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It's a familiar refrain to season-ticket holders and casual fans alike: "Cardinal programs, magazines, scorecards, media guides and yearbooks!" After 46 seasons with the Cardinals, there's no one who's been yelling it longer than Mariano "Joe" Palermo.
The 80-year-old Palermo enjoys seniority with Sportservice — Busch Stadium's food, beverage and retail provider — and, as its longest-employed worker, he gets first pick of locations. He stakes his claim at bustling Gate 3, just beyond the Stan Musial statue. "It's the busiest gate," he says. "Time goes by faster, too. I'd rather be busy. There's nothing more boring than to be standing there and not have any business."
But between answering visitors' questions and chatting with the friends he's made over the past four decades, boredom doesn't set in very often. Plus, he's figured out a way to combine two of St. Louis' great loves: baseball and trivia.
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Before each game, Palermo comes up with a question about Cardinals' team history and displays it in a plastic sleeve. "I get people who just come up — even though they don't even buy a scorecard, they come for the trivia." Correct answers net anything from candy to beads to trinkets he's acquired from donating money to disabled veterans.
Palermo grew up with Sportsman's Park's Knothole Gang, one of the pioneering kids' clubs that provided discount seats for children, where he watched Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial play. Lou Brock's another favorite, and he makes no apologies for his continued admiration of Mark McGwire. Palermo recalls McGwire's home-run race with Sammy Sosa as one of his best memories; he credits it with bringing people back to the ballpark after the strike of 1994-95. And, he says, "They bought scorecards by the grove."
The soft-spoken yet simultaneously loud-voiced Palermo looks much younger than his 80 years; his kind eyes shine from behind his glasses when he shows off his treasured Cardinals memorabilia. He grew up in the city's north side and calls himself "strictly" Italian. "My name's Mariano, but people call me Joe because it's easy to remember, and that's my middle name," he says, before noting that he shares his given name with long-time New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera.
After stints in both the Army and the Navy, he worked for Brown Shoe, and then was a shipping manager for Machinery Inc. Over the years he's clocked hours at the Scottrade Center (and its former incarnations, the Savvis Center and the Kiel), where he also has seniority, the St. Louis Arena and the Edward Jones Dome. Palermo estimates that he works up to 95 percent of home baseball games, even planning his vacation around the All-Star break. A few years back, he finally was able to visit Italy, capped by a trip to the Sicilian city of, yes, Palermo.
Palermo grows quiet when it comes to the closing old Busch Stadium: "It was kind of sad..." he allows, trailing off.
Along with ten others who worked at old Busch Stadium from its opening day until its final one, he was honored at a pregame closing-day ceremony in October 2005. Before the event, Palermo was on a cart waiting to be introduced to the crowd. Nearby stood a handful of retired players, including one-time pitcher Al Jackson. "He looked and said, 'Hey, how come you get to sit down and we don't?' And I said, 'Well, we've been with the Cardinals longer than you have.'"
His playful attitude has made its way to the new stadium. Last year, he surprised one loyal trivia player by arranging to have his engagement posted on the scoreboard.
Palermo may be 80, but he has no plans to retire. He's ready for the season. "I like to intermingle," he says. "I think that's the best part of selling scorecards and why I've stayed on so long."
Weeks before Opening Day, in fact, his first trivia questions of the season were already on deck.