Bill Meirink has sat shoulder-to-shoulder with 45,000 fellow St. Louis Cardinals fans countless times before, but Tuesday night was the first time he’s ever been at the center of attention.
The 54-year-old Belleville resident trembled a little as he stood on the Busch Stadium pitcher’s mound, but still delivered a strike to Cardinals relief pitcher Sam Tuivailala for the game’s ceremonial first pitch.
How was it? In a couple of words: “Pretty cool,” he said.
Especially considering the alternative.
Meirink, 54, wasn’t expected to survive more than a few months beyond the stage 4 stomach cancer diagnosis he received in 2013. But there he stood, toeing the rubber on a muggy evening representing the patients at Siteman Cancer Center as the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates looked on.
I was thinking about all the people I've met along the way who have helped me. That’s pretty much what I was thinking about.
Bill Meirink, cancer survivor
“I was thinking about all the people I’ve met along the way who have helped me. That’s pretty much what I was thinking about,” said Meirink, who is now two years in remission.
About 125 family and friends, wearing matching blue Siteman Cancer Center T-shirts, attended the game and gave Meirink the evening’s first standing ovation. Among them were his wife, Anne, his surgeon, Dr. Ryan Fields, and extended family that came from as far as Cleveland, Ohio.
He waved and gave a thumbs up to those who came to support him as he walked off the field.
“A lot of family, a lot of friends, a lot of people who have have loved and supported myself, my wife and my entire family,” he said. “It’s very special to have them all here with us tonight.”
Stomach pains and difficulty swallowing are what led Meirink to a doctor’s visit and eventual cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2013. He responded well to chemotherapy, but made the decision to have his stomach and lymph nodes removed as a precaution in March of this year.
He has since lost 30 pounds as he adapts to a new restrictive diet that includes smoothies and mostly proteins.
Meirink’s love of baseball and, in particular, the Cardinals was encouraged by his father, with whom he regularly tuned in to KMOX Radio for the play-by-play.
When he was older, he would catch a Bi-State bus in downtown Belleville with his brother, Ed, to sit in $1 bleacher seats at the old Busch Stadium.
Meirink debated, prior to Tuesday’s first pitch, whether he should go all the way to the pitcher’s rubber or make the shorter throw from the front of the mound. “Pride,” he said, pushed him the full 60-feet, 6-inches.
As far as the alternative, I think that will be pretty special too, in heaven. But, I want to be with my family right now.
“It was good to see Sam Tuivailala, the relief pitcher. He’s a big boy,” Meirink said. “It was really neat to be down there. I soaked it all in, I really did.”
The only other time he’s been on the field, however, is when his son, Adam, played there in a game as a member of the Belleville West baseball team.
The Meirinks have six children ranging in age from 14 to 34 and four grandchildren with another on the way.
“As far as the alternative, I think that will be pretty special too, in heaven,” said Meirink, a graduate of Althoff High School. “But, I want to be with my family right now.”