Ashes and diamonds

Goodbye: Curt Blefary's widow has brought the former Oriole's remains back to old Memorial Stadium, to be spread at the spot where home plate was.

May 23, 2001|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

She came from Florida, carrying her late husband's remains and determined to grant him his final wish. When Lana Blefary learned yesterday that Memorial Stadium has been all but torn to the ground, it changed nothing.

If Curt Blefary wanted his ashes to be sprinkled at home plate, then she would see it done - even if the old ballpark on 33rd Street has become a fenced-off demolition zone.

"I'm going to get in there one way or another," she said yesterday, biding her time at a campground in Anne Arundel County. "I didn't drive all this way and live in this van for nothing."

She was waiting for approval from the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing the project to tear down Memorial Stadium, to return Curt Blefary, a left fielder for the Orioles' first World Series title team, to the site of his greatest athletic triumphs.

"His fondest memories of his baseball career were in Baltimore, and he loved the fans there," she said. "So that's where he wanted to be laid to rest. It's a matter of fulfilling his wishes."

Curt Blefary died Jan. 28 of chronic pancreatitis and related ailments at his home in Pompano Beach, Fla. He was 57.

When he died, he was recalled for bursting onto the Baltimore scene as the American League Rookie of the Year for 1965. He was an outfielder who could run, hit and hit for power, but his star faded quickly. The Orioles traded him after the 1968 season, and he was out of pro baseball before his 30th birthday.

Lana, his wife of 20 years, said the man she fell in love with was a "good-looking, very big-hearted person, a caring person." But he was human, she said, with a weakness for drink that probably contributed to his death.

About two weeks ago, she set out from their Florida home and crisscrossed the Southeast, staying at campgrounds in a GMC van equipped with kitchenette, bathroom, television and fold-out bed. She visited friends in Tennessee and bought baseballs autographed by her husband from a memorabilia dealer in North Carolina.

The balls, she said, were signed "R.O.Y. '65," shorthand for his signature baseball accomplishment. The balls are for Curt's grandchildren and other relatives.

Before his death, Curt had planned to travel to Rhode Island, where his daughter from a previous marriage lives.

"Curt and I were going to make this trip," she said, "and so we are."

She arrived Monday afternoon at the KOA campground in Millersville, and yesterday morning called the sports department at The Sun, asking for advice on how to arrange to get into Memorial Stadium. She said her husband knew that the stadium was no longer in use, but was unaware when he died that it was in the process of being torn down. She was given a telephone number for the stadium authority. She called a hospice, looking for a minister who might say a few words at a service.

Yesterday afternoon, as heavy equipment picked through the concrete carcass of Memorial Stadium, she relaxed with a John Grisham novel at her wooded campsite. Three cats pranced among the trees.

She was told that eight sections at the closed end of the horseshoe remain standing and that the field is covered with mounds of dirt. "It's a shame, it really is," she said.

She reached into the van and pulled out a shoebox-shaped urn adorned with crossed baseball bats and a ball. She said her husband has no connection to the ballpark at Camden Yards, that he belongs at Memorial Stadium.

A little while later, she talked to someone at the stadium authority. Officials said that the approximate area of home plate could be found and that they'd arranged for the contractor to stop work long enough to let her spread the ashes.

"It's just absolutely wonderful," she said. "Curt was so right about Baltimore. The people are wonderful."

When the hospice minister's services were secured, she set the service for 11 a.m. tomorrow.

She said those who cheered for Curt during his playing days are invited, adding: "I'd like him to be able to say goodbye to his fans, and them to him."

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