Home is at center of Hargrove's field

Baseball: Through the ups and downs and uncountable miles of travel in his career, the Orioles' new manager has looked to his close-knit family to maintain his sense of security and values.

January 01, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

RICHFIELD, Ohio -- A wooden Chief Wahoo still unflinchingly guards the front door of the suburban Cleveland residence. Inside, a hybrid jacket, half Cleveland Indians and half Baltimore Orioles, can be found hanging from a doorknob. Its owner, Mike Hargrove, laughs at the curiosity and admits, "I'm not sure I can wear it outside the house."

A rough-hewn sign warning, "Don't Mess With Texas" overlooks the family room. The five-bedroom home of the Orioles' new manager features cabinetry and trim of dark oak, adding to an overall feel of warmth. Despite its impressive size, the Hargrove homestead extends little room for formality or pretense. The only thing artificial is the decorated Christmas tree.

Mike and Sharon Hargrove have come a long way from little Perryton, a town in the Texas panhandle that has seen its population drop from 10,000 when the two were high school sweethearts to 8,000 today. Hargrove's parents remain there, his father a retired roustabout, cattle farmer and deputy sheriff and his mother an administrator at a local retirement community.

While in primary school, Hargrove moved with his family from Perryton to Houston to the New Mexico border town of Texico, literally on the wrong side of the tracks from Texas. Within five years, the family had completed its circuit and returned to Perryton, where cowboy boots and a Stetson weren't optional.

"I have a real intense pride in being a Texan. I feel good about that. I've still got some great friends back there. I like that lifestyle. But I've also found people in this part of the country have the same sort of values. It's been a real pleasant revelation to me. Growing up west of the Mississippi you have a sort of suspicion about everything east," he says.

Hargrove, 50, remembers his blue-collar home as a "touchy-feely" kind of place where he and three younger siblings never wanted for affection or a sense of direction.

"It was never very hard to figure out you were in trouble if somebody was mad at you," Hargrove recalls, "but it was also never hard to figure out you were loved and safe in that house, too."

Family ties

Mike and Sharon's families lived within three blocks of each other. In seventh grade, Hargrove asked the sixth-grader to go steady by giving her a pendant that she still keeps. That and a home plate-shaped pendant from the Indians' 1995 American League championship represent twin touchstones of their relationship.

Sharon and Mike celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary last Monday -- the anniversary date shared by Sharon's parents. Both sets of parents also met in high school.

The couple remains deeply connected to Perryton, where they count Jim and Jan Page among their most treasured relationships. Hargrove played college baseball with Jim at Northwest Oklahoma State; Jan was among Sharon's closest childhood friends in Perryton. The Pages spend time with the Hargroves each summer and have made several trips to watch Hargrove's teams in the postseason.

"They're the same people except Mike has more expensive toys now. He says what he means and means what he says," says Jim. "The only difference in Mike now is that he smokes cigars. I can't afford them so the only time I get to smoke 'em is when I'm around him."

Jan describes a devoutly Catholic family with Sharon as its rock. "They are totally down-to-earth people who live for their family and each other. That hasn't changed."

After a brief spousal debate and an extensive interview process, Hargrove became the Orioles' fourth manager in six seasons on Nov. 3. If the club hired a man whose professional confidence had been briefly shaken by his dismissal by the Indians, the Orioles have also found someone more secure than ever in the ties that bind.

"Even before we had kids, Sharon and I decided the most important thing we could do is preserve a sense of family for our children. Everyone else in the world can turn against you, but if you've still got family there, it somehow doesn't seem as bad," he says.

A baseball lifer, Hargrove is familiar with the temptations and distractions offered by the game's itinerant lifestyle. He promised himself that he and his family would not become casualties.

Before they bought their home here, the Hargroves each year enrolled their children in both Perryton and Cleveland schools while hiring tutors during spring training in Tucson, Ariz. The school year would begin in Texas, move to Arizona for six weeks while a lesson plan was sent from Cleveland, then end with 2 1/2 months in Ohio.

"It all worked," he says, citing his wife's commitment to the routine as its glue.

All energy and personality, Sharon became actively involved as a fund-raiser for several local charities while anchoring the household. While her husband might sleep in after the previous night's game, the early-rising Sharon would often do a five-minute appearance on a local country and western radio station.

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