Friends prove they're in Lewis' corner

This Just In...

October 15, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

THE ORIOLES had just presented the multimillionaire baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. with an oversized check for $1 million for his baseball academy in Aberdeen, and up in the press box at Camden Yards I heard even better news from an old friend: Some guys are getting together to give Mack Lewis a new gym.

After all these years, is it possible? Since the 1940s, Lewis has been training young men to box - if not to win championship belts at least to keep off the drug corners and out of trouble - and he's finally going to get a lift out of his old, shabby place at Broadway and Eager.

I hear names - Rick Levin of the Downtown Locker Room chain; Bill Struever, rebuilder of Baltimore; Vince Johns, who likes to help Lewis with the kids; a bunch of union officials. They're the ones pulling this off. I hear the heavyweight champ, Hasim "The Rock" Rahman, and Diner guy Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass have their fingers in this, too.

They're men who feel indebted to Lewis, respect his life's work and mission. So they're going to open 5,000 square feet for him next to one of Levin's stores in what used to be a drugstore in East Baltimore.

Lewis is 82 years old and, after nearly 60 years of doing it most every day, he has a tough time climbing the 20 creaky wooden steps to his old gym off Broadway. "Oh man, this new place is ground-level in a shopping center," he told me the other night. "No steps. I like that. And no rent, either."

Lewis has been paying rent and the utility bills at his Broadway-and-Eager gym all these years, keeping the place open on a shoestring. Rahman, set to defend his heavyweight title next month in Las Vegas, got his start there. So did former world junior middleweight champion Vincent Pettway.

Johns says a foundation has been established in Lewis' name and will be used to keep the new gym running. "It's unbelievable how this whole thing got started and took off," he says.

The new place could open in January.

As for the old place - that's a genuine Baltimore shrine, the walls covered in classic fight posters, the floor stained with the sweat of 10,000 boxers. There will have to be some effort to preserve it. "I still love it," Lewis says of his old gym. "It's not like I was rushing to get out of there."

Since he's been climbing the steps since 1944, I guess not.

Some random thoughts

That's a shame about Hector Torres retiring from the Baltimore Fire Department, and a double-shame the department spokesman wasn't named chief. I suspect the mayor was jealous of his hair.

That's nice about Martin O'Malley being the high-profile emergency-preparedness guy, getting national media attention and all. If millions of Americans didn't know he was interested in running for president, they do now.

There's now an Office of Homeland Security. Good. But what about Hampden, Remington, Ashburton and all those other Baltimore neighborhoods? They deserve a little extra attention, too.

If you don't have cable and want to avoid amateur hour - 11 o'clock, when local TV stations goop up their reporting of major international events with "personality" and flimsy local angles - try switching to the straight, authoritative and comprehensive BBC World News on Maryland Public Television.

If you're stuck in traffic and station-surfing for something other than NPR and local rag-chew radio, you might want to put C-SPAN on your FM preset. (White House and Pentagon news briefings, congressional hearings related to 9-11, presidential speeches.) It can be found at 90.1, WCSP-FM, and it comes in well on either the inner or outer loop, on the west side of the Beltway.

I wish a Baltimore station would pick up the highly entertaining Tony Kornheiser Show. You can get it weekday mornings starting at 10, but only out of the Washington area, at 980 AM. Same thing: inner loop or outer loop, but only clearly on the west side until Greenspring Avenue. By the time you hit Towson, Tony sounds like an old, scratchy recording of Fiorello LaGuardia. Still, the guy's very funny and a versatile conversationalist. He's not all-sports-alla-time, either, and since 9-11 he's logged lots of thoughtful and provocative hours.

I want to add to the list of English-language oxymorons - "holy war," "jumbo shrimp," "original copies" - the phrase, "Carroll County Smart Growth." Ditto "Carroll County planner."

That's swell that Michael Jordan, as part-owner of the Wizards, takes to the floor to help his team. Next thing you know, Peter Angelos and Tom Clancy will be turning double plays. And I'd pay cash money to see Ted Leonsis killing penalties during the next Caps home stand.

As soon as I hear a guy or a woman with a Southern accent say, "Hello, is Daniel there?" I hang up the phone. Besides telemarketers, the only person who ever called me that was my seventh-grade literature teacher, Isabelle Odabashian, and she's gone to that great Beowulf reading in the sky.

Who said that?

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