ST. LOUIS - Jon Hamm, who grew up on the St. Louis Cardinals, idolizing Lou Brock and Ted Simmons, couldn't wait for this evening, with his childhood passion and luxuries of his professional success intersecting Monday at Busch Stadium.
He was celebrated as the conquering hero the moment he arrived into town. He was escorted around to VIP groups at Busch Stadium, meeting fans and players. He was driven around the warning track in front of adoring fans from his Emmy-winning hit series Mad Men. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith. He even had a bobblehead of his likeness distributed to fans before the Cardinals-Cincinnati Reds game.
Yet, on a night of frivolity, the Cardinals and their most famous fan could not ignore the tear gas in the air just 10 miles away in Ferguson. Nor the school closings. The arrival of the National Guard.
And the arrests and unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed citizen shot by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.
"It's rough; it's a bad situation all of the way around,'' says Hamm, who lived in nearby Normandy, and used to make the 2-mile ride to Ferguson on his bicycle to visit friends.
"There's no positive spin to it. It's rough to watch. That's my neighborhood.
"When all of the facts come out, and all of the light is shone on all sides of it, hopefully justice will be carried out. But it's hard. It's really hard. St. Louis had a rough couple of decades now. It would be nice to turn it around a little bit.''
It's this St. Louis community, Hamm says, that helped saved his life.
Hamm's parents divorced when he was 2, and when he was 10, his mother died from cancer. He moved into his grandmother's house, and years later when in college, his father died from diabetes.
Yet, instead of feeling lost or alone, the community reached out. He met a boy who became his best friend in seventh grade. His name was John Simmons.
He happened to be the oldest son of Ted Simmons, the former St. Louis Cardinals great, an eight-time All-Star catcher.
His greatest treasure, Hamm says, was a catcher's mitt that Ted Simmons gave him.
Simmons and his wife, Mary Ann, along with two other families - Bud and Susie Wilson, and Ernie and Carolyn Clarke - helped raise Hamm. He spent more nights sleeping at their homes than his own.
"They were a huge part of my life, and still are,'' Hamm told USA TODAY Sports. "It's like anything. You need a set of parents. It doesn't necessarily mean they had to be the ones to have you, or raised, you, but it is what it is.
"Really, I had three sets of surrogate parents. I'm 43 years old, and I still feel like I have three moms.''
Simmons is now a senior advisor for the Seattle Mariners and was at the Cardinals-Reds game Monday night, without even knowing it was Hamm's night.
He sent Hamm a text on Aug. 2, his grandson's 7th birthday:
"Just calling to say thanks.''
Hamm's long-time girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt, actually introduced an actress named Hayley Sparks to John Simmons, who became Simmons' wife, and they now have two children.
"Jon (Hamm) was a significant part of our lives,'' Ted Simmons tells USA TODAY Sports. "When you're at that age, and you don't have a guidepost that's fixed like Mom and Dad, we all worried about him.
"Jon was a brilliant kid. It wasn't just being insightful, he was really smart, maxing out on the SATs and that kind of stuff. And he was drop-dead handsome from the seventh grade. He could have had any girl he wanted by the time he was in seventh grade. He could have had had half the teachers too. He was always the center of attention.
"So you worried he would do something to wreck his life. We used to always tell them, whatever you do, please call us, so at least we can go to sleep.''
Hamm, a bartender and waiter trying to make ends meet, found a few part-time acting gigs until 2007 when he was cast for Mad Men. A Hollywood legend was born.
"I stopped worrying about him right then,'' Simmons says.
Monday night, he was more a welcome distraction for a reeling region.
"This has been tough on everyone,'' says Simmons, who has lived in the St. Louis area for nearly 45 years. "You live here, and people think that things like this only happen across the river in Illinois. Well, this is the still the South, and things happen that shouldn't.
"I came from Ann Arbor (Mich.). I always perceived myself as integrated and civilized with a broad perspective. When my wife and I moved here, we couldn't believe some of the things happening. I still remember (teammates) Bob Gibson and Bill White being denied residency in Clayton (an upscale suburb).
"It's like everything is fine as long as you're quiet, but please, don't band together and get political. A lot of things haven't changed so much.''
The midnight curfew was finally lifted Monday in Ferguson, but the National Guard arrived, bracing themselves for more unrest, while the Cardinals and Reds played a baseball game just a 20-minute drive away.
"People in St. Louis, from my experience, are great people,'' Hamm says. "If anybody can deal with this, we can. I hope everybody pulls together for the sake of the community. Really, that's all you got, at the end of the day.''