After more than half a century on the diamond at the University of Memphis, Stan Bronson Jr. is more than just a batboy. He's an institution.
As the Tigers wind down their season this week, Bronson is also concluding his 55th year as the team's batboy. He's been around for so long that he holds a Guinness World Record for "most durable bat boy" and his jersey is retired on the outfield wall.
Eddie Cantler, who has been Memphis' athletic trainer for 35 years, told NPR that Bronson is an "icon of the institution."
"Stan is everything that is innocent and pure," Cantler said. "And that's what he is. From the president on down, everybody knows that Stan is one of us."
Bronson got the job at Memphis after getting fired from a position in the athletic department at Rhodes College. The 84-year-old Bronson, who has mild palsy and a mental disability, says his mom brought him to Memphis' football coach, Billy "Spook" Murphy in 1958. Bob Winn, an associate athletic director at Memphis, remembers when Bronson met the storied coach.
"Coach Murphy said, 'Well, son, I'm sorry but I don't have money in my budget to pay for anybody else.'" Winn said. "And Stan said, 'Don't need money. Need a job,'"
Ever since, Bronson has been a staple at Memphis baseball games. For many years he chased foul balls and fetched bats, but now he spends most of his time in a steel cage next to the dugout which was constructed especially for him. It's called "Bronson's Bungalow."
At the end of the seventh inning of every game, Bronson comes out to home plate, tips his hat to the crowd and takes a bow. Some fans stay through the seventh inning just to see Bronson salute the crowd.
For Bronson, who has no close relatives left, the university has become his family. The school unofficially oversees his care, and he has a lifetime pass to the dining halls.
"I remember his mother telling us one time, that when Stan was a very young child, that the family physician told her that Stan’s life expectancy would be eight or nine years," Winn said. "We think, really, quite frankly, that athletics has kept Stan alive and going."