By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
6:58 PM EST, January 19, 2013
Kayleen Reese walked slowly into the garden just beyond center field at Camden Yards on Saturday afternoon, attempting to explain to her son exactly who, and what, the statue in front of them represented.
It sunk in then to the boy that the bronzed figure next to the wreath of carnations and roses before him was a tribute to that crazy, white-haired baseball man on the computer that yelled and screamed at the umpires and kicked the infield dirt.
So Hudson and his brother, 10-year-old Mckinley, stood by Weaver's statue, looked up toward the cloudless, blue sky and saluted Weaver with right hands to their foreheads as their father snapped off pictures.
"Earl was not just the manager, but the general," said Mike Reese, 40, the family's patriarch on why he had his sons give Weaver a salute. "He led them through the Golden Years."
Weaver, the franchise's Hall of Fame manager, died Friday night while on a baseball-themed cruise in Caribbean. He was 82.
On Saturday, the club held its annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center with a record attendance and heavy hearts.
"There's a lot of emotion in the building today and some of it is with Earl, a lot of it is," said current Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "I talked to [former Oriole pitcher] Scotty McGregor, who was with Earl on the cruise, and I was just sharing a lot of emotions that everybody had. I'm so thankful for the time I had with him."
For the past few years, Weaver visited the Orioles in spring training, he and forged a bond with Showalter, who, in his uniform, bears a resemblance to the club's manager of the late 1960s, early 1970s and 1980s. But Showalter has never tried to compare himself to Weaver, who was honored along with the club's five other National Baseball Hall of Famers with statues during the 2012 season.
"It took me so long to get to the point where I could call him Earl instead of Mr. Weaver. He wasn't too happy about that for a long time [that he was called Mr. Weaver]," Showalter said. "I'm so glad we honored him again [with the statue], and obviously we are still trying to get our arms around the different ways we can honor Earl's memory [in 2013]. I look at the No. 4 [plaque] in the dugout every day. I kind of look at it and sometimes I rub it when we need an extra out or a big hit."
Besides the tribute within the dugout, there are two reminders of Weaver on the grounds of Camden Yards: The statue and, not far away outside the Eutaw Street gates, an aluminum No. 4, among the club's retired numbers.
On Saturday afternoon, Orioles fans walked out of the convention center to visit both sites.
"It's a shame, it's sad, but what a fitting day for it to happen, an ironic day I guess you would say," said Brian Harding, 35, of Perry Hall, who took a picture of his two children by Weaver's No. 4.
In Harding's mind's eye, Weaver will always be on the field, screaming against injustice.
"One of my earliest memories of coming to an Oriole game was at Memorial Stadium and we had seats on the third-base line and they were playing the Mariners and there was a bad call at third base. And Earl came out and buried third base in the dirt," Harding said. "That was great."
Throughout the day, there was a stream of orange-clad fans making a pilgrimage to Weaver's statue, which had a cartoon bird hat, the bill worn and bent, placed at the bronze feet. An orange lei with orange and black beads sat next to it.
"I never saw him manage, obviously, but I know what he has done," said Matt Aragon, 21, of Newark, Del., who made the trip to FanFest with Ariel Almondo.
Aragon and Almondo heard about Weaver's passing while they were in the car on their way to the event. They wanted to make a point to visit the statue and take pictures. Aragon said there definitely was a bittersweet feeling about FanFest, a celebration of a playoff season with the loss of a franchise icon.
"As soon as we walked in to FanFest, there was a montage of clips of Earl and the video from the statue unveiling," Aragon said. "It was very somber at the time. But I think everyone was having a good time at FanFest and I think that's what Earl would have wanted, for everybody celebrating the Orioles after a good season."
Well into the afternoon, second baseman and longest-tenured Oriole Brian Roberts had no idea that Weaver had died. When told by media, Roberts was stunned.
"Shocked, obviously. Holy cow," Roberts said. "I love Buck, but [Weaver] is still the manager you think of when you think of the Orioles. His fire, his intensity, his passion for the game, his passion for the city, his passion for doing things the Oriole Way and doing it the right way. It's something that everyone in this city can relate to."
Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley remembers playing against Weaver's teams in the 1980s. And he said it was always a challenge — and often a show.
"I knew it was going to be old school when Earl was there, when he had his tomatoes in left field. I just remember him being real fiery. He'd come out and argue on everything," Presley said. "He was a really nice man, but, boy, he was fiery when that ballgame started. I mean, he would come out there for anything. He'd be out there. But it was fun watching him."
Those who knew Weaver remember, his passion, but also his compassion. Jim Henneman, a long-time sportswriter who covered Weaver throughout his entire managerial career, treasures the time he spent talking baseball late into the night with Weaver after games or in spring training.
"Earl was probably the most unforgettable guy I have ever been around, for a lot of reasons," said Henneman, who first met Weaver, the minor league manager, in 1959. "I didn't always get along with him, I didn't always agree with him. We had our little things occasionally, but I really admired his dedication to the game. And he had a lot of great thoughts about the game I still believe in."
Weaver was considered one of the first skippers to look at statistics and apply them in a way to better the opposition.
"People talk about Moneyball, but long before that you had Earl Weaver doing it," said Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette. "The simplicity and clarity of his leadership and his passion for baseball is unmatched. He's a treasure, and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to work with him this year."
Ultimately, what fans, players, and anyone who has been around the Orioles, will remember is Weaver's direct personality, his penchant to say what was on his mind, no matter the occasion.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said the only time he really interacted with him, Weaver walked past Wieters hitting in a cage in Sarasota, Fla., and said, "Keep working on that bat speed." Wieters said he just laughed, knowing, even at around age 80, Wieters was doling out advice.
"Earl was just a classic. You didn't have to wait too long for Earl to let you know where you stood with him. What a great, great baseball man and a legend in Baltimore," Duquette said. "He leaves a terrific legacy of winning baseball with the Orioles. Grateful for his contribution. Sad to see him go. But he has a legacy that lives on."
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