St. Louis Joes: Vega Heartbreak

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He’s told the tale a million times.

“All right so you wanna know how I did the rally song?” Orlando Rowe, 25, more commonly known as Vega Heartbreak, says as he breaks into a wide grin, attempting to lean back on a stiff black metal chair outside of a Starbucks in downtown Webster Groves. He’s dressed plainly: white T-shirt and black pants, paling in comparison to his personal success in the story he’s about to tell.

Vega begins to talk about his song and YouTube video, now with over 200,000 hits, and the polished tale unfolds flawlessly. The story begins in his mother’s, Mary Valerie-Richardson’s, living room. Rowe visited his mom one evening during the 2011 Cardinals playoff run. After watching the Redbirds dismantle the Brewers, he started fooling around on his mobile studio, laying down a beat to a song about the Cardinals.

Waking up the next day, he added his voice to the song. The production took only a few hours and, when finished, Rowe sent the tape off to DJ Cuddy, a radio personality at 104.1 FM (click to the web site).

The rest is history. Within the next two days, the “Go Cards Rally Song” went viral, trended on Twitter and landed Vega all over the St. Louis media scene. The song also aired on 107.7 FM and inspired a music video—which, because of the rapid popularity, features Vega in clothes he bought that day and a hat fresh with its stickers on it.

Vega performed outside of Busch Stadium before Game Six of the 2011 World Series. A day later, the Cardinals won the Fall Classic, and the correlation between the song and the Cards success has often been disputed. The night the Cardinals won it all, Vega said he partied with David Freese, Jason Motte and other Cardinals. It was then he realized his career had started to take off.

He’s told the story a million times before. The song itself is recognizable as the Cardinals themselves that year. But there is a tale he hasn’t recounted: his life leading up to the song and where his success has taken him since.

Started from the bottom

To understand Rowe, you must understand his hard-working and passionate demeanor which his mother, a single parent, undoubtedly rubbed off on him at a young age, as she worked two jobs to support her large family. Rowe, the fifth child out of seven brothers and sisters, grew up in University City off Kempland Place. Valerie-Richardson didn’t want her children growing up in the city and attending city schools, which forced her to work tirelessly to keep her house in U-City.

“My mother was such a strong woman; it seemed like she made it easy for us,” Rowe said.

His father, Orlando Rowe, spent time in and out of jail throughout his son’s childhood. When Rowe turned nine, his father started a 14-year prison sentence for armed robbery. Rowe said there was little to no communication between his father and his family during his time in jail.

Although his dad wasn’t around to play catch, Rowe said he quickly fell in love with baseball. He idolized 90s Cardinals from Willie McGee to Fernando Tatis to Matt Morris, memorizing all the stats of his favorite stars. His dream was to play in the Majors.

He started playing in leagues around U-City at the age of five. Rowe said he had a strong arm, so his coaches slotted him on the left side of the field at shortstop, third base and left field. Baseball, though, is an expensive sport, and his family didn’t have enough money for equipment. But Rowe said his coaches helped him out.

“I was so good, I never had to pay,” he said.

Going into middle school, a new passion, music, started to compete with baseball. His older brother, artist Bradd Young, built a studio in his house and invited Rowe over to experiment with the equipment. Skipping baseball games to go to his brother’s house, Rowe, originally a producer, burned CDs of his beats and passed them out to his friends.

Kanye West, Jay-Z and Nas started pushing out the names of McGee and Tatis in his mind and, although he played for University City High School, Rowe admits he played baseball just to pass the time. In between working jobs at The Palace roller skating rink and at St. Luke’s Hospital washing dishes, he started to add his voice to his beats. His first album, “Hidden Talents,” was handed out to his to his friends; the piece was lauded for its production but criticized for its flow, the rhythms and rhymes of the song’s lyrics.

His name, “Vega Heartbreak,” was developed during this time. “Vega” was used in tribute to Rowe’s favorite character in the video game Street Fighter and “Heartbreak” comes from his high school heartthrob past, Rowe said. His biggest supporter was his cousin, Aaron Watson, who recognized his talent and, when Rowe was 17, wanted to be his manager.

