for four years in the 1960′s, he’d like to brag!) and he died on July 11, 1992.
Not coincidentally, I was at a baseball game on July 1, 1992 when he had the stroke that eventually took his life. It was an afternoon game and Arthur Rhodes had just been called up from Rochester and was making the start when I got the call from the hospital in the press box. My father and I communicated briefly that night at the hospital (he could only blink his eyes) and he died 10 days later.
I went to the Dundalk Florist on German Hill Road, and when it came time to pick a flower, they made a special one-of-a-kind gigantic baseball glove. It cost way more than I could really afford, but they made a field out of white carnations and it was absolutely stunning. The most beautiful flower arrangement I’d ever seen. I’ll never forget it. The one last thing I could do for my father, that one final gesture, involved baseball and our bond.
My Pop never saw a game at Camden Yards — he was sick at the end, but I certainly could have wheeled him down for a game earlier that spring, my first on the radio after Kenny Albert skipped town to do hockey — and it’s one of my life’s greatest regrets.
And I don’t live life with many regrets.
After his evening viewing three days after his death, we left the Connelly Funeral Home on Mace Avenue in Essex and all came back to the house to — you guessed it — watch the All Star Game from San Diego. My father’s sister, my Aunt Jane, actually had to give up her tickets to the game in her hometown of San Diego to fly to her brother’s funeral in Baltimore.
So my Aunt Jane, who loved baseball almost as much as my father, missed her hometown All Star Game she had waited all summer to see.
If she hadn’t flown in, I really think my Pop would’ve understood.
He knew the importance of a big ballgame because he’d been to a few, himself.
My Pop wasn’t actually my paternal father, instead he was actually one of my maternal grandparent’s best friends from the 1940′s days of Mars Estates in Essex (I always kind of thought of them in black and white, kinda like a whitebread Ricardo’s and Mertz’s) and I was baptized at Our Lady of Fatima with him as my “Godfather.” My Pop also had a real name. It was Bernard. Some in the family called him “Bernerd” or “Buster” but to most everyone in the world he was “Mac,” or around the ballyard, he was just “Mister Mac.”
Even I called him “Uncle Mac” and then just “Mac” until I was about 9 or 10 when I was adopted and then everyone seemed to think it would be polite or “more politically correct,” — and yes, even in Dundalk politically correct stood for something in 1978 — if I called him something more “fatherly.”
In my case, I called him Pop, because he was kinda a Dad and a Grandfather all rolled into one. I used to get very insulted as a child when anyone tried to pass him off as my grandfather, probably because I didn’t like my real grandfather very much. And to me, at that point, he wasn’t “old.” He just was what he was. He loved baseball and that was cool enough to me!
He grew up in Scranton, Pa., during the depression. Soup and bread lines, a coal-mining community, pure Americana pre-World War II stories right out of History 101. He always told the stories of playing ball with Pete Gray as a kid. And taking the train into New York to see Babe Ruth play at Yankee Stadium as a child with his Dad, who was a boxer. My Pop was an absolute baseball lifer. Just a big fan — he was never involved with the game beyond coaching kids — but he was a lifer.
Ted Williams was his main man. And Stan Musial didn’t stand too far behind. My Dad never cared for Joe DiMaggio — he didn’t like the flash of Marilyn Monroe, or at least he said he didn’t. And when it came to modern ballplayers, none of them ever matched up to No. 9.
He always loved to tell the story of the 1966 World Series and how he beat the line to get his tickets at the post office. The story never made much sense to me, but he loved to tell it anyway. Something about he yelled that he “dropped his false teeth” and got his order ahead of the other people so he wound up with tickets, and some others didn’t. So much for fairness, huh, Pop? He had tickets for Games 1 and 2. One of his best pals had tickets for Games 6 and 7. His friend never made it to the World Series.
Mac had two boys of his own, neither of whom aspired to do much of anything athletic. They understood and enjoyed baseball and sports, but not at his advanced, fanatical level of interest.
He worked for two decades at Glenn L. Martin during the war years, briefly had a job at Westinghouse (he hated going through the tunnel every day and our family never, ever had a car — we took the No. 23 or No. 4 bus everywhere we ever went) and finally took at job “Down the ‘Point” in the rod mill at Bethlehem Steel. He worked there for 23 years when he retired in the mid 1980s.
My Mom, by contrast was from the deep South, and also born in 1919, in Ware Shoals, S.C. and was raised in Abbeville, S.C. — and coincidentally liked baseball. Her family was so old-school Southern that one of her ancestors has a Civil War statue in her hometown square. My Mom and Dad met at a baseball game in D.C. (at Griffith Stadium, I think…my Mom is 87 now and these stories seem to come and go!) and were wed at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Essex in July 1945.
I came along in October 1968. Their youngest son, who was born in 1957, drowned in a freakish rain storm tubing accident on a creek in Delaware in the summer of 1969. It took me years to fully understand the scope and breadth of that kind of tragedy, losing a 12-year old child. And it wasn’t the most fully functional family in most ways to begin with.
By the beginning of 1970 and into 1971 — with my birth parents at odds to say the least — I became their “de facto” son. They had been that kind of family that sought counsel after their tragedy, and at that time, social workers tried to place troubled children with families who had suffered a loss. We had several children come in and out of my parent’s foster care, many of them much more deeply disturbed than I ever was. I never really remembered living anywhere else or any way else, so to me this was a completely normal and acceptable “family.”
Because of their relationship and friendship with my maternal grandparents (both of my real parents were constantly in and out of my life, but they were “around” enough to be dangerous but extremely ill-suited to raise a child — alcohol abuse, neglect, immaturity, sanity, major cultural differences, etc.), it was a natural thing that my “Godparents” would raise me.
I was kind of a “pre-packaged” child for them. Believe me, I would have DEFINITELY wound up in a foster care program or at the St. Vincent’s Center had my “Godparents” not taken me in.
After my Pop ended his day at Bethlehem Steel (always a packed lunch, always a lunchtime call home to my mother), he would take the bus home and was always wanting to be around kids, teaching them how the world worked and, yes, watching sports. In addition to taking hours every night to teach me how to read and write and count, he spent nearly every ounce of his leisure time watching and coaching and reading about sports. He loved baseball, basketball, boxing and football. He never took any interest in auto racing, horse racing, hockey, tennis or the Olympics. We watched the Kentucky Derby, we watched Wimbledon and had the Indy 500 on, but that was about the extent of it. We never, ever watched golf in my house. I think my Dad thought it was for old rich people, like Bob Hope or Milton Berle or Bing Crosby. And I honestly don’t think my father knew the first thing about lacrosse.
He enjoyed professional wrestling, but not nearly as much as I did. But he did catch on, and humored me each month on a Saturday night when we’d take the No. 10 bus to the matches, much like he did with the Clippers and the Skipjacks. When the Blast came, he thought they were the greatest thing ever, even before Bob Irsay skipped out of town with the Colts. Pop always wanted to go to Blast games (and he HATED soccer, really) and we usually struggled to get tickets because it seemed like they were always sold out.
I think he had a man-crush on Kenny Cooper.
My Mom was, and still is, a very simple woman. She DEFINITELY had a crush on Kenny Cooper. She’s now 87. She likes soap operas, game shows, the 6 o’clock news, a beer every single night of her life and she ALWAYS has the Orioles game on. ALWAYS!
If you want to make my mom happy you do one thing: bring her a crab cake! Any size, from any place and no matter how crappy her day is, she perks right up!
She’s clearly been in Baltimore too long!
She was the kind of Mom who was always in the background, but usually complicit in most of the sports fun. She always liked to see Pop and I have fun with sports,