When Nestor asked me to do a blog almost a year ago, he told me write blogs as a fan as someone with an insider’s knowledge who sits in the stands and has a passion for the games. This blog is dedicated to such a person, a true sports fan. Sam Bavaro was such a man.
I first met Sam at Ravens Stadium sitting in my section in the upper end zone. I would usually say something like good afternoon or sorry, as I would move by him on my way to get a beer or to use the bathroom. We formerly met when I was speaking to the Brigade of Midshipmen one afternoon, and I discovered that he worked at the Academy. He saw me; so, he came over, talked to me, and gave me his business card. He was nice enough to invite me to Navy games, something he was very passionate about, and to Navy tailgates, here I was a total stranger getting an invite.
In the fall of 2005, while chatting with him at a Ravens tailgate, Sam told me he had two tickets that he couldn’t use for the Navy-Notre Dame in South Bend the following Saturday. When I asked how much, he said no charge just enjoy. Two days later the tickets came in the mail. He gave me and my wife one of the greatest thrills of our life. That trip to one of the hallowed cathedrals of sports was everything one could imagine.
Last year, Sam once again invited me to a tailgate, and as always it was great–Boardwalk fries, Nathan’s hot dogs, Berger cookies, and plenty of ice cold beer. Plus, there was Sam with his family and friends holding court sitting on the brick riser handing out stickers that said, Go Navy! I took him up on the offer to some free tickets, as I had a good friend up from South Carolina. Sam just didn’t give me tickets; he gave me 40 yard line tickets. I never forgot his generosity and gave him a Ruth’s Chris gift certificate and several golf shirts as a show of my appreciation. He asked for nothing and never sought anything; for some reason he just saw a fellow fan that had a passion for the Ravens and Navy.
It was that day that Sam told me about his own trip South Bend last year and how he cried when Navy beat Notre Dame for the first time in 43 years. What joy he must have felt to be there in person to see his beloved Midshipmen finally end the drought. Unfortunately, winter came, life became hectic, and as always we seemed to lose touch without football.
This summer, I thought it was odd that I didn’t see Sam’s usual email about the start of football season. It wasn’t unusual not to hear from him during the offseason, but this was football season. I looked for him in the tailgate parking lot at the first Ravens game and didn’t see him. When I called his office, I was shocked to hear that Sam had passed away last spring at the age of 64. Part of me was kicking me myself for not keeping in touch and letting life get so hectic that you forget about people. It happens to all of us, but I’m hoping that this reminder will encourage all of us to give a little more effort to keeping in touch with those who impact our lives.
Sam was a great fan, one who simply loved sports. I remember his emails–when his beloved Mets made the playoffs a couple of years ago and the pride when he saw Italy beat France in the 2006 World Cup Final. Plus, he loved the Ravens. However, his greatest sports passion was Navy football. He followed them on the road (Army-Navy games, Bowl games, etc.), and he loved the tailgates and the people. He was a true fan and better yet a good man. For in him we see why sports are so great. It brings people together as friends and community, even total strangers. How many times have we met others in the stands, at Ravens Roost or at alumni tailgates only to become friends? Friendships bonded together by a common love for one’s team. Every team has a Sam Bavaro, a passionate fan, and what a better place this world would be if it had even more like him. The kindness, the ability to welcome strangers and make them feel like one of the family all forged by an oblong ball and 100 yards of turf. For this one fan he made a lasting impression. So as Sam would have said, Go Navy, Beat Army!
Hey Midshipmen, “Win one for Sam” and beat Rutgers this weekend. Somewhere in heaven, he will smile, while holding one heck of a pre-game tailgate.