Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Betty Thompson

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lends an arm of support to Betty Thompson, widow of Chuck Thompson, after memorial Mass. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / March 10, 2005)

Frank DiVenti hobbled into the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on crutches yesterday to say goodbye to a childhood pal.

"Chuck Thompson was my best friend when I was growing up, though he never knew me," said DiVenti of Hamilton.

It was probably like that for most of the about 350 people who yesterday attended the memorial Mass for Thompson, longtime broadcast voice of the Orioles and Baltimore Colts.

Thompson, 83, died Sunday after suffering a stroke. But his voice still resonates with those who came to pay homage to the man who, many said, weaned them on baseball and football.

The service brought together political rivals Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mayor Martin O'Malley. It also drew Thompson's former colleague, Jon Miller, and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who reportedly dismissed him.

Others included former Colts Lenny Moore, Art Donovan and Tom Matte, as well as onetime Orioles Ken Singleton and Elrod Hendricks.

Most who attended were those who had invited Thompson into their living rooms without ever having met him.

"Chuck has been to my house many times, so I thought I'd pay my respects," said Drew Carberry of Lutherville. "His was a voice that linked my childhood to adulthood, and all of the things that I care about - baseball and Baltimore.

"For me, growing up was sitting on our marble steps, with my dad, listening to Chuck talk about [Orioles pitcher Hal] 'Skinny' Brown's delivery. Voices like his are the constants that link baseball's eras even more than players or statistics do."

Thompson's was also a voice that could welcome a soldier home. Wounded in Vietnam, Richard Naumann returned to the United States in 1969.

"I was laying in a hospital bed at Fort Meade when I heard Chuck on the radio, doing a Colts game," Naumann said yesterday.

"That's when I knew I was home."

Thompson's broadcasts were a beacon for Baltimore, said Donovan, the Hall of Fame tackle: "I never heard of a sportscaster taking over a city like Chuck did."

Thompson talked a great game, but declined to thrust himself into the mix, Singleton said.

"To him, the game came first. Chuck was just the messenger - and a damn good one," said Singleton, now a New York Yankees TV analyst.

Thompson's demeanor kept fans and players upbeat, he said - "After an Orioles loss, when Chuck signed off, his inflection gave you hope that there would be a tomorrow."

Always unassuming, Thompson remained so to the end, said Father Michael Salerno, pastor of St. Leo's Catholic Church in Little Italy, who celebrated the Mass.

"Chuck will be remembered for his humility, sincerity and honesty," he said during the hourlong service. "He signed autographs when he couldn't see [while suffering from macular degeneration]. He never said no to nobody.

"There are people in the Hall of Fame who weren't loved personally, or respected, like Chuck was."

In his eulogy, Craig Thompson spoke of his father's everyman qualities. He liked bass fishing at Loch Raven Reservoir. Other family members recalled how he enjoyed working crosswords and eating platefuls of franks and beans. Thompson wasn't much of a handyman, though.

"Once, when he removed an air conditioner, it fell out of the window and hit the ground," his son said yesterday, evoking a ripple of laughter among churchgoers.

In spite of his fame - Thompson received the highest honor for a baseball announcer, the Ford C. Frick Award - friends said he was no high roller. His idea of a night out was dinner with his wife, Betty, at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Hereford.

"Chuck was there last Friday, eating his chipped beef and gravy and signing autographs for little kids who'd been sent to his table by their parents," said diner owner Betty Winner.

"He was a simple man," said Sister Mary Catherine of St. Leo's Church, where Thompson and his wife were parishioners. "On Tuesdays, he played bingo at the church, and sometimes called the games. My, what a profound, deep voice he had!"

"Chuck did have one of the greatest voices of the game," said Miller, now an announcer for the San Francisco Giants and ESPN.

But like so many others, what Miller will remember was what Thompson did with that voice.

"While he appreciated the athleticism of the players, his memories were always more about their humanity."