The Living Spirits Of Sports Legends
Chasing ghosts, memories and dreams in historic Camden Station
By Charlie Vascellaro
>> Continued from Page 1
I stopped to take a photograph of Hemond standing next to the display case, hoping I might capture a glowing orb or some kind of cosmic dust. But other than the picture being completely out of focus, I didn't notice or feel anything unusual.
After being greeted by museum employee Jerry Arnold, we immediately began a late-night tour, starting with the Orioles Hall of Fame room on the first floor. Looking at the glass tower display cases honoring people from the team's six decades in Baltimore, Hemond began reminiscing about the trades he engineered as general manager, involving many of the players and their relative success.
"Seeing Mike Boddicker's uniform immediately reminded me of the great trade we made of him for Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson," Hemond said.
We also spent a great deal of time looking over the plaques in the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame on the museum's lower level.
"Jimmie Foxx, from Suddlersville, Md., I remember him being with the Red Sox when I was just beginning to fall in love with the game," Hemond said. "Jim Spencer, during the first high school college draft in 1965, we [the California Angels] selected Jim Spencer from Glen Burnie, Md. When it went
out on the wire, it said we drafted someone named 'Glen Burnie.' Two of our scouts called frantically from Omaha and said: 'Who the heck is Glen Burnie? Nobody knows him! We never discussed Glen Burnie.' "
One Maryland State Hall of Famer of particular interest was former big league third baseman Bill Werber of Berwyn, Md., who played for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants from 1930-1942. Werber is inadvertently responsible for my friendship with Hemond, and my moving to Maryland 14 years ago.
In another lifetime, I was a garbage man riding on the back of a truck in Fountain Hills, Ariz. One day, I flipped the contents of a garbage can into the hopper and discovered a circa-1930s fielder's glove, branded with the name "Billie Werber." At the time, I had no idea who Werber was, but a few years later, I looked him up at the National Baseball Hall of Fame library.
While I was conducting my research, an older gentleman working in the library approached me after overhearing my conversation about Werber. He asked why I was interested in a relatively lesser-known player from the distant past. I explained my glove story to him, and he suggested that I get in touch with Werber himself, spouting his address off the top of his head.
This guy, who looked like Uncle Sam, might have been a ghost himself. His name was Norman Macht, a baseball writer from Baltimore, and he later referred me to Hemond, whom the Arizona Diamondbacks had just hired. I began calling Hemond as a source for stories and we developed a friendship, as he became my go-to guy for all things concerning the Diamondbacks' early development.
Less than a year after he referred me to Hemond, Macht suggested I come to Baltimore to write a story about Babe Ruth and the annual birthday bash held in his honor. A short while later, Hemond recommended me to the Maryland baseball group that owned three Orioles minor league affiliates, which hired me to be its PR director in 1999. That's the triple play that landed me in Baltimore: Werber to Macht to Hemond.
When it was time to sleep, I set my rollaway bed up in the Negro Leagues bus exhibit, and thought about how sleeping on the bus was part of life for the old Negro League teams, such as the Baltimore Black Sox and Elite Giants. Hemond set up his bed outside of the bus near the Sam Lacy display, which depicts the pioneering Baltimore Afro-American sports writer who lived on the road with Jackie Robinson while chronicling his breakthrough season of 1947.
Museum employees had mentioned that this area on the lower level by the Negro Leagues exhibit was where they had seen and/or heard what they thought were ghosts or aberrations. It was late and I nodded off pretty quickly, but I popped up every now and then and looked around. Hemond was more restless.
"I stayed awake more than I would have, because I was thinking about what was going to take place," Hemond said. "There was a little too much lighting in the place."
The hallway was kept lit in case we needed to find our way to the men's room during the night.
"I had some apprehension about what could conceivably take place," Hemond said. "I kept looking down the hall."
Hemond also said the sound of my snoring had kept him awake, but when he did sleep, he had some vivid dreams, as did I.
"I dreamt of the night before Cal Ripken broke the record," Hemond said, "and the bad thought I had about [Angels pitcher] Troy Pericval hitting Cal with a pitch, which almost really happened. But fortunately the pitch did not strike him, and I think he got a single during that at bat."
Shortly after my head hit the pillow, I felt a low rumble in the building; the light rail train was rolling overhead. I kept peeking out of the windows of the bus toward the exit where museum employees said they saw things that weren't there. The papier-mache statue of Sam Lacy in the mock hotel room looked kind of ghostly. I also had dreams of seeing ghosts in the building, which felt pretty real while they were happening.
Being in the museum setting stirred up memories for Hemond.
"I revisited our long losing streak in '88," he said, "and when we finally won in Chicago and came back to all the fans at Memorial Stadium. In the dream, when we came home, nobody showed up."
Hemond had a hotel room he could have gone back to, but he stayed at the museum all night, despite his restlessness.
"I wasn't comfortable," Hemond said. "I don't know if I was scared, but I was uncomfortable with the building's reputation of being haunted, which had me on the defensive all night.
"I remembered some nervous feelings I had during Cal [Ripken Jr.'s consecutive-games-played streak]. He was a little bit late on the day he arrived for the record-breaking game. I had some apprehensions back then that I was revisiting that night in the museum. I had some positive thoughts, but I would revert to the fear of something happening or not happening.
"I remembered receiving a call from [former Orioles manager] Johnny Oates saying that Cal might not play one day. A couple of seasons before he broke the record, we had a big brawl with Seattle, and I was worried about [pitcher] Mike Mussina being hurt in the fight, and I was revisiting that in the museum at night. I did feel haunted at night by the memories of negative feelings. What has gotten me through everything in my career is that normally, I'm pretty positive. I was being haunted by a change of personality."
In the light of the next day, I would say that although neither of us had necessarily seen or felt any ghostly presence, spending the night at the museum was a kind of supernatural journey involving some time travel, and perhaps Roland's living spirit was the one haunting the museum that night. I know that I will continue to feel it whenever I'm there.
Illustrations by John Pennisi
Issue 174: June 2012