, “because everybody knew he was a huge Cardinals fan.”
However, the wearing of Redbird garb was an extraordinary tribute to Pat’s memory for at least a couple of attendees.
Daniel’s wife, Amanda, is a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the Cardinals’ archenemies, the Chicago Cubs. “She used to give my dad lots of trouble,” Daniel said with a chuckle. But she donned a Cardinals jersey for the day in Pat’s honor.
“I don’t know if he would have worn a Cubs jersey to my funeral,” said Amanda, smiling. “But I figured I should show him respect. He was a good dude.”
Jerry Kerns, whose daughter married into the Rush family, said he’d joked about wearing a shirt proclaiming his own favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. “But my daughter threatened me, so I went out and bought this one to wear today,” he said, plucking at the new shirt with the familiar bird logo on the chest.
One person who wasn’t wearing a Cardinals shirt was Gary Templeton, who’d known Pat since they were freshmen in high school. Templeton, who lives in Pacific, had become a Pentecostal minister, and he officiated at the service.
“I apologize for not having Cardinals red on today,” he said from the chapel pulpit. “When I was getting ready this morning, I pulled out my four or five Cardinals shirts from the closet — but somehow they all had shrunk.”
As the audience laughed along with him, Templeton pointed to the plain black polo shirt he was wearing and added: “At least I didn’t wear a suit.”
A large video screen in the chapel displayed photographs of Pat and Patty snapped on vacation trips they’d taken together to such destinations as Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico. “And, of course,” said Patty, “the Disney parks in Florida and California, first when our boys were young, and then with the grandkids.”
She confirmed that Pat loved to play catch and coach his sons in baseball (although they enjoyed playing soccer as well). In recent years, she said, “he started doing it with the grandchildren — in the house, even. It used to be that we didn’t allow balls thrown in the house, but grandchildren bring that kind of thing out in you. I did make them use a Wiffle ball or tennis ball, though.”
Part of Patty’s reason for relenting was that Pat’s worsening health limited his mobility. “We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t get an answer from the doctors here for the longest time. They called him the Mystery Man. But then finally they did a muscle biopsy and sent it off to the Mayo Clinic, and then we got the answer. He was diagnosed with what’s called ‘limb girdle muscular dystrophy.’”
Daniel said he and other family members continued to accompany Pat to “I-don’t-know-how-many” baseball and basketball games. Tony said that the final St. Louis game Pat attended was on May 15, and that his dad was extra-pleased because he got to see veteran slugger Albert Pujols take his first turn on the pitcher’s mound that night.
“Dad used to like to sit in the Redbird Roost at Hammons Field so he could eat the brats,” Chris recalled. Occasionally one of Chris’s corporate clients would grant access to an upper-level spectator suite in the Springfield stadium. Lately, however, with Pat requiring a wheelchair, they’d rooted from a lower-level section reserved for fans with mobility issues.
“We made every effort to get him to whatever he wanted to get to,” Tony said. Patty echoed the pledge: “Whatever he wanted to do, we made it happen.”
“But really,” Tony emphasized, “it was more than just going to a game — it was being there with him, bonding with him … Between innings I’d talk with my dad — not just about baseball, but about everything else going on in our lives at the moment. We didn’t fully understand or appreciate how important that time at the stadium was. But I wouldn’t trade that time we had together for anything.”
Like Pat did with him and his brothers, Tony takes his own kids to games nowadays. “They’re young — they mostly go for the snacks and souvenirs. But hopefully some day they’ll look back like I do now.”
As the funeral service concluded, the gathering moved from the Greenlawn South chapel to an adjacent meeting room for a reception featuring food and fellowship.
As they lined up single-file in the connecting hallway, the attendees’ Cardinals shirts — some faded from seasons in the sun while others were fresh-from-the-store new — bore familiar names emblazoned on the backs: Edmonds, LaRussa, Molina, Oquendo, Pujols, Goldschmidt, etc.
From the overhead speakers in the chapel wafted an equally familiar tune as an unusual recessional: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
“We wanted this to be a happy day,” Patty said.