Ex-Oriole Blefary in final trip to home

His ashes scattered at Memorial Stadium

May 25, 2001|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

More than three decades after playing his last game as an Oriole and nearly four months after succumbing to illness, Curt Blefary made it safely to home yesterday at Memorial Stadium.

Sports fans, construction workers, a former teammate and the late slugger's widow watched as Blefary's ashes were scattered in the dirt at what's left of the old ballpark on 33rd Street, the site of his greatest athletic triumphs.

For Lana Blefary, it didn't matter that the stadium is dying its own slow death, ravaged by a demolition crew. She had granted her man his final wish.

"It made him happy, so it made me happy," she said after the service.

"God rest his soul in peace. He's back where he belongs."

Curt Blefary was 57 when he died of pancreatitis in January at his Pompano Beach, Fla., home. He played four seasons for the Orioles, which he considered the best years of his baseball life, Lana Blefary said, and he left instructions for his remains to be spread at home plate at Memorial Stadium.

She drove to Maryland from Florida, traveling with her three cats and camping in a van along the way.

Upon arriving this week, she knew that Memorial Stadium was no longer in use but was unaware that it had been mostly razed.

Officials of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing the demolition project, arranged for the Potts & Callahan construction company to take a break from its work and allow her onto the field.

The demolition crew spent half of Wednesday clearing debris and grading the muddy area where home plate had been.

Yesterday morning, workers turned off the heavy equipment. Officials of the Babe Ruth Museum brought a home plate that was used at the stadium in 1991, the last season the Orioles played there, and placed it at the appropriate spot.

Lana Blefary walked past piles of rubble and twisted metal, through an aisle marked by yellow tape and onto the field. Her bag contained a shoebox-shaped urn. Inside were the remains of her husband of 20 years.

The Rev. William Sean Lee, chaplain for the Hospice of Baltimore, led the gathering in prayer, then asked whether anyone wanted to share any thoughts.

Joe Durham, an outfielder for the Orioles in 1954 and 1957, said he was nearing the end of his playing days when he was a teammate of Blefary's on the Orioles' minor league team in Rochester, N.Y.

"He must have knocked me in 75 times that year," Durham said. "Goodbye, Curt."

Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum, remembered how Blefary made a spectacular catch to save the third game of the 1966 World Series for the Orioles. He pointed to where it happened, out where left field was, now covered with pulverized concrete.

Edward Lee, a 71-year-old fan, said, "I loved to watch him play. I just want to pay my final respects."

A few minutes later, Lee, the clergyman, spread the ashes in a circle around home plate. Lana Blefary wiped away a tear and said, "Thank you, Baltimore. He loved you guys."

Developers who plan to build housing for the elderly and a YMCA on the stadium property said a baseball diamond is planned for the spot where Blefary's ashes were scattered. His urn is to be included in the Babe Ruth Museum's Memorial Stadium exhibit.

Outside the stadium, baseball fans shared their memories with Blefary's widow.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who arrived after the service, said, "I just wanted to thank him for the memories he gave me."

Don Hale, an Orioles fan from Abingdon, gave Lana Blefary a wooden plaque with a painting of the stadium. "I thought it might provide her with a better memory of Memorial Stadium than she's seeing here today," he said.

Gibbons, the museum director, said the place, like Blefary and his Oriole teammates, will live in fans' memories.

"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust is effectively what's happening to this ballpark," Gibbons said. "Its memory and his memory are now intermingled."

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