“I didn’t even know what a manager was back then,” Rowe said.

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College dropout

Rowe said he can sort of relate to Kanye West, a rap and production artist who dropped out of college to pursue music. After two years attending NorthPark Vatterott College, Rowe earned his associate’s degree in electrical engineering. Like Kanye, he stopped attending school and started messing around with his music. To earn a living, he cleaned cars at Enterprise Rent-A-Car near Lambert Airport.

The hard-working Rowe found success quickly. Within a year, Enterprise named him manager of the car washers.

“I was telling 60-year-olds what to do,” Rowe said.

His life changed while he was scrubbing rental cars. His manager knew Demetrius “Kinky B” Ellerbee who was the manager of Young Jeezy, a very successful rapper. Kinky B liked what he heard from Rowe’s production and began flying Rowe from St. Louis to Atlanta every weekend to work on Jeezy’s new album.

Rowe said Jeezy loved his production and actually made several songs with Vega Heartbreak. Unfortunately, Kinky B and Jeezy experienced a falling out (the artist and manager are currently embroiled in a $5 million lawsuit) and Heartbreak’s songs didn’t pan out on the new album.

The loss hurt Rowe deeply. He thought the album would be his big break into the rap industry. Dejected, Rowe left his car, clothes and television in Atlanta and never came back to pick them up.

“I bought a flight and got out of there,” Rowe said. “I just wanted to start new.”

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Not giving up

Rowe was in a nadir, but his hard-working attitude lifted him from his rut. When he arrived back home in 2011, he immediately looked for work on Craigslist. Rowe landed a job as a janitor at St. Gerard Majella, a Catholic grade school at Ballas and Dougherty Ferry in Kirkwood. His work started at 4:30 p.m. every day, mindlessly cleaning linoleum floors and metallic water fountains.

In his free time, Rowe continued to work on his music. Then, in October, Rowe created the “Go Cardinals” song, which rapidly found popularity. After visiting several television stations one morning to promote his new song, he realized his days as a janitor were over.

“I’m thinking to myself as I’m cleaning—as I’m mopping a floor—is this really real? Then I see a kid running down the hallway, and the teacher almost had to pull him off me. Then I (thought), ‘Yeah, I can’t do this anymore,’” Rowe said.

Rowe quit his job and started riding the wave of success off his song. Because he wasn’t signed with a major label, Rowe didn’t make any royalties off his song getting played on the radio. However, Rowe said he uploaded his song on iTunes, which was where he made money. After the World Series, he started visiting schools, including St. Gerard, to tell kids his message of never giving up on their dreams.

“That (song) helped me gain so many fans,” he said.

In between school visits, he started working on his next album, “Small City, Big Dreams,” which he dropped last year. He plans to release his next album “Student Loans” this August. Currently, Rowe is also working with Akon and Nelly in production of their new albums while touring around the country. He performed with Nelly on Aug. 2 in Poplar Bluff.

Rowe said he doesn’t know where he wants to go with his rap career and said that, after losing everything in Atlanta, he doesn’t put faith in things he can’t control anymore. Instead, he’s just focusing on his passion for music.

“I don’t even want to be famous,” Rowe said. “I just want to inspire somebody to let you know you can do anything in the world…Most famous people are broke. I’d rather have a cult following, have millions of dollars in the bank and wear white T-shirts.”

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St. Louis Joes: Tony Glover

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“Batter up!” Tony yells.

On a late Tuesday afternoon, Tony Glover stands toward the back of the batter’s box, wearing a navy blue polo with red trim. He pulls his sweaty umpire’s mask over his face, as the shade from the trees begins to drape over the dusty, Shaw Park No. 2 ball field.

Although he’s 31 and has a full-time job, only Tony knows why he’s officiating in the Clayton Rec League. He’s working these fields and the courts during basketball season in order to get a gym membership at the Center of Clayton.

