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