35 years later, All-Stars return to ease his pain

John Steadman

July 15, 1993|By John Steadman

All-Star Games always represented a painful memory for Manny Spanomanolis. He was just a boy, only three years off the ship from Greece, living in a new land and struggling with the language, when he first learned about baseball.

The 1958 Baltimore Orioles of his newly adopted hometown -- and country -- had a Greek god catching for them named Gus Triandos. He identified with this amiable hero, but never got to see him play.

Manny was busy washing dishes at a drive-in restaurant known as the Oriole Tower, named either for the bird or the team. Manny often worked 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. He received no pay. The owners said they were teaching him the food business.

Then, after the long confined day, he took his little wooden box with the polish and brushes to hit the bars along North Avenue shining shoes. That was his only income while helping his father, a stone mason, pay rent for the one room they shared.

The 1958 All-Star Game was to be in Baltimore that summer, and Triandos had been picked. But Manny held no hope of seeing the event. He didn't have the money or the connections to buy a ticket.

Then Mike O'Brien, head of Sealtest Dairy, a frequent visitor, came to the Oriole Tower for lunch. He looked at Manny and said, "I have something for you. Take these two tickets, go to the stadium and have a nice time. Cheer for Gus."

Manny was filled with elation. He went to see the boss, a man named Pete, and asked if he could have an afternoon off. Pete said, "Let me see what you have there."

He took the tickets, put them in his shirt pocket and it was the last Manny was to see of them. Instead of going to the game, he washed dishes.

The disappointment stayed with him. "This Mike O'Brien was such a beautiful man," Manny said. "A big, friendly Irishman. Everybody loved him. Just a beautiful man."

Then came the All-Star Game in Baltimore in 1993. Things had changed for Manny the dishwasher, Manny the shoeshine boy. He now had his own restaurant, owned by him and his brother Dino, called the Club 4100 in Brooklyn, a southeastern suburb of Baltimore.

He had gone, occasionally, to No. 6 School and to Clifton Park Junior High. "Then I went to Polytechnic Night School," he said. "Yes, but just for one night. My father thought I was getting an education, but I was hustling shoe shines."

Manny and Dino Spanomanolis were employed in Washington restaurants from 1962 until 1968, commuting to Baltimore every day, when they had the chance to meet George Coutros, who wanted to ease out of the demands of operating a business and saw to it the Spanomanolis brothers had an opportunity to buy his Club 4100.

Coutros is proud of them for what they've achieved. Not only in a financial way, but also as forces for good in the community, helping charities and maintaining the Club 4100 as a friendly family gathering place.

The founder, Coutros, still lives upstairs. Manny and Dino enjoy a special popularity, and Coutros treats them as his adopted sons. There's enduring respect.

So, in this their 25th year at Club 4100 another All-Star Game was to be played in Baltimore. Manny talked a lot about Mike O'Brien -- "this beautiful Irishman everybody loved" -- who gave him the tickets 35 years ago.

Another man, also an Irishman, but not so beautiful, talked to an Orioles official, who had two tickets he wanted to put in the hands of someone truly deserving.

Manny received them. When they were put in his hands, he was so overwhelmed tears of happiness filled his eyes. He turned away because he didn't want others to see a 53-year-old man cry.

The two Baltimore All-Star Games represent a low and a high for Manny Spanomanolis -- a time when a cruel boss took advantage of him and then, 35 years later, rather poetically, the long-ago indignity was belatedly offset.

Two tickets fell out of the sky with his name on them. He took his daughter with him, and the All-Star Game of 1993 becomes the happy kind of memory every man who has been wronged should be entitled to have.

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