The Baltimore Orioles Stepped Up to the Plate for This Longtime Fan

She didn't share her 90-year-old mother's passion for baseball, but when her mom fell and broke her hip, Peggy was grateful for the local team's support.

Posted in , Dec 6, 2018

Peggy Rowe's mom with the Orioles' ball girls, mascot and pitcher Kerry Ligtenberg

The lady seated next to me at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium was going bananas. Brooks Robinson, one of the Baltimore Orioles’ biggest stars in the 1960s, had just been called out on a close play.

“Are you crazy?” the fan screamed at the ump. The woman leaped to her feet. She looked like one of those nutty characters the television cameras always focus on for a laugh—jumping up and down like she was itching for a fight, dressed in an Orioles jersey and cap, yelling at the top of her lungs.

“Down in front!” yelled fans sitting behind her. The woman ignored them. “Are you blind?” she shouted.

I stared at her, absolutely bewildered that she could get so worked up over a baseball game. I wanted to change my seat. But I couldn’t. The crazy lady was my mom.

I was just a teen then. Most of my friends complained that their mom continually embarrassed them. But mine was the only one who did it in public.

Thirty years ago, there weren’t as many devoted women baseball fans as there are now. But Mom loved the game as much as any man. “It’s like watching a wonderful soap opera,” she said. “Every day for six months, a new episode. Watch often enough, and you start caring about the characters.” Caring was putting it mildly. The Orioles were Mom’s main hobby. If you wanted to spend time with her, as I did, that meant accompanying her to ball games or watching the Orioles with her on TV.

It was a chore for me, because I wasn’t much of a fan. Frankly, I was saddened that my mother couldn’t find anything better to do than watch Orioles games. She scheduled appointments so they wouldn’t conflict with broadcasts. Dinner was always done, with the dishes washed, before the first pitch was thrown. She did her sewing and ironing in front of the TV. I never invited friends over during games; I didn’t want them to see my mother go nuclear when the other side won.

I grew up, left home, got married. I had expected Mom to “grow up” too. But nothing changed. I still had to time my phone calls so they didn’t land during Orioles games. Once the two of us were in a crowded department store when Mom suddenly stripped off her blouse.

“What are you doing?” I asked, shocked.

“I’m going to try on this Orioles T-shirt,” she said.

“You can’t just take your clothes off in the middle of a store,” I said.

“Oh, calm down,” she chuckled. “Nobody’s interested in looking at a 90-year-old woman in a bra.”

I returned to my house in a daze. I told my husband what had happened. “Standing in the department store,” I said, “I felt just as I had as a kid. Totally humiliated by my mom.”

His reaction surprised me. “Cheering the Orioles keeps her young, keeps the twinkle in her eye,” he said. “Can’t you see the joy they bring out in her?”

I just shook my head. After all these years, her obsession still struck me as silly.

I’d about had it with her and the Orioles when she came to visit last April. The team was playing that day. The game was on TV. I was hoping to get through Mom’s visit with the set off. I wanted to talk to her without having to compete with whichever player was up at bat.

At game time, I had control of the clicker. The TV was off. I waited for Mom to complain. There was a heavy thud in the guest room. I rushed in. Mom had tripped and fallen to the floor. “I think I broke my hip,” she said. She was in pain.

I dialed 911. While waiting for the ambulance, my husband and I helped make her comfortable. A TV sat on the bureau. We tuned it to the Orioles game. It calmed her right down.

She was in the hospital, in traction, for a week before doctors would operate. They feared her heart wouldn’t survive the trauma of surgery. I was with her when she awoke following the risky procedure. Her first, faint words were, “Well, I’m still here. Did I miss the game?” I laughed and I cried.

Rehab was slow. Mom had difficulty walking and it was getting her down. Even with a ball game to watch, I saw her spirit flickering. I would have given anything to see her face light up like it did whenever the Orioles won—the same expression that for decades I’d found so embarrassing. Maybe if someone from the team could write her an encouraging letter, I thought. I wrote to the Orioles about my mother’s lifelong devotion to the team.

The phone call came a week later. The Orioles wanted to know if my mother would be their guest for a July game at Baltimore’s new Camden Yards ballpark. And, if so, would she like to toss out the ceremonial first pitch? Later that day, an autographed team ball arrived in our mailbox.

When I handed her the ball and told her about the invitation, her jaw dropped. “That gives me three months to get in shape,” she said.

The team’s invitation was all the inspiration she needed. “I will walk to that mound!” she told her physical therapist the next day. The autographed ball stayed by her bedside.

That July, Mom and I drove to Camden Yards. She sat in the dugout. Even chatted with Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame Orioles pitcher and one of her all-time heroes. A few minutes before game time I sat misty-eyed in the stands, watching as two Orioles assistants walked Mom to the pitcher’s mound. There, to a standing ovation from thousands of fans around the great ballpark, she tossed the ball underhand to one of the Baltimore players. Their jerseys read Orioles. But to me they were angels.

When Mom joined me in the stands, she was on cloud nine. Before the end of the first inning she was on her feet cheering like always, even shouting at the umps. She looked 20 years younger. “Down in front!” someone shouted. No way, not my mom. There was no keeping her down.

Peggy Rowe is the mother of television personality Mike Rowe, host of The Discovery Channel's Somebody's Gotta Do It.

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