Mathews cheered to find out O's fans are pen pals, too Supporters send balloons, letters of encouragement to booed relief pitcher

October 09, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Michael James contributed to this article.

The cards and letters keep coming, along with balloons, flowers and repeated assurances that Saturday night's humiliation was nothing personal.

Orioles reliever Terry Mathews said the amount of mail he normally receives has quadrupled since the sound of booing fans reverberated through Camden Yards upon his entrance into Game 3 of the Division Series, then again after he surrendered back-to-back home runs in a 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

Mathews was so upset that he showered, dressed and left the clubhouse before the media had been allowed in, fearful of what he might say in an emotional state. Teammates rushed to his defense, then lifted his spirits further the next day by dousing him with champagne and accolades after the Orioles clinched the series.

Sports radio shows have fielded an abundance of pro-Mathews phone calls, either from people appalled at the actions of others, or embarrassed at their own conduct.

"In all the years I've been here, I've never seen an Oriole get booed like that," said WJFK's Stan "The Fan" Charles, a Baltimore radio personality since 1981.

Each day that Mathews has come to the clubhouse since then, he has found special deliveries at his locker, and a full mail slot.

"I've received numerous letters from people, most of them in the Maryland area, just letting me know there were a lot of fans in the ballpark that night who weren't booing and not to let it get me down," Mathews said.

"Mostly, I've received lots of letters from people letting me know they were here or they read the article and how disappointed they were in the fans who were booing me. I received a little thing of flowers, too, telling me to block out those people and that they're not true Oriole fans if they're booing."

One balloon had a card attached. Inside was a prayer verse about dealing with adversity.

"I put that in my jacket pocket and I'll carry it out with me to the bullpen each night," he said.

Like any ballplayer, Mathews is accustomed to receiving autograph requests. It's not often that he is asked for forgiveness.

"I'd like to thank them all and let them know their efforts are appreciated," he said. "There are great hopes for me that everything will turn out for the best."

It couldn't have gotten much worse Saturday. As soon as the bullpen gate swung open in the ninth inning, Mathews was bombarded with jeers. Though he had pitched well in Milwaukee to close the regular season, getting a win and a save, fans hadn't forgotten his earlier struggles and 4.41 ERA. And they voiced their displeasure until they were hoarse.

His introduction last night before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series brought a smattering of boos, easily outnumbered by the applause.

"It's totally contrary to being an Oriole fan to boo your own player," said Mike Kirchner, 35, of Aberdeen, who attended high school with Cal Ripken.

"Sometimes, you earn the boos you get," said Todd Bowman, 37, of Baltimore. "I will say that it's a tough rap to get booed while you're coming in. I wouldn't do it until he's earned it."

Mathews said he fully expects that and objected only to the harsh treatment coming before he had thrown a pitch. He also said the displays of affection since Saturday "really help me a lot. It's hard enough to go out there in a playoff atmosphere, the pressure that's already there, and relax and calm down enough to throw a baseball into a little square-box area and get the best fTC hitters out. You don't need the extra pressure."

Mathews, in his first full season with the Orioles, isn't shying away from the crowd. He has engaged in conversations and signed autographs before games, and insisted again yesterday that he doesn't want his appearances confined to visiting ballparks.

Manager Davey Johnson said yesterday that Mathews was available, then added with a chuckle, "but everything will be considered."

Mathews sat in the bullpen Sunday while the Orioles closed Game 4, watching reliever Armando Benitez pitch the eighth inning. And listening.

"He has been, by far, the best setup guy in baseball this year," Mathews said. "He went to ball two on a guy and you could start hearing people in the stands booing. It put everything in perspective. They say that's why we get paid the good money. I guess I'm paying my dues."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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