In the weeks and months since his wife's death, Ben Barlow, of Ellicott City, says he has received an outpouring of emotional support from the Orioles' family, from players in the clubhouse to staff members at the warehouse.
That includes Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his wife, Angela.
"Buck and Angela are just solid, caring people," Barlow says. "He would see her every day; he really misses her. They are just making sure that I feel pretty involved. They are thinking about Monica all of the time. They have treated me like family."
So on the night of Sept. 16, Barlow, the husband of longtime director of public relations Monica Pence Barlow, a non-smoker who lost her life to stage IV lung cancer on Feb. 28 at the age of 36, was watching the game with Angela Showalter and her family at Camden Yards.
It was one of nearly 40 games Barlow, 39, has attended this magical season. On this night, the Orioles clinched the American League East title with a win over the Toronto Blue Jays and Barlow decided to head down to the clubhouse and congratulate manager Showalter.
On many nights for several years Barlow would wait outside of the Orioles' clubhouse while his wife finished her postgame duties, which included accompanying Showalter to a press conference with reporters. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, she had worked for the team full-time since 2001.
Although it wasn't his intention when he headed downstairs Sept. 16, Barlow soon became part of the on-field celebration as Orioles players, coaches and staff members celebrated the team's first division title since 1997.
"The clinching game, that was sort of neat," says Barlow, an attorney. "I am used to going downstairs and waiting for Monica. I went down after the clincher with Buck's family. I wanted to go down and say congratulations to him. I didn't have any intention of being invited on the field. I was kind of dragged into it. It was amazing."
To be included in the joyous event became an outward sign of the support Barlow has received, most of it out of the public eye and often in one-on-one encounters.
Barlow recalls a conversation he had in March with Angela Showalter.
"She asked me if it would be tough to go to the ballpark [without Monica]. I thought the only thing tougher than going to the ballpark would be not going back to the ballpark," Barlow said Monday, after returning from Detroit, where he watched the Orioles clinch the American League Division Series on Sunday over the Tigers. "It helps retain a little bit of the normalcy."
"For us, Ben is someone similar to Monica in that they are under-stated and professional and so warm," Bader said Tuesday. He is "such a great person to his core. We feel connected to him in the same way. Ben would make many road trips [with Monica]. We knew Ben well; I knew him socially. He is just part of the family and the organization feels deeply" about him.
Barlow realizes the irony of being around his late wife's place of employment.
"It is bittersweet, but it has been nice. The Orioles have been great, and not just the people on the team. It is a tight-knit family," says Barlow, noting the many co-workers his wife had in the warehouse. "They are the people that knew Monica best in her work life. It has been good for both us. They have been great."
Orioles pitcher Hunter was able to drench Barlow with a cold drink the night the Orioles clinched.
"I just doused him. I just got him," Hunter told former Sun writer Roch Kubatko of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network on Sept. 16. "He came in here and I gave him a big hug. Chris [Davis] had her picture up the whole year, Buck's got her picture up over there. She's finally smiling. She's a special person. 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."
Showalter told MASN that night: "Yeah, I think about her all of the time. I've had my share of talks with her. She still gives me advice."
Ben Barlow is quick to point out that he would have attended games this year even if the Orioles had not had such a successful season, one that will continue when they play the Kansas City Royals on Friday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Barlow plans to attend Game 1 at Camden Yards.
Barlow acknowledges the challenge of being around Monica's workplace. But he said the consuming nature of Major League Baseball, playing nearly every day from spring training in late February to October, blurs the line between the professional and personal life.
"You plan your vacations around it," he said.
He also points out that he and Monica grew up in Virginia as fans of the Orioles, which also makes it easier for him to come to Camden Yards.
"I am not sure I gave it that much thought," he said of continuing to attend games. "I wondered, 'What is this going to be like?' A lot of people would say, 'When are you coming?' It has been a little bit of therapy, and not so much the product on the field. It has been a bonus with this incredible season they have had. Even if the season would have gone in a different direction I would have still been out there."
Other activities that have linked his wife's memory and the Orioles is lung cancer research through lungevity.org. A 5K fundraising walk to support lung cancer research was held Sept. 20 at Camden Yards, and Barlow said about $125,000 was raised, doubling the amount from the 2013 event. A similar fundraiser will be held Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C., and some of Monica Barlow's friends will take part.
Ben Barlow grew up near Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, about 170 miles southwest of Baltimore. He graduated from Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va., in 1993 and four years later from Bridgewater College, just south of Harrisonburg. Monica Pence Barlow graduated from Spotswood High School, which like Turner Ashby is a public school in rural Rockingham County, Va.
He moved to Columbia in 2006 while Pence was living in White Marsh as they dated. They were married at a Church of the Brethren near Harrisonburg in 2008 and after the wedding lived in Columbia before they bought a house in Ellicott City in 2011.
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Barlow continues to live in Ellicott City and works as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. While Ben and Monica Barlow often talked about one day moving back to the Shenandoah Valley, for now Ben Barlow plans to remain in the Baltimore area.
Many members of the Orioles, including Showalter and players such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis, attended Monica's memorial service near Harrisonburg in March, as they left early from a spring training game in Sarasota, Fla., for the flight to a small airport near Harrisonburg before returning later that night to Florida.
Showalter and several players attended a service June 7 at the warehouse, which drew former general manager Andy MacPhail and many family and friends of the Barlows from Virginia. Showalter told some humorous stories about his working relationship with Monica, and Davis and O'Day also paid tribute.
A photograph of Barlow being doused by O'Day, after the Orioles clinched a playoff berth in 2012, has been on display most of the season near Davis' locker in the clubhouse and the same photo hangs on a wall outside of Showalter's office.
A quote from Ernest Hemingway was included in the June 7 program: "This world breaks everyone, and afterward, some (grow stronger) at the broken places."
Ben Barlow spoke eloquently at the service, saying at least one outcome from Monica's death is increased attention and support for lung cancer research. Another outcome is the people she touched, such as lung cancer patients, before she died after a nearly four-year battle with the disease.
"It is a new normal that you adjust to," he said, nearly four months since that June service. "When this happens you realize the importance of making each minute count."