Five-year-old Blake Maggart queued up and waited as patiently as he could for an hour and a half at the front of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Exchange Oct. 3.
Wearing a St. Louis Cardinals Matt Holliday jersey while his mom, Teresa Maggart, held his Cardinals backpack, Blake was dressed the part of a Redbirds fan.
Baseball in hand, Blake reached the front of line. Former Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and the Cardinals manager, Tony La Russa picked up Blake and stood him on the table and placed two of his three World Series championship rings on Blakes fingers. Blake stared at the rings sparkling in the Exchange lights as photographs were taken.
Blakes father, Sgt. Brandon Maggart, was killed in the line of duty during his second tour in Iraq two years ago. To recognize the fallen Soldier and to celebrate Blakes birthday, the younger Maggart flew to the familys home state of Missouri in August, where he threw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game. Getting to meet La Russa at the Exchange on JBLM a couple months later was icing on the cake for the Maggart family, Teresa said.
The former Major League Baseball manager made a stop last week on his 15-day tour to promote his latest book, One Last Strike. The memoir is about the Cardinals historic comeback in 2011 that ended with a World Series championship.
Before the book signing La Russa visited the Warrior Transition Battalion and met with JBLM commander, Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr.
Its been a great experience, La Russa said. I had no idea just how big this place is. Its huge.
The book signing began at 4 p.m., but the line starting forming at 11:45 a.m. Specialist Jessica Hollis, 21st Cargo Transfer Company, grew up in Jefferson City, Mo., watching the Cardinals.
Hes the best manager weve ever had, Hollis said. I had to be here.
La Russa autographed a book for her as well as a shirt and a baseball card from his brief playing days with the Atlanta Braves.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Tobin with the 2nd Battalion, 158th Assault Helicopter Regiment, also grew up near St. Louis in southern Illinois as a Cardinals fan. La Russa signed five books as well as a Cardinals baseball cap Tobin had worn since he was 16. Hes now 37.
Hes a really good dude and a smart baseball man, he said.
La Russa stayed until he had signed for the last person in line at 8:30 p.m. two and a half hours past his commitment, signing 535 books and other baseball memorabilia. Fans in line sang happy birthday in honor of his 68th birthday the following day.
La Russa retired after the 2011 season, but hes doing everything but taking it easy. Working on the book allowed him time to reflect on his past seasons, something he couldnt do before because he was always looking ahead to the next season, he said. This weekend hell enjoy a new role of father of a bride when one of his daughters ties the knot. And hes also busy with his Animal Rescue Foundation, which he started with his wife when he was with Oakland. Theyre working on a project putting together a Pets for Vets program.
The animals rescue people, La Russa said. A lot of us are concerned for the vets who are returning. The magic of the companion; security, companionship and unconditional love.
But La Russas baseball days arent really over. Baseball is a game hes known his entire life and at some point hell work in some teams front office, he said.
I just retired from the dugout. Im probably going to work for a team at some point. All I know is baseball so Im going to keep working.