The Orioles and their fans pay homage to Earl Weaver

  • From left, McKinley Reese, 10, and his brother Hudson Reese, 6, both of Perry Hall, salute the statue of Earl Weaver at Camden Yards. Weaver died the night before.
From left, McKinley Reese, 10, and his brother Hudson Reese,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
January 19, 2013|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Kayleen Reese walked slowly into the garden just beyond center field at Camden Yards on Saturday afternoon, attempting to explain to her son exactly who, and what, the statue in front of them represented.

"His name was Earl Weaver, he was the Orioles manager," Reese, of Catonsville, told 6-year-old Hudson Reese. "He's the one we showed you in the YouTube videos."

It sunk in then to the boy that the bronzed figure next to the wreath of carnations and roses before him was a tribute to that crazy, white-haired baseball man on the computer that yelled and screamed at the umpires and kicked the infield dirt.

So Hudson and his brother, 10-year-old Mckinley, stood by Weaver's statue, looked up toward the cloudless, blue sky and saluted Weaver with right hands to their foreheads as their father snapped off pictures.

"Earl was not just the manager, but the general," said Mike Reese, 40, the family's patriarch on why he had his sons give Weaver a salute. "He led them through the Golden Years."

Weaver, the franchise's Hall of Fame manager, died Friday night while on a baseball-themed cruise in Caribbean. He was 82.

On Saturday, the club held its annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center with a record attendance and heavy hearts.

"There's a lot of emotion in the building today and some of it is with Earl, a lot of it is," said current Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "I talked to [former Oriole pitcher] Scotty McGregor, who was with Earl on the cruise, and I was just sharing a lot of emotions that everybody had. I'm so thankful for the time I had with him."

For the past few years, Weaver visited the Orioles in spring training, he and forged a bond with Showalter, who, in his uniform, bears a resemblance to the club's manager of the late 1960s, early 1970s and 1980s. But Showalter has never tried to compare himself to Weaver, who was honored along with the club's five other National Baseball Hall of Famers with statues during the 2012 season.

"It took me so long to get to the point where I could call him Earl instead of Mr. Weaver. He wasn't too happy about that for a long time [that he was called Mr. Weaver]," Showalter said. "I'm so glad we honored him again [with the statue], and obviously we are still trying to get our arms around the different ways we can honor Earl's memory [in 2013]. I look at the No. 4 [plaque] in the dugout every day. I kind of look at it and sometimes I rub it when we need an extra out or a big hit."

Besides the tribute within the dugout, there are two reminders of Weaver on the grounds of Camden Yards: The statue and, not far away outside the Eutaw Street gates, an aluminum No. 4, among the club's retired numbers.

On Saturday afternoon, Orioles fans walked out of the convention center to visit both sites.

"It's a shame, it's sad, but what a fitting day for it to happen, an ironic day I guess you would say," said Brian Harding, 35, of Perry Hall, who took a picture of his two children by Weaver's No. 4.

In Harding's mind's eye, Weaver will always be on the field, screaming against injustice.

"One of my earliest memories of coming to an Oriole game was at Memorial Stadium and we had seats on the third-base line and they were playing the Mariners and there was a bad call at third base. And Earl came out and buried third base in the dirt," Harding said. "That was great."

Throughout the day, there was a stream of orange-clad fans making a pilgrimage to Weaver's statue, which had a cartoon bird hat, the bill worn and bent, placed at the bronze feet. An orange lei with orange and black beads sat next to it.

"I never saw him manage, obviously, but I know what he has done," said Matt Aragon, 21, of Newark, Del., who made the trip to FanFest with Ariel Almondo.

Aragon and Almondo heard about Weaver's passing while they were in the car on their way to the event. They wanted to make a point to visit the statue and take pictures. Aragon said there definitely was a bittersweet feeling about FanFest, a celebration of a playoff season with the loss of a franchise icon.

"As soon as we walked in to FanFest, there was a montage of clips of Earl and the video from the statue unveiling," Aragon said. "It was very somber at the time. But I think everyone was having a good time at FanFest and I think that's what Earl would have wanted, for everybody celebrating the Orioles after a good season."

Well into the afternoon, second baseman and longest-tenured Oriole Brian Roberts had no idea that Weaver had died. When told by media, Roberts was stunned.

"Shocked, obviously. Holy cow," Roberts said. "I love Buck, but [Weaver] is still the manager you think of when you think of the Orioles. His fire, his intensity, his passion for the game, his passion for the city, his passion for doing things the Oriole Way and doing it the right way. It's something that everyone in this city can relate to."

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