St. Michaels shares joy as its favorite son comes home for good

BAINES' HAPPY LANDING

January 29, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

ST. MICHAELS — In the window of the Carpenter Street Saloon is a makeshift sign that echoes the collective sentiment of both patrons and passers-by. Painted on pink poster board is a large No. 3 and a simple congratulatory message for a small town's favorite son.

It might seem cryptic to the out-of-staters who come to sample the seafood and the serenity of this picturesque Eastern Shore town, but, to the locals, there is no explanation necessary. Harold Baines has come home for good.

Not that he ever really left. Baines grew up in St. Michaels. The athletic exploits of his youth are the stuff of local legend. He has kept his home here throughout a 13-year major-league career, but the townspeople shared his delight when the Orioles recently made it possible for him to live in it year-round.

He is just Harold here, and you can go door-to-door all day and never find anyone with anything bad to say about him. The old-timers remember him tearing up the local ball fields at 12. The youngsters know him from the newspaper headlines and the various events he attends to benefit youth charities. He has done so much that the city fathers voted a year ago to make Jan. 9 Harold Baines Day.

"Harold is just kind of our hometown sports legend," said Dick Maxwell, the bartender at the Carpenter Street Saloon, "and we're lucky to have someone like him. He's a non-smoker and a non-drug user. He's a family man and a model citizen. That's the kind of person we want our kids to look up to."

The sign in the window left room to wonder if Carpenter Street was thewonder if Carpenter Street was the official Harold Baines hangout, but Maxwell cleared up any misconception.

"You're not going to see Harold in here very often," he said. "I don't think Harold even drinks."

Shared pride

Baines, 33, seems as proud of his hometown as it is of him. He is quiet by nature, but he led a brief tour yesterday of the area in which he grew up. It started at St. Michaels High, where he was a three-sport star in baseball, basketball and soccer, and included stops at the Maritime Museum and the town dock.

"This is the kind of place where you can have peace of mind," he said.

It is an idyllic setting, though economic forces have turned it into much more of a travel destination in recent years. The beautiful waterfront and the quaint 19th century charm of the place have lured outsiders for decades, but rising real estate prices steadily have increased the emphasis on tourism.

Nevertheless, Baines -- who could afford to live anywhere -- cannot imagine living someplace else. He married his high school sweetheart. He has a son and three daughters (ages 2 through 8) in school here. His parents still live in town. His younger brother, Curtis, is a high school sophomore who is trying to follow in some very large footsteps, playing baseball and basketball at St. Michaels High.

"I could have moved to Chicago or Oakland," he said, "but I didn't want to take my kids out of an environment that they enjoy."

He has had to sacrifice a lot of time at home to give his children the stability of a small-town upbringing, but not anymore -- not since the Orioles traded two minor-league players to the Oakland Athletics to acquire Baines two weeks ago. Finally, after 16 years in professional baseball, he can have the best of both worlds.

Scouted by Veeck

Small-town success stories often are equal parts fact and local legend, but the most popular boyhood story about Baines only sounds like a tall tale. Baseball mogul Bill Veeck really did begin ,, scouting Baines while he was in Little League.

It already was apparent that there was something special about the kid with the sweet, left-handed swing who played for the team sponsored by the Rotary Club. Veeck, who lived in nearby Oxford, had a friend keep tabs on Baines until he was eligible for the amateur draft, then made him the first player chosen in June 1977.

"I recommended him to Bill," said Bob Boinski, a local house painter who was a longtime friend of the late baseball showman. "In a small area like this, you get to see all the local kids. Everybody was talking about him. Everybody had heard of him. You could already see that he had all the tools. I guess Bill's smiling now that Roland [Hemond, Orioles general manager] got him back."

Baines was, by all accounts, a natural. He moved into high school and began attracting crowds of baseball scouts during his sophomore year. He also continued to build on his reputation as the finest all-around athlete in the area, excelling on the basketball court and leading St. Michaels into the state soccer final as a senior.

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