It's in the blood

May 21, 1999|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Some things endure from childhood on, like baseball and a caring heart.

That's the case with Nancy Herman. She and her friend, the Rev. Jeffrey H. Hale, drove up from Manassas, Va., to take in Wednesday's game at Camden Yards. They arrived in town early enough to stroll around the Inner Harbor, have a meal at Phillip's and still be in their bleacher seats by 5 p.m.: Section 96, Row N.

Herman took Seat 14. That left the aisle seat empty. Odd. Herman and Hale wondered who would buy one seat, an aisle seat, in the bleachers. A few minutes before the game, a reporter sat down. Of all the 48,000-plus seats!

Herman, 45 with long, brownish-blond hair falling below her shoulders, is not prone to giving strangers a glimpse of her life. She is a shy person. She does not seek publicity. At first, she doesn't want to talk.

"It's very intimidating because I don't want anybody to read about me in the newspaper," she says.

She takes a little coaxing. This is a Baltimore paper, she is told, not a Virginia paper. Most likely no one back home will read these few words. She is hesitant. Yet, over nine innings her story unfolds.

Herman grew up outside Pittsburgh and entered college with the idea of becoming a special education teacher.

"But I decided I wanted to get married instead," she says. "So, I quit school, got married. But I always liked kids."

She had two sons and spent 20 years working in day care. She says she is a teacher at heart. When her marriage ended, she went back to school. This time she studied to become a registered nurse. She now works at an urgent care center in Chantilly, Va.

"It's still the caring, nurturing part of me coming out," she says. "The thing with children is you get a lot of hugs with the kids. You don't get that as a nurse."

She pauses, a realization coming over her, "I can't believe this is happening!"

A newspaper photographer arrives. Her day, which started as nothing more than a "Let's-drive-to-Baltimore-and-see-a-game" day, is now something from "Candid Camera," or a variation of "This Is Your Life."

There is more to tell. Herman loves baseball. She keeps score for her church's softball team. She took on the job because she didn't want to give up baseball. Her boys played the game from T-ball on up. One of her sons entrusted her with the care of his collection of baseball cards. Always, she says, there was baseball.

"It's the only sport that my dad paid any attention to," she says. "I can remember hearing it on the radio because we didn't have a TV that worked."

She moved from KDKA's broadcasts to Three Rivers Stadium during the heyday of Willie Stargell's Pirates. Back then, kids could get into the stadium for $1. Herman and her girlfriends, tickets in hand, would wait to make a mad dash to their section.

"Soon as the gate was open, we ran to get in," she says. They cheered for Stargell. As teen-agers, she and her girlfriends cheered for Rusty Staub, then of the Montreal Expos.

When Hale, 48, jokes that part of the attraction must have been Staub's red hair, Herman smiles and nods as if to say, "Well, yes. There was that." He was cute, after all.

She warms to the storytelling as the game wears on. She endures the questions, offers tidbits: she likes music, admires anyone who can pick up an instrument and play; she doesn't like hard rock, but gave Hale a Grand Funk Railroad album; she might try hospital work.

While some take the Orioles' 5-4 loss hard -- "We drank expensive beer. We watched an expensive team lose a cheap game," one fan was heard to grumble -- Herman does not take the missed opportunities, the blown save, or the final strikeout personally.

"That's the game," she says.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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