For Boyd, 65, 2,600-mile drive was most satisfying run ever

Ken Rosenthal

October 10, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Of all the former Orioles who traveled from afar to attend

Sunday's Memorial Stadium finale, only Bob Boyd refused the club's offer of a free airline ticket. Don't like flying, he said. I'll be driving, thank you very much.

Driving -- with his wife Valca, from Wichita, Kan., at the age of 65. "Wasn't hard at all," Boyd explained. Nah, virtually a straight run on I-70. Overnight stop in Indianapolis. A mere 2,600 miles, round trip.

Possible sequel for Kevin Costner. If you close it, they will come.

Maybe you saw Boyd hobble out to first base Sunday, sore toe and all, big No. 1 on his back. Maybe you read his emotional remarks afterward. He's the guy who said, "This was the greatest thrill I ever had in my life."

Four days later, the stories from Sunday continue to flow, and you get the feeling they won't ever stop. Every fan has their own special memories, and so does every Orioles employee who helped coordinate the magical event.

Just yesterday, public relations director Rick Vaughn recalled standing with Earl Weaver in the dugout tunnel moments before the beloved former manager was to trot onto the field.

Weaver heard the cheers for Cal Ripken Jr., the last player to emerge in the "Field of Dreams" sequence. But he turned his head away, trying to compose himself for one last roar from the Memorial Stadium crowd.

"He said, 'I don't know if I can do this, I don't know if I can do this,' " Vaughn recalled. "He had tears in his eyes. He was crying. It was unbelievable."

Boyd, the first Orioles regular to hit .300, didn't provide any such f reeze-frame moments, but his unrestrained joy and kind manner made him a big favorite with public relations assistants Evelyn Ehlers and Jackie Patrick.

Ehlers and Patrick compiled the players' RSVPs. Boyd responded early, and often. "He called me about every three days to say, 'I'm still coming. I'll be there,' " Ehlers said. "He was the nicest guy. He was so excited."

Boyd, born in Potts Camp, Miss., called Ehlers "Miss Evelyn" and Patrick "Miss Jackie." At the post-game party Sunday night, "he just walked up and gave me the biggest hug," Patrick said. "He said, 'Miss Jackie, that was the best day of my life.' "

He has a history here, and not just with the local nine. Boyd was the first visiting player to drive in a run at Memorial Stadium. His single prevented the Chicago White Sox from getting shut out in their 3-1 loss to the Orioles on Opening Day in 1954.

The Orioles drafted Boyd from the St. Louis organization after the following season. He played in Baltimore from 1956-60, hitting .309 or better four of his five years. Fans called him "The Rope," or "El Ropo," for his line-drive hitting.

In January '61, the Orioles traded Boyd, Wayne Causey, Jim Archer and Al Pilarcik to Kansas City for Russ Snyder and Whitey Herzog. It proved to be Boyd's last season in the majors. He settled in Wichita, where he drove a city bus until retiring eight years ago.

Needless to say, Boyd never dreamed of being part of something like the Memorial Stadium farewell. He returned to Baltimore for an old-timers' game in the late '80s, but as reunions go, that one didn't compare.

Nearly 80 former Orioles returned for last weekend's festivities,

and most stayed at a downtown hotel at the club's expense. "The hotel was just jam-packed," Boyd said. "We all got together. I mean, we had a goo-oo-ood time."

He saw former teammates Fred Valentine, Willy Miranda and Billy O'Dell, Joe Durham, Jerry Walker and Hal "Skinny" Brown. He got Brooks and Frank to autograph a dozen balls, Jim Palmer to sign a few more.

Without question, though, the highlight was Sunday's on-field ceremony. Boyd wore a replica of his old uniform -- another

expense incurred by the club -- and stood with the generations of Orioles first basemen. Jim Gentile and Randy Milligan. Boog Powell and Glenn Davis.

"I was sitting quite a distance away [in the mezzanine]," said Valca, Boyd's wife of 39 years. "But when all the fellas assembled and got in that circle, I could tell by his body actions that he was just glad to be on the field again, seeing all the guys."

Valca said teasingly that Boyd "likes to be remembered." Patrick, the public relations assistant, noticed. "He was just loving it," she said. "People recognized him, people were asking him for autographs. He was so happy to be here."

Alas, all good things must come to an end. The Boyds left Baltimore early Monday morning, and were back in Wichita by 5 o'clock Tuesday night. "Not a moment's trouble," Valca said. "It's not a long drive to us. I have brothers in Canton, Ohio. We're up there often."

In fact, they'll be back on the road this weekend, motoring to St. Louis for a friend's wedding. They only travel in daylight. And yes, they'd be delighted to return to Baltimore again.

Why, Boyd has the perfect idea for his next visit.

"An old-timers' game in the new stadium," he said.

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