The gym membership is key to Tony’s dream: he’s training to participate in the decathlon for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

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On Wednesday at 10:11 am, Tony is working at Vashon High School in the summer school program. Uniformed officers patrol the school and a metal detector ushers in everyone who wishes to come inside. Four fights have already occurred that day. Tony was told not to leave the school. On the walls outside his office, a poster is pinned up for classes to get one’s GED and another for handling a violent situation at school.  ”Walk. Don’t run to a situation,” the poster reads.

Tony sits inside his cramped office with a big smile on his face. His dark beard has grown thick. He’s wearing an argyle sweater vest and glasses, looking more like a geek than a potential Olympic athlete. He laughs at a joke and begins to tell the story which has led to his Olympic dream.

Growing up

Glover was born on Aug. 19, 1981 and was raised in the Greater Ville neighborhood, near Martin Luther King drive. His mother, Joan Glover-Straughter, gave birth to Tony when she was 17.

Tony Mason, Glover’s father, was absent for most of his childhood. Glover credits Everett “Bo” Jenkins as the dad in his life.

The neighborhood wasn’t easy on Glover. His grandfather and his biological father were dope dealers while his mother was a cop. Family ties and crime put a strain on Glover as a child. He tried to reconcile the situation by believing one day dope would be legalized, like alcohol was legalized after prohibition.

“(Growing up), I never knew we were poor,” Glover said.

His mother wanted him to get out of the neighborhood. Early on, Tony said his mother limited how far he could ride his bike from his house. He wasn’t allowed to spend the night with kids in his neighborhood or hang out and become what he called a “block kid.”

His mother saw education as a way out of the neighborhood. She and Tony’s grandmother bought him any book he wanted. Tony loved the Bookmobile, and he spent many days reading.

Also setting him apart, Tony said he wore preppy clothes—sweater vests, corduroys, and penny loafers—so as to not remind his mom of the people in the crime scenes who wore street clothes.

“I was kind of a nerd,” Glover said.

In an environment that devalued learning, Tony was often bullied as a kid. He wasn’t big, either. Once, after a fight in grade school, a counselor sat him down and talked to him.

“My counselor told me as a black man, I was an endangered species and that I wouldn’t make it to see 16,” Glover said.

Bullying and his mother’s restrictions wore on Tony. He said he felt angry growing up. To release his anger, Tony found sports. He quickly grew to love baseball and played some basketball.

Football, the sport that eventually would land him a scholarship to college, scared him at first. Tony said when he started playing around the age of seven, he couldn’t understand why people would want to hit each other.

Sensing his fear of being hit, his mother strapped pads on him one day and started pushing him. Finally, she shoved him so hard he hit his head on the concrete. Tony said he wasn’t fazed.

“Nothing hurt me after that,” Glover said. “She made me a tough cat.”

Tony learned to play football at Penrose and Fairground Park. His coaches made Tony and his teammates run around the large parks, which Tony struggled with because he was an asthmatic.

He was also smaller than his peers. Tony said he was pushed forward a year in schooling because his birth certificate was mishandled. The school officials thought he was a year older than he actually was.

Despite his age and asthma, the conditioning worked. Between the ages of seven and 13, Tony said his Mathew’s Dickey football team lost a mere three games. Glover made a game-saving tackle one year in the league’s version of the super bowl and was named most valuable player several times.

But football was just a bandage on Tony’s wound. The game lessened his anger but the pain still lingered. In the fourth grade, as he was walking home from school, kids started throwing rocks at him and teased him. Tony said he snapped and wailed on one of the kids, ripping his Bill Cosby-esq sweater.

Feeling emboldened, Tony went home and talked up his successful fight. His mother felt differently, marching Tony over to apologize to the kid he beat up.

Tony said his mom then decided to get him out of the local schools. When Tony was placed on a waiting list at a magnet school, she gave the “deseg” program a try. Tony ended up at Babler Elementary School, where he said his life was changed.

