AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The University of Memphis baseball team plays its final home game of the season tonight. In addition to rooting for their players, Memphis fans will also be cheering on the batboy, Stan Bronson Jr. But "boy" is a relative term. He's 84 years old, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, he's the longest serving batboy in history.
Sara Hoover, of member station WKNO, has his story.
SARA HOOVER, BYLINE: At the end of the seventh inning of each game, Stan Bronson Jr. stands on home plate, tips his hat and takes a bow.
JEFF BRIGHTWELL: Tiger fans, direct your attention to home plate where we have a living legend in Tiger baseball.
HOOVER: Living legend is about right. This is Bronson's 55th year as the Tiger's honorary batboy. He has an intellectual disability and also a speech impediment. Bronson says before he came to the University of Memphis, he was fired from the athletic department at Rhodes College.
STAN BRONSON, JR.: They fired me.
HOOVER: They fired you?
HOOVER: Why did they fire you?
BRONSON: They didn't like my attitude.
HOOVER: Bronson's mother brought her son to the University of Memphis in 1958. Associate athletic director, Bob Winn, recalls they spoke with football coach Billy "Spook" Murphy.
BOB WINN: Coach Murphy said, well, son, I'm sorry but I don't have money in my budget to pay for anybody else. And Stan said, don't need money. Need a job.
HOOVER: Since Bronson's arrival, he has been a campus favorite. These days, he doesn't chase after foul balls or grab bats as much as he used to. But he does have a special seat right on the field, next to the dugout. Announcer Jeff Brightwell says even if the team is losing, fans stick around in the seventh inning.
BRIGHTWELL: You always want to see Stan come out and tip his cap. He is probably one of the most recognizable figures, which Stan's got to be maybe on that Mount Rushmore of university athletics. Everyone knows and loves Stan.
HOOVER: Just as everyone in Memphis seems to have an Elvis story, many have a Stan Bronson story. Fans give him rides; others take him to dinner. Even the team's coach chauffeurs him around town. Eddie Cantler worked as the athletic trainer at the University of Memphis for 35 years.
EDDIE CANTLER: He's an icon of this institution. Stan is everything that's innocent and pure. And that's what he is. And from the president on down, everybody knows that Stan is one of us.
HOOVER: At 84, Bronson has outlived most of his family. The university unofficially oversees his care and recently moved him into an independent living community overlooking the campus. Bronson has a lifetime pass to the university's cafeteria and the athletic training staff tends to his medical needs. But there are growing concerns.
Bronson has never collected a paycheck and is not eligible for Social Security, disability or Medicare. This past year, Bronson's annual birthday party doubled as a fundraiser to offset future medical costs.
BEVERLY DUNN: We're very fortunate that Stan has not had any major medical problems. Stan doesn't take any kind of medicine. In a way, he's kind of a medical miracle for his age.
HOOVER: That's Beverly Dunn, who put together Bronson's application for most durable batboy for the Guinness World Records. Bronson holds the record for longevity, but was never expected to live even a quarter of his age. Here's Bob Winn.
WINN: We think, really, quite frankly, that athletics has kept Stan alive and going.
HOOVER: From the sidelines, Bronson can see his retired jersey in right field. But he's not done yet. He plans to be right back in this same spot next year. For NPR News, I'm Sara Hoover in Memphis.
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