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Life After Earl

January 22, 2013
By
There was a synchronicity to the timing and turn of events surrounding Earl Weaver’s death. The O’s skipper died at sea on an Orioles fantasy cruise ship, while the Baltimore Convention Center prepared to host the Orioles’ FanFest the next day at home.

Weaver’s death seemed to be a cue for the Orioles team and its faithful to move from one era to the next, to embrace the changing of the seasons from the cold winter of bleak past seasons to the spring of the promise of a newly rejuvenated team that recalled the glory years of Weaver’s tenure. Just about everyone in attendance at the Orioles FanFest, most of who had heard of his passing in the morning hours just before the festival’s 10 a.m. start time, recalled Earl’s legacy and his adherence to baseball’s fundamentals as the team’s path forward.

And wasn’t it nice for Orioles fans to be able to visit the sculpture garden at Oriole Park to pay their respects and leave offerings at the feet of Weavers’ statue, installed and unveiled just a few months ago during the magical baseball season recently past?Wasn’t it great that the “Earl of Baltimore” himself was alive and present for the unveiling ceremony and that all five of the other Orioles living-legend Hall of Famers were also able to be there when their statues were unveiled, and for each other, during the most exciting season we’d seen in years? Wasn’t it appropriate that we were all there at the FanFest together to officially mourn Weaver’s passing and celebrate the life of one of the liveliest Orioles of them all?

And didn’t it just seem right that current Orioles manager Buck Showalter, an analogous and appropriate heir to Weaver’s legacy, was there among the first to put the sentiment that permeated the space inside the convention center into words:

“This year meant so much to him and the Orioles meant so much to him,” said Showalter, “There’s a lot of emotion in the building today…You see a lot of people talking about him, sharing a lot of emotions that everybody has. But I’m just so thankful for the time I had with him…I thought I was going to be sad all day but it’s a chance for us to celebrate his legacy.”The glory days of Earl’s old O’s keep moving further back in the rear-view mirror and his passing represents a completion of a changing-of-the-guard that began with Showalter’s arrival. In a symbolic passing of the torch, Showalter had only days before signed a five-year extension with the team that would make him the Orioles’ longest continually serving manager since Weaver himself (1969-1982). During his statue unveiling ceremony Weaver quipped about his bronze likeness resembling Showalter and how pleased he was about Showalter’s success with the current Orioles team, while others like Jim Palmer also made connections between their styles: “Buck is all about the things that Earl was about,” said Palmer during his own statue unveiling ceremony.

As Earl would have wanted it, FanFest activities proceeded as scheduled. The more than 18,000 in attendance who cheered for their favorites who, spoke with optimistic enthusiasm about the upcoming season. They bought tickets to the upcoming season’s games and memorabilia and stood in long lines to pay for their heroes’ autographs. They became acquainted with the new crop of minor league prospects and made tentative plans to go to games in Bowie, Frederick, Salisbury and Aberdeen.

I bought a 1970 Earl Weaver Topps baseball card off one of the memorabilia tables for four dollars (pictured). I thought it was the nicest looking portrait among the available cards containing his likeness and as card collectors and speculators do, thought it might be a good deal considering his recent demise, a morbid thought that’s become part of the process for collectors over the years. But I also bought the card for purely sentimental reasons. A few hours later while washing the day down with a beer at my neighborhood tavern, I pulled the card out of my coat pocket and showed it to a handful of patrons gathered around the bar.  A man immediately offered me $10 for the card but I refused, when he upped the ante to $15 I accepted, rationalizing that it was the kind of smart baseball decision Weaver himself would have appreciated. Life goes on. It’s less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.