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Getting out

Right away, the school had a different feel. No one picked on him for scoring well on tests posted on the chalkboard and getting good grades. Tony said that his peers, who he just met that year, wanted him to run for student council. One girl helped design a sign with symbols that read “Vote Toe+Knee+Glove+er.” In Tony’s old school, kids weren’t asked to be leaders.

“I felt more comfortable and given he opportunity to excel,” Glover said.

Tony continued through the Rockwood Summit school system in middle school. In his spare time, Tony still read but also enjoyed playing video games—from Atari and Pong to later Madden and Super Tecmo Bowl on the Super Nintendo.

His love for sports deepened. He idolized professional football players Ronnie Lott and Lawrence Taylor. Before the Rams came into St. Louis, Tony said he rooted for the San Francisco 49ers, which he still cheers for to this day.

In baseball, though, Tony loved the Cardinals and the players on the 80s teams like Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith and Lou Brock. Tony said he had ties to some of the players; his friend’s uncle was Brock and his mother dated McGee, who gave the family tickets to watch the Cardinals.

His love for sports translated to the athletic fields. By the end of middle school, Tony said that he was getting recruited to play football at SLUH, CBC and DeSmet. Tony said he chose to go to Lafayette High School because most of his friends were going there and he wanted to hang out with girls.

His high school choice wasn’t easy. Every morning, he woke up at 4:45 a.m. to make his 5:15 a.m. bus. His mother made two egg sandwiches: one for Tony and one for the bus driver to convince him to pick Tony up from his front door instead of the bus stop.

Despite the early morning bus ride, Tony excelled in high school. He played baritone and trumpet in the band with future baseball star Ryan Howard, was the football captain and prom king and captured the lead inThe Pajama Game.

“He had tremendous support from his mother,” former Lafayette track coach Mark Sissom said. “His mother was very involved in everything he did.”

A religious man, Glover even made time to participate in a youth choir program that traveled around the nation.

Glover said he was the first sophomore in school history to win Mr. Lafayette High School, a beauty pageant for boys. The award was typically given to a senior along with free prom tickets, a limo ride and a discounted tuxedo rental.

“They had to change the prize for me,” Tony said.

Sissom talked Tony out of playing baseball in the spring and instead into running track. Tony said he was fast and that he could run 40 meters in 4.4 seconds. He said he set the 110-meter hurdle and 300-meter hurdle school records, which were later broken.

Sissom said Glover was speedy, strong and possessed endurance on the track, which was advantageous in the 300-meter hurdles, one of the hardest track events. Sissom also said Tony had a great work ethic.

“He’s just an all-around good human being,” Sissiom said. “He worked for extremely hard for (Lafayette).”

The move to track made Tony faster for football. During his senior year, Tony was the first team all-conference as a linebacker and an honorable mention as a running back. He received many scholarship offers, despite weighing a mere 145 pounds.

“I felt like football was going to be my ticket to get out of the hood,” he said.

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Tony eventually settled on going to Northwest Missouri State, which had won the Division II National Title in 1998 and 1999.

Unfortunately, injuries plagued Tony in high school and college. At Northwest Missouri alone, he said he tore his left shoulder, left knee, right foot and Achilles tendon.

In total, Tony needed seven surgeries in college and played a limited role on the football team and track team. In five seasons, Glover played 29 games in the defensive backfield. Even with the injuries and the medical redshirt in 2001, Tony still managed to wiggle into the headlines. In 2003, Glover recorded 12 tackles and blocked the potential game-winning field goal vs. Pittsburg State in the Fall Classic at Arrowhead Stadium with seconds remaining in the game.

Injuries prevented Tony from participating actively in track, running in only handful of meets. He finally gave up his scholarship after a car crash on a rainy night in the summer of his sophomore year in college. Glover said he was paralyzed for several hours due to nerve damage. After learning to walk a few days later, Tony quickly realized he wasn’t as fast.

During track season the following year, Tony said he gave up his scholarship because his ego was hurt due to his reduction in speed. To pay for college, Tony worked in a factory from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night scanning packages while taking 15 hours of classes.

Northwest Missouri offered him an opportunity to coach and get his masters. Weary from the injuries and setbacks, Tony readily accepted the offer to work on the other side of the lines.

“I realized I could earn money another way,” Glover said.

Glover worked with the cornerbacks in 2005 at Northwest Missouri as a graduate assistant. He earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing and minored in speech communications. Then, he got his masters in Science Education with an emphasis on Athletic Administration and felt like he could get his Ph.D. by the age of 27.

He landed a job at Dayton to be the team’s defensive back coach. During that week of earning his new job, his life turned back towards St. Louis. Two of his cousins were killed after getting the coaching offer.

Glover turned down the offer and instead came home to be closer to his family. However, the pain from killings the his personal hurt that he had been holding inside since he was seven finally caught up with him and burst out. Glover experienced a nervous breakdown.

For the next two years, he lost most contact with his family. He lived every day with a carefree attitude, sometimes sleeping out near the Mississippi River, dancing in clubs around St. Louis. His family thought he was doing drugs. Tony said he was trying to make sense of his life.

“I didn’t care if I lived or died. … I was lost,” he said.

His wandering period ended with another episode of pain. In December of 2008, Tony provoked patrons outside of the Pink Slip club in Brooklyn, Ill. Tony said a man came out of nowhere and punched him square in the mouth. Glover realized he had lost control of his life.

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Back on track

Making amends, Tony called his mother, who asked him to spend Christmas with the family. Then, he made contact with his biological father and sat down with him. Tony said the conversation with his dad helped resolved their differences.

Tony said he trusted in God to help put his life back in order. A few days into living at home, he got a phone call from the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, now the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis. The club asked him to work as the teen services director.

After a brief stint with the club, Tony said he started coaching again and worked as a bartender. In 2010, he got a job with Goodwill as a youth mentor recruiter. Tony said he was working hard but not earning much money. However, he felt that he found his new love in coaching football and track for kids.

“It was rough to work all those hours, but I wanted to help out the kids,” Glover said. “I wanted to do something that mattered. I knew the pay would come at some point.”

In 2010, he landed his current job as the A+ Coordinator with the St. Louis Public School system. As the coordinator, Glover recruits for the program, oversees the implementation of the program in the schools and helps alert students about their eligibility in program.

Tony said he also coached at the Cleveland NJROTC as their defensive coordinator and has been working with McKinley Classical Leadership Academy for the last three years as the school’s first track coach. Last year, he helped 12 kids go to State.

Through working with the kids, Tony realized that he could still run quickly and that his body had recovered significantly since college. The kids on the track team encouraged Tony into training again. Tony, after working out with his fiancée, Andrea, and eating better, said he gained confidence on the track and has decided to try out for the decathlon in the 2016 Olympics.

Every day, Tony said he has been waking up around 5 a.m., running the Arch steps and doing two-a-day workouts. After summer school, he goes to the Clayton Rec to lift. In the last month in a half, Glover said he’s gained 20 pounds. He’s now 5’11”, weighing 176 pounds.

“Do I think I can win it? Absolutely. I’m so competitive, and I wouldn’t try it if I couldn’t,” he said.

Tony said his next step is to try to enter open collegiate track meets and post times so he can get on the Olympic radar. He plans to work with Sissom, now the track coach at Missouri Baptist, so he can figure out when he can enter events.

Sissom said he wants to help Glover in every way he can and said he is working with Tony to find a good pole vault coach, which is his weakest event. Sissom also said that the NCAA will be tough competition, but decathletes are all different ages.

“He’s got the determination and the athletic ability,” Sissom said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go all the way to the trials.”

Ultimately, Tony said his main goal is to inspire the kids who he coaches and works with in the public schools to do great things in their own lives.

“(I’m trying to) tell them that they’re talented,” Glover said. “That they are better than what they believed to be … To walk away from the fighting. My move, my push is to help change this culture and to help these kids to realize that no matter where they come from, they can do something.”

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