Baseball fans go to bat for Babe Ruth's birthday

First public display of Ruth's record-setting bat to benefit Mercy Medical Center neonatal intensive care unit

February 06, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Fans of all ages headed to Mercy Medical Center on Sunday for a rare opportunity to hold the bat used by baseball legend and Baltimore native Babe Ruth during his historic season in 1927, when he set the single-season home run record.

Partnering with Mercy Medical Center, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation and Museum offered fans the opportunity to hold a piece of sports history to commemorate Ruth's Feb. 6 birthday. He would have been 116 years old.

In the first public display of the record-setting bat — which has been kept in the private archives of the Babe Ruth museum — baseball fans put on protective gloves and struck their most exemplary batting poses, emulating the cutout of Ruth that served as a backdrop for souvenir photographs that fans could have taken for a $10 donation to Mercy's neonatal intensive care unit.

Steve Wilson, of Pasadena, was among the first to have the honor, having gotten up extra early to bedeck himself in Washington Nationals gear. The 41-year-old recalled how he wrote school book reports about Ruth and has since collected anything he could get his hands on about the sports legend.

"When you read about him, it brings a smile to your face," Wilson said. "I'm just in awe of him, so I couldn't pass this up. You can feel the strength of the guy just by holding" the bat.

Ruth used three bats, including the one on display at Mercy, during the 1927 season.

Ruth set the single-season record with 60 home runs in 1927, a mark that held until 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61. Barry Bonds holds the current record, launching 73 home runs in 2001.

Brian Zaher also couldn't pass up the opportunity to hold the Bambino's bat. Zaher, 11, of Baltimore County, raised the 32-ounce bat above his head and assumed an impressive stance for the camera. He said the event was perfectly timed, allowing him to get to baseball tryouts Sunday afternoon.

"It was kind of heavy," Zaher said of the bat. "But hopefully his skills will rub off on me."

Donning his Orioles hat, Zaher said he's always thought Ruth was "cool." Then, with a chuckle, he said, "I just hate the Yankees."

Judith Panian, 72, of White Marsh was also in Orioles gear — which she happened to be wearing when she was admitted to Mercy on Thursday for knee surgery. Panian, an avid Orioles fan, was overwhelmed with emotion as she described how she found out her hospital stay would jibe with such a momentous occasion.

"I just said, 'I can't believe it's going to be here in the hospital when I'm here,' " said Panian, who will be discharged Sunday. "Dare I say that it was worth coming in to have knee surgery? Because that's pretty special."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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