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A son's tribute: Who shaped your love for sports?

The bar has re-opened after its longest hiatus in three-plus years.

Sorry. Won't happen again. At least I hope not.

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I can blame the lapse partially on our blogging software problems; no point of opening when we couldn't receive your thoughts for a comment-driven blog.

But that's just part of the story. When Connolly's Bar was created in March 2008 the purpose was to interact with all of you. Mainly, we'd talk sports, but we'd also dig into other things like music and books. And there have been plenty of times where we've gotten personal – where I've shared some things from my life or you have from yours.

This is one of those times. Stick with me if you like. We'll get back to sporting issues later this week.

Late at night on May 15, my mother, Ann Margaret Barber Connolly, passed away at St. Joseph's Medical Center from complications stemming from an infection. She died one day after her 81st birthday. She had battled health problems for years, but the end still was a surprise. Even at 81, her death came too quickly for all of us that loved her so.

I wrote the eulogy for the funeral, and frankly, that was all the writing I could do that week. I returned the following week to cover baseball and try to return to normalcy. Who knew a Royals-Orioles series could be cathartic?

It was – and so was the support from my friends, co-workers, bosses and even select readers who somehow heard about my loss. I knew I'd eventually want to write a little about my mother in this space and share with the people who have been coming here regularly since 2008. Call it the barkeep's time to bend an ear.

Today seems like an appropriate time. The Orioles were off Monday, so there's no game to discuss. I am in a Toronto hotel room awaiting the three-game series to start Tuesday night, so I have some time to reflect. And Monday would have been my parents' 58th wedding anniversary, so there's some real significance there, too.

Truth be told, my mother didn't grow up with sports. It was just her and her mother through most of her adolescence, and sports didn't play much of a part in their lives. Then, in 1951, she met my dad, who grew up playing baseball just about every day, anywhere he could in Baltimore.

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Their first two children were sons, and they became baseball/football/basketball crazy. My mother, who had a mind of her own in many matters, relented and joined the sports frenzy -- as did much of Maryland in the 1950s and 1960s.

By the time my sisters were growing up, the Connolly household had become a full-fledged, sports-nuts home. Then I was born in 1969, the last of five. My good, Irish Catholic parents may have originally had sights on creating their own baseball team but settled on enough kids to field a starting basketball squad.

I can't tell you how many sporting events of ours that my mother and father attended. Way too many to count.

I once asked my mother if she liked sports, and she joked that she had no choice with the man she married and the kids she had. But she sure seemed to enjoy it. If she didn't, she never complained, since attending Orioles games at Memorial Stadium was one of our primary rituals every summer.

My mom had a way of talking to everyone and making everybody feel comfortable. One of our favorite family stories revolves around my mom and baseball. At some point near Christmastime 1954, my father and mother waited in a line to get an autographed baseball for my brother Jerry, who was an infant. They thought it would be a nice keepsake.

Orioles pitcher Bob Turley, who started the Orioles' first game at Memorial Stadium that inaugural season, was signing, and when my mom reached the front of the line she informed Turley about the reason she was there.

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Turley had an infant of his own (or his wife was expecting, that detail is a little cloudy), and the two began swapping baby stories. The rest of the line waited patiently and my dad surely rolled his eyes. But that was my mom – a story and a smile and a connection to everything.

My mom loved stories – for hours upon hours she'd read to me while I was a pre-kindergartener and my brothers and sisters were in school. She loved words and music and writing. She loved movies and the theater and passed on all of those interests to me. She was the artsy one in the family, and I sort of followed her lead. Of course, I didn't stray too far from the family's mutual interest in sports, either.

It's impossible to put into words – even for a professional writer – the impact a mother can have on a son or daughter. Simply immeasurable. All I know is my mom always pushed me to follow my dreams, no matter the odds. She couldn't have been happier when I became a writer, a journalist, and, eventually, a sportswriter for my hometown paper covering the team that my mom and dad would always take us to see during those glorious summers.

My dad, who turned 80 late last month and is trying to cope without his best friend of the past 60 years, is the one who loved baseball. But my mom was the one who really loved life, and, in turn, embraced sports because that's what her kids and husband enjoyed. She read most of the newspaper stories I wrote, even though she didn't care about that insurance run in the eighth or the reliever's balky elbow.

She read because she was my mom. And it was her way of supporting me after I married and had a family of my own.

I am not sure there's a life lesson here. I guess the point is to acknowledge that we can be shaped by many people – including our own kids – but that the ones who have the most impact shower us with unconditional love. They support us and guide us and don't ask for anything in return.

That's what a mom does, I guess. And my mother did it better than anyone I've ever known.

Daily Think Special: Who shaped your love for sports?

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