Spring training games are upon us, and while they mean a lot to the players fighting to make the 25-man roster, one could argue that the outcome of the games are somewhat inconsequential. Statistically speaking, the Blue Jays ‘won’ spring training in 2012, and finished one game under .500 last season, only to end up second-last and in the basement respectively at the end of the regular season. Last year’s World Champion Red Sox only had a .500 record last spring.
But on Saturday, as the Baltimore Orioles faced off against the Blue Jays, they only had one thing in mind – win. An unusual goal for a game that statistically has no meaning. However, this game meant a great deal to many Oriole players, the managers, and the organization.
I accidentally came across the Baltimore broadcast when settling in to watch the game yesterday. During the first inning, while Orioles skipper Buck Showalter was being interviewed, he revealed that the Orioles PR Director, Monica Pence Barlow had passed away the previous morning from cancer. Describing what a big part of the Oriole family Monica had been, Buck finished his interview by saying they were going to try to beat the Jays, and win this one for Monica.
In a statement earlier that day, Showalter had released the following statement:
“We lost a feather from the Oriole today. Monica embodied everything we strive to be about. Her passion, loyalty and tenacity set a great example for everyone in the organization. She was so courageous in continuing to do her job the last few years despite her pain. This is an especially tough day for those of us that worked with her on a daily basis. It was a blessing to have her in my life. She made our jobs so much easier. We won’t be able to replace Monica. We will only try to carry on. I am going to miss her as a colleague and a friend. She was a rock.”
Some of the Oriole players wore arm bands during the game, in memory of Monica. As Baltimore regulars exited the game, they were interviewed and asked about special memories of Monica. Slugger Chris Davis reminisced about pouring champagne over Monica’s head after clinching the 2012 Wild Card.
While the focus in professional baseball is usually on the players, the statistics, and the big-money contracts, it can be easy to forget how many people behind the scenes are instrumental in so many important elements of the game. Monica was one of those many.
In the 8th inning the Blue Jays were up 7-2, yet I had a funny feeling about Baltimore staging a rally. Sure enough, they started chipping away – for Monica. Fast-forward in the inning to two out and the Orioles back within one. A ground ball to second that should have ended the inning but was an error by the infielder Chris Getz, loaded the bases and kept the momentum going. The next batter with the bases loaded, smacked a triple to the gap in right-centre, completing the 7-run rally and putting the O’s up by two. For the first time in my life, this hardcore Jays fan (I bleed blue) was ok with the opposition beating my hometown favourite. I’m certain, after hearing the stories from numerous Oriole players, that Monica had Oriole-orange flowing through her veins.
It’s not uncommon for a player to dedicate a game to the memory of a passed loved one. Many Toronto fans remember the emotional home run by John McDonald on father’s day, following the passing of his father. And then there’s the even more incredible feat of promising a home run for someone during a game. Babe Ruth hit not one, but three HR’s for a sick child during the 1926 World Series. But this was different. This was an entire team playing in memory of someone who was family.
Toronto aims to be playing “meaningful baseball games” this September.
The Orioles, as a team, played what was possibly the club’s first meaningful baseball game in March.
Regardless of the time of year, or how high the stakes are, every game has meaning to someone.
This game had meaning to many.
Rest in peace Monica.