You know the clear plastic sleeve on older wallets? The part where people keep their driver’s license or other form of ID easily accessible? All it takes is a flip of the wrist to show the guy at the bar you’re of age or pick up a package at UPS. That’s where my dad kept my MLB business card.
If there was a soul within a three-mile radius of our home in Connecticut who didn’t know that I worked for Major League Baseball I had yet to meet them. Within the first year of moving to Baltimore to take a full-time beat job with MLB in 2010, I had been stopped by a neighborhood dog walker, our mailman and the guy who fixed our community pool. My mom swears she once caught my dad, my business card in hand, chatting with our trash collector.
The small town I’m from, Branford, is the kind of place right on the line of Yankee-Red Sox fandom. You were born on one side and didn’t dare cross over. My three sisters and I were born into pinstripes. My dad had piles of scrapbooks on the Yankees, a stadium seat he and my Uncle Tim had drunkenly stole after they were at the 1996 World Series and all the cache that comes with being a regular caller on WFAN.
Lou from Branford. He was such a frequent call-in on the New York-based radio station that he was eventually given a different number so he wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of their regular phone traffic. Growing up, my sisters and I would beg for him to turn the radio knob off of 660 AM. “Can’t we hear a song?” we would plead after school or on the way to a sports practice.
“Mike and the Mad Dog” versus our own whiny voices. I can’t recall a time we won.
What did we do in the offseason? Listen to the New York Rangers.
Growing up, our garage doubled as half of a street hockey rink. The neighborhood boys would come over and we’d skate warmups to the blaring sound of WFAN. My dad would tape our wrists and ankles to keep the oversized jerseys and roller skates in place, cutting holes in boxes to serve as nets. He was the only adult who played and showed no mercy. My older sister, Megan, once checked him so hard into “the boards” — our garage wall — he couldn’t walk right for a week.
It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal except my mom had planned a surprise 40th birthday for him that night. Try explaining to your extended family — who wondered why none of us did ballet or dance — why your dad has a five-inch welt on his leg and has proudly dubbed Megan as Rangers hard-hitting defenseman Jeff Beukeboom.
When I got an internship with MLB.com in 2008, covering the Tampa Bay Rays, I barely made it to the car that first day before calling home.
“Dad,” I said, “they let you in the clubhouse for hours to talk to the players. Can you believe it?”
He bought the MLB package that spring so he could talk to me about the Rays’ fifth starter or my story on the backup catcher.
From Day 1 until Tampa Bay made the World Series, he watched every pitch, taping his precious Yankees to watch when the times would intersect. When I got the Orioles’ beat in 2010, he and my mom — who also grew up in Connecticut — changed teams again.
I’d call him every night on my drive home, typically to 10 texts in all caps about the game’s pitching decisions. He’s been gone three years this month and not a night goes by that I walk to my car at Camden Yards and don’t wish like hell for a screen full of those texts.
When I came home after that first season in Baltimore, my dad pulled me into his office to show me the Rays’ scrapbook he had made of all my articles. He had done the same thing in ’09, a year I spent freelancing for the Mets and Yankees.
“Now that you’re full-time,” he explained, “we’ll keep adding to the Orioles’ one each year.”
In 2012, we ran into Adam Jones at a breakfast spot during my parents’ visit. My dad didn’t stop talking about it the rest of the trip. In 2013, after his heart transplant, the late Monica Barlow arranged for my family to attend batting practice before a Padres-Orioles game. A lot of the players, Jones, Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day, were gracious enough to make time for my dad. But nothing trumped a brief conversation with manager Buck Showalter. After that, my dad started every late-night call with, “What did Buck say today?”
Not that he didn’t already know. He listened to every MASN postgame, waiting for my questions. He taped every time I appeared on their pregame show or did an MLB Network hit. To my embarrassment, he’d often save them to the DVR to make everyone re-watch over the holidays.
When my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015, a byproduct of beating Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 19, he was more upset that the hospital didn’t have the Orioles games than anything else.
I still remember getting that call from my mother to tell me of the diagnosis. I bawled in the cab over to Yankee Stadium. I thought, “How on earth could life be so unfair?”
You think there will be more time. But my dad was always on a borrowed clock. He had his spleen removed as a young kid and grew up constantly sick. That’s how he was able to watch and read so much about sports.
After he beat Hodgkin’s, the intense bouts of chemo saddled him with a weak heart muscle. He had several stents put in and a bypass when I was in high school. The heart transplant saved his life, but it took its toll. A body can only take so much, no matter the strength of the spirit.
And his spirit was remarkable. That winter prior, still recovering from the heart transplant, my dad dressed up in a suit to walk around at baseball’s Winter Meetings. My mom said it was the most he had been able to do in months, shaking hands, working the lobby with me and letting everyone know who his daughter worked for. He slept for a week after.
I don’t remember the last thing my dad said to me. He had been unable to talk for days by the time my mom elected to take him off of the machines.
I do remember the last time we went to dinner that summer. I was in California, where my parents had moved several years earlier, extending an Orioles West Coast trip. Halfway through the meal our server came over and pretended she recognized me. My dad had slipped her a $20 bill on the way to the bathroom.
It was the last time my mom and dad would go out together. He passed away Oct. 28, 2015 at the age of 59. I wrote the obituary. It remains the hardest story of my life, though — to his chagrin, I’m sure — there was no mention of one of his daughters working for MLB.
My dad would have been thrilled that the Orioles sent texts, flowers and donations. He was buried with some of his prized possessions, including some sports clippings, his favorite suit and several other trinkets. My business card was among them. Just in case.
Brittany Ghiroli has been covering the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010, spending time in New York and Tampa previously. She was named Baltimore Magazine’s Best Reporter in 2014 and has appeared on ESPN, NBC, MLB Network, and nationally syndicated radio. A collegiate swimmer, Ghiroli co-founded the health and fitness website Athlete Daily with her sister in 2016 and is a certified CrossFit coach.
Editor’s Note: It might have been coincidence, but it probably wasn’t. The day I read Brittany’s beautiful tribute to her dad, I caught the end of Field of Dreams — and I could feel the emotion building. I thought it would be great to have “a catch” again as I reminded myself to be thankful for the time we had. My mom was the one who started a scrapbook, but my dad was proud in his own quiet way. I’m grateful that Brittany helped take me to a place that felt a lot like “Iowa.”
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] for consideration.
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