In his au­tumn years, he’s still ‘so Brooks’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

une Daue lived to be nearly 100 years old, but that still wasn’t long enough to see her fa­vorite team reach the World Se­ries again. She was a “diehard Ori­oles fan” who died Sept. 22 at the age of 99, fully aware of the in­creas­ingly dreary 2017 season. No magic. No play­offs.

When the Ori­oles walk off the field in St. Petersburg this af­ter­noon, they will close out the fran­chise’s 15th los­ing season out of the last 20.

Sorry to bring this up. Like most Bal­ti­more­ans, I usually let a los­ing Ori­oles season pass qui­etly into au­tum­nal obliv­ion. And that should be easy this year be­cause, let’s face it, ex­pec­ta­tions for the 2017 team were just an inch above sea level, and once they went into that aw­ful free fall in July, blow­ing leads with flair, the Ori­oles’ prospects ap­peared to be as bleak as the wise guys had pre­dicted they’d be.

I guess we should be grate­ful we have a team, and that it made the post­sea­son a few times over the last five sea­sons. Play­offs are swell.

But the World Se­ries is the big­gest show of all, and the last time the Ori­oles made play­offs that led to a World Se­ries, June Daue was only 64 years old.

In case any­one needs re­mind­ing, it has been 35 sea­sons since the team’s last world cham­pi­onship, an ac­com­plish­ment that stopped feel­ing like “only yes­ter­day” a long time ago. Men and women who were chil­dren in 1983 now have chil­dren of their own. Those chil­dren and thousands of other Ori­oles fans have never seen the orange-and-black in the Se­ries.

They’ve seen a lot of on-field com­mem­o­ra­tions of the good old days; they’ve seen stat­ues

Jof Ori­oles Hall of Famers go up. They experienced Cal and The Streak. But they’ve never been treated to a World Se­ries in B’more.

June Daue, however, got to see the whole his­tory of the mod­ern Ori­oles, from the time the team came to town in 1954, to its first world cham­pi­onship a mere 12 years later, through all those win­ning sea­sons in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. She saw the team move from Memo­rial Sta­dium to Cam­den Yards and have some win­ning sea­sons there. They even made the play­offs a cou­ple of times in the 1990s.

Then came the wilder­ness years — los­ing sea­sons from 1998 through 2011 — fol­lowed by win­ning sea­sons and a cou­ple of post­sea­son ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can League cham­pi­onship se­ries in 2014.

But that’s as far as they got. There has been no World Se­ries ap­pear­ance by the Ori­oles since Tom Cruise danced in his un­der­wear in “Risky Business.”

None of this mat­tered to June Daue. That’s why the words “diehard Ori­oles fan” ap­peared over her obit­u­ary.

“If you vis­ited her and the game was on TV,” says her nephew, Butch Hodg­son, “you didn’t ex­pect to have any con­ver­sa­tion with Aunt June.”

(And if you asked her how she was do­ing, she’d say: “I woke up, stuck my tongue out, didn’t taste dirt. It’s a good day.”)

Her fa­vorite player was Brooks Robin­son, and that’s so Bal­ti­more, isn’t it? To peo­ple of a cer­tain age — be­tween, say, 55 and 100 — the good-na­tured Brooks was prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar Ori­ole of all. Through the ups and downs of the fran­chise since he last ap­peared on a ros­ter in 1977, Brooks has re­mained a Bal­ti­more fix­ture. I’ll never for­get the Sun­day af­ter­noon, must be 30 years ago, when he showed up at a VFW Hall that had raised money for a lit­tle boy’s bat­tery-pow­ered wheel­chair. Brooks has prob­a­bly made a mil­lion ap­pear­ances like that by now.

Get­ting back to June Daue: Her fu­neral was Mon­day; burial was in Du­laney Val­ley Memo­rial Gar­dens. “We sang ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ in mom’s honor,” says her daugh­ter, Deb­bie Green. Then ev­ery­one went to Pap­pas Res­tau­rant in Cock­eysville for the post-fu­neral gath­er­ing.

Who’s stand­ing at the bar when Green and her sib­lings walk in? Brooks. He just hap­pened to be there to re­ceive a procla­ma­tion on the oc­ca­sion of his 80th birth­day — he be­came an oc­to­ge­nar­ian on May 13 — from the Mary­land comptroller, Peter Fran­chot.

“We were awestruck,” Deb­bie Green says. “We were com­pelled, in mom’s honor, to tell him about the joy he brought to her over the years. He gra­ciously thanked us, and we went on to the gath­er­ing to honor mom, and Brooks went to his gath­er­ing.”

But then, of course, he came back and greeted ev­ery­one in the Daue party. That’s so Brooks, isn’t it?

“We were awed by the un­canny co­in­ci­dence that this great man, who mom idol­ized, just hap­pened to be at the res­tau­rant where we were memo­ri­al­iz­ing her,” Green says. “Brooks Robin­son is so much more than an amaz­ing ath­lete. He brought us the sign that all fam­i­lies look for when a loved one passes — that they have landed safely in a bet­ter place.”

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