Calling the Pen: Missing one of baseball's most dedicated fans on Mother's Day - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Missing one of baseball’s most dedicated fans on Mother’s Day

Photo Illustration: Joy R. Absalon

It is the first Mother’s Day without her, just as it was the first Opening Day without her. They belong in the same sentence because of my mom’s love for baseball, and the love we shared through the game.

We even sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as we said goodbye at her graveside service.

She took us out to ball games when my brother and I were kids, held baseball clinics in our backyard in the 1960s, and we watched and listened to games together until her death last year. She loved baseball before we came along, and we will continue to love baseball because of her.

My mom, Colleen Burke, grew up playing baseball with the boys on a field beside her house, and she grew up a fan of the Pirates, going to Forbes Field, which she considered a cathedral.

Her father called her Pistol and Stormy Weather. I called her Scout. If you have read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” you’ll understand the spirit my mom had.

In 1952, she wrote a letter to Branch Rickey when he was general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, though my father said, “You can’t just write a letter to Branch Rickey.”

Mom’s letter said, “Please know that by trading Ralph Kiner, you have effectively traded me as a Pirates fan.”

We once took her to a Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium in the 1990s, and it didn’t go well. She said it looked like “a giant pool table.” She thought the game should be played on grass, not artificial turf.

She did like PNC Park, saying it reminded her of Forbes Field. She also liked Camden Yards, but she added, “It ain’t Memorial Stadium.” My mother loved Memorial Stadium. To her it was home, and where the family became Orioles fans after she cut ties with the Pirates and Mr. Rickey.

That was in in 1954, when my mother was teaching in Glen Burnie. She attended the Opening Day parade and the first Orioles game in Baltimore.

Like so many others, she fell in love with Brooks Robinson, although he wasn’t her favorite. Center fielder Paul Blair held that place in her heart and his picture held a place on her refrigerator.

In time she took a shining to Joe Orsulak because of his “moxie.” Then there was Mike Devereaux, whose playing style reminded her of Blair’s.

She didn’t like seeing her favorites moving to other teams, but she didn’t take it as personally as she did the ups and downs of Sam Perlozzo, who she knew well from living in Cumberland.

My mom taught English and journalism for more than 25 years at her alma mater, Fort Hill High School, in Cumberland. Teaching and Fort Hill were such important parts of her life — along with baseball and the Orioles.

She was not pleased when they hired Ray Miller as manager in 1998. She liked Mike Hargrove, but believed Sam should have had his shot when Davey Johnson and the club parted ways (which she was not happy about, either). However, it wasn’t until Lee Mazzilli was hired in November 2003 that she said, “Don’t you dare buy those tickets for me at Christmas. I won’t use them. I’ll never go again.”

When Perlozzo replaced Mazzilli in 2005, she had a change of heart. “You’re going to get the tickets for next year, right?”

Two other departures that hit her hard were Mike Mussina, who she thought should’ve been re-signed, and Nick Markakis, who she called Niko and liked almost as much as Blair.

Her favorite T-shirt read, “Baseball is Life. The Rest is just Details.”

This season has been difficult, and not just because the Orioles have played so poorly. It has been a painful seven months without her, although I still hear her saying, “Oh, dear Father!” as the Orioles struggle.

I wish she were here for a million more everythings, but baseball amplifies her absence. From Opening Day until the final October pitch, our home, our schedules, our meals and our lives with our mother accommodated the game she loved, and that we loved watching with her.

It is one of the greatest gifts she ever gave us.

Happy Mother’s Day, Scout!

 

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News and has been covering sports since 1981. He joined the Times-News as a full-time sports reporter in 1984 and became sports editor in 1990. His original piece about his mother and baseball ran in the CTN earlier this year. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN.

Editor’s Note: Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms whose love made our dreams seem possible. My mom loved baseball, and loved to tease me once I became an Orioles fan. For instance, when they played the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s, she would say “You won’t believa Tony Oliva!” And each time, it would make me angry … until she had me laughing again. I think it was her playful way of reminding not to take the game or myself too seriously. She bought me my first typewriter when I became a sportswriter (yes, it was that long ago), and cut out my stories in The News American. She inspired me to pursue my passion. She believed in me. It was a glorious spring day when she died on April 8, 2004 so we opened the windows in her room to listen to the birds and smell the fragrance of honeysuckle. She left us at 5:30 that evening, the time she and my dad, who died in 2002, would have dinner. We figured he was outside the window, calling her to come home. – Jack Gibbons.

Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] and [email protected] for consideration.

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