When the Orioles take the field Monday, one of the least visible but most beloved members will be missing from the team.
Monica Pence Barlow, the public relations director, had been there through 14 seasons — in the press box, in the locker room, at the elbows of reporters conducting interviews — and some say they are having difficulty imagining the coming season without her.
"She was one of us. She was around us for the 162 games. She was around us as much as our teammates," said shortstop J.J. Hardy.
Opening Day "won't be the same, that is for sure," added manager Buck Showalter.
The team will announce during a pre-game tribute how it plans to memorialize her, along with Orioles investor Tom Clancy and former outfielder Paul Blair, who all died during the past 12 months.
Barlow, 36, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2009 and died Feb. 28, a death the players and manager are still processing. She had continued to bounce back after repeated treatments, her family said, and looked well, which masked her condition in public.
Up until a week before her death, when she asked for a leave of absence, she continued to tap away on her laptop from her hospital room and at home.
"We didn't grasp the severity" at the end, said Gregory E. Bader, vice president for communications and marketing. "I think we all knew, but she made it hard to remember because she didn't let it impact her work."
Barlow was a good traffic cop, one who could field the dozens of requests from the public and the media and figure out which request should get a green light. She had to understand the different personalities of the 25 players and the manager, who would be fine sitting down for 40 minutes with a newspaper reporter and who was best on television. She knew how each one handled criticism and compliments, and how to deal with the issues that arise when a player is injured, sent down or called up, according to Bader.
In a world with insatiable hunger for details about sports figures, players said they felt she never left them alone.
"Every time she came to me, she would know the questions I was going to be asked and she would prepare me. I am going to miss that," Hardy said. "She was kind of right there by your side making sure the questions were appropriate on the road or at home."
First baseman Chris Davis said Barlow understood the competing interests in a player's life.
"She made my life a lot easier because she understood not only that it was important to not only how the fans see me, how the media see me, how people in the baseball community see me, but also she understood how important it was for me to be with my family," he said.
Showalter said he liked Barlow almost immediately after he joined the Orioles, seeing in her someone who, like him, didn't suffer fools. She briefed him on the news and issues of the day, and thought strategically, he said, about which interviews he and his players should do.
"I would always trust her. She knew the lay of the land. She knew the way things would be seen," Showalter said, adding that he is angry about her death. "I miss her. It is not fair."
Recently Showalter hung a picture of Barlow outside his office in Sarasota, where the Orioles hold spring training. She's wincing as beer is poured over her during the postgame celebration after the Orioles' wild-card game win in 2012.
Her skills extended beyond public relations, according to Showalter, who said she was good at evaluating players and was the best hitter of anyone on the support staff.
"I tried to stay in touch a lot with her. She didn't like a whole lot of drama," Showalter said.
She had been unhappy that she couldn't be in Sarasota for spring training and he had joked with her about it. He sent a text on the night of Feb. 27 and expected a swift reply, as usual.
"I knew that when I didn't hear back from her ... it scared me," he said.