After fighting lung cancer for more than four years, Orioles public relations director Monica Pence Barlow succumbed to the disease in late February. She was 36.
According to an obituary in The Sun, Barlow, a graduate of the College of William and Mary, joined the Orioles in 2001 as a public relations assistant, rising to the top job in 2008, when she replaced Bill Stetka.
Following her Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis in September 2009, Barlow, who never smoked and was a frequent runner, worked as a speaker and fundraiser for the LUNGevity Foundation, an organization focused on the disease.
Tributes immediately flowed in, from both people within the Orioles organization and the members of the media who cover the team.
Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos released a statement that read: "Over the past four and a half years, the work Monica did to raise awareness and funds for cancer research was a testament to her dedication to helping others. The strength and resiliency she displayed by not letting her illness define her was a great inspiration to all who knew her. Her loss will be felt deeply by not only our front office staff, but also our manager, players and coaches, with whom she worked on a daily basis."
Manager Buck Showalter fought back tears when talking about her before the team's first spring training game, the same day Barlow passed.
"She was so courageous in continuing to do her job the last few years despite her pain. This is an especially tough day for those of us that worked with her on a daily basis," he told members of the media. "It was a blessing to have her in my life; she made our jobs so much easier. We won't be able to replace Monica, we will only try to carry on. I am going to miss her as a colleague and a friend. She was a rock."
Reporters and the handlers of the people they want to cover don’t always have the most cordial of relationships, but many journalists echoed the sentiments expressed by the team. They commended Barlow for the class and dignity with which she ran the club’s public relations operation, even as her condition worsened.
"That was Monica: selfless, courageous and genuine," Orioles.com beat writer Brittany Ghiroli wrote. "She never let her diagnosis prevent her from working long hours at Camden Yards and in my four years on the beat—traveling around the country in the day-to-day grind of a Major League season—I never once heard her complain."
The team continued to honor her throughout the year. On Opening Day, Barlow's coat was placed on her chair in the press box; it remained unoccupied all season. There was also a plaque placed there in her honor. The players brought her husband, Ben, into the locker room to celebrate when they clinched the division in September, according to a post by MASN's Roch Kubatko.
"To see her husband in here and be able to throw a beer on his head and give him a big hug right afterward, it meant a lot. I'm glad I got to do it. She was special," reliever Tommy Hunter told Kubatko.
At the winter meetings, an annual gathering of general managers, agents, and other officials, earlier this month every PR worker in Major League Baseball wore a shirt with "4 Monica" on the back as it was announced the league would hold an online auction, with items donated from every team, benefiting LUNGevity. Both Showalter and Ben Barlow spoke.
As a publication that doesn't have a writer dedicated to covering the team on a day-to-day basis, our interactions with Barlow were much more infrequent. But she was always quick and professional with her responses to our requests.
When we asked in early February to talk to Showalter and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette for an in-depth preview of the team, Barlow got the ball rolling, even though it was during a time, most likely, when her health was declining.
"I think the last week or two [of spring training] would be best, as it will give the best idea of how the team is shaping up for 2014," she replied when the subject of scheduling interviews came up. "Can you get back in touch with me closer to that